Many brokerages and developers don’t have extensive recruitment programs that can help link Black, Latino and Asian college grads with opportunities in the commercial real estate industry.

Cedric Bobo is opening virtual doors to the commercial real estate industry for college students from diverse backgrounds, betting that a 10-week introductory course will lead to permanent career paths. 

“If you go into most schools, they wouldn’t know if [real estate] meant selling houses on Saturday or designing and financing tall buildings,” he said. 

Raising the industry’s profile requires a break from traditional practices and recruitment channels. That was the impetus for the 2016 creation of Project Destined, Bobo’s training program for students taking their first look at commercial real estate. 

Project Destined now partners with 125 higher education institutions nationwide, with more than 2,000 participants in 25 cities having completed the program since 2016. In fall 2021, through partnerships with University of Massachusetts and other local colleges, it expanded into Greater Boston.

Editors Note: Two years ago this week, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, convulsing America with protests and debates about how to root out the pernicious legacy of racism in our society and economy. In this issue, Banker & Tradesman is examining progress made in addressing the most pressing issue identified in the real estate and banking sectors at that time: breaking down “old boys networks” and building career pathways in these largely white industries for people of color.

“A lot of the companies that make these decisions need to be introduced to more potential partners,” said Bobo, the organization’s co-founder and CEO. “There’s an awareness aspect: the talent is here, and opportunity is beginning to open up.” 

Brokerages and developers including JLL, AEW Capital Management, Greystar, Beacon Communities and Skanska took part in the program, spanning 10 weeks in both the fall and spring semesters and attended by over 100 students from local colleges. Most of the training took place through online courses, including instruction and pitch-style competitions. 

 Gap in Recruitment Efforts 

A former executive with Solomon Brothers and Carlisle Group, Bobo grew up in Mississippi and Memphis and graduated from Oxford University and Harvard Business School. 

During stints on Wall Street, he began to appreciate the power of real estate to build wealth and assembled his own portfolio of properties in East Coast cities. In 2016, he co-

Since 2016, more than 2,000 students have received an introduction to commercial real estate as a career option through Project Destined.

founded the Washington, D.C. based Project Destined to pair students from diverse backgrounds with industry connections. 

The program fills a need because few commercial real estate companies have extensive campus recruitment programs, compounding the industry’s relative low profile among undergraduates as a career option, Bobo said. 

We try to build and elevate people all the way up the food chain, from maintenance to people who sit in the corporate teams,” said Gary Kerr, executive vice president at Greystar in Boston, one of the local corporate partners. “It gives us a new list of diverse candidates to add to our application pool: maybe people who didn’t know who Greystar is and didn’t know how to reach us.” 

Project Destined builds upon the example set by programs such as Commercial Real Estate Success Training (CREST), which launched a 10-week summer internship program in Boston in 2017. Graduates have gone on to join local firms including some of the same ones now partnering with Project Destined.

The program fills a need because few commercial real estate companies have extensive campus recruitment programs, compounding the industry’s relative low profile among undergraduates as a career option, Bobo said. 

While NAIOP Massachusetts has not recently surveyed member companies on diversity levels, a 2020 survey by the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network found significant wage deficits by women of color in the industry. Overall, women comprise just under 37 percent of industry jobs, and earned 90 percent compared to the average men’s wage of $112,290. The wage gap was larger among women of color, ranging from 86 percent of the average male wage among Asian women to 85 percent for Black women and 80 percent for Latinx women. 

A majority of respondents did say they sensed a culture shift placing a higher priority on diversity, the result of mandates from leadership and outside pressure on the industry. 

 An Inside Track to Entry-Level Jobs 

AEW Capital Management’s Boston office has hired a Project Destined graduate scheduled to start in January as an analyst after joining the program in fall 2021, Managing Director Sara Cassidy said. And two of this year’s summer interns were introduced to the firm through Project Destined. The internships are a typical inside track to entry-level positions such as analysts, although participants are exposed to a variety of potential jobs. 

During the spring sessions, a group of Project Destined students progressed through topics ranging from market analysis to financial terms and value creation strategies. The program included analysis of a value-add opportunity at a Cambridge multifamily property and presentation. 

“What was astounding was how comfortable they were in presenting and responding in really thoughtful ways. To see students take it and run with it was a credit to the program,” Cassidy said. 

Steve Adams

In virtual training from their Boston office, Greystar executives gave Project Destined students a real example of life in commercial real estate: the business plan for a Boston apartment tower currently nearing completion. Greystar acquired the 212 Stuart St. property in 2020. 

Executives presented the conceptual plans for the project and challenged students to make the same decisions they had during pre-development about marketing and business plans. Students reached one of the same conclusions as the executives: that ground-floor retail space should be relocated to enable outdoor dining, Kerr said. 

Manzi Thakkar, a Wilmington High School graduate and University of Massachusetts-Lowell business student, said meeting with Greystar executives and others who presented to the group is helping her build a network of industry contacts. 

“I had no idea what commercial real estate was, and after doing project management, loved the career and the opportunities to network with the individuals who partner with Project Destined,” Thakkar said. “So, I want that to continue.” 

Missed Connections Hinder CRE Recruitment

by Steve Adams time to read: 4 min