Meet Catherine Wilson, MBA '17, President of the Rotman Real Estate Association
Catherine Wilson, MBA '17, is President of the Rotman Real Estate Association (RREA) and has a lifelong passion for all things real estate related. So when we asked her to introduce a Reunite Fireside chat session centred on real estate, she was up for the challenge.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Prior to starting my MBA at Rotman, I worked in business development and marketing for a residential real estate development firm in the GTA. I was also an Investment Analyst at Avison Young – Investment Management where I worked on U.S. and German commercial real estate investment opportunities, assisted in asset management, and lead socially responsible investing projects.
Tell us about your interest and background in real estate.
My father was a trained architect and later established a real estate development company. From an early age, he and I bonded over the historical, structural and aesthetic elements of architecture. We shared a common aesthetic eye, but in contrast to his path towards architecture, I chose to follow my passion for art and pursue a degree in art history. I have my Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill. It was not until my direct exposure working in real estate development that I realized how well-matched I was with the career path.
I have come to realize how extraordinary real estate is as a financial product. Real estate is an alternative asset – it is essential in nature as it provides a place to live or conduct business. Real estate is broad in scope: its residential and commercial, its international and domestic, its development and investment, its core and opportunistic.
What made you choose Rotman for your MBA?
There were a couple things that informed my decision to attend Rotman. First, I knew that I was going to build my career in Toronto. Having grown up here, I came to understand Toronto as an incredible place to live and I understood the real estate market well (a crucial component in any successful real estate project). The second thing for me was attending the top business school in Canada. Coming from a non-financial background, gaining the financial acumen to launch myself into a real estate career was essential. Finally, I knew that real estate is a highly relationship-focused industry and I knew that I needed to be at a business school that could give me incredible access to real estate professionals. At Rotman, I can hop on the subway and grab a coffee with a professional downtown and be back at Rotman before my next class begins. Through events hosted by the Rotman Real Estate Association (RREA), I have access to the greatest pool of real estate knowledge to supplement my business education at Rotman.
You hosted one of our Fireside Chats at Reunite@Rotman, with David Stewart and Takashi Yamashita who both work in real estate. How was the experience?
It was a pleasure to host both of them as part of Reunite@Rotman’s Fireside Chat Series. Takashi and David actually formed the Rotman Real Estate Association during their MBA, and at that time, there were only 5 members. Their foresight and initiative was the precursor to what the club is today, which has undoubtedly enhanced the real estate program at Rotman. The fact that the two of them chose to partake in the Fireside Chat together is a testament to the strength of the relationships that are formed at Rotman. Even though David works in Boston as VP of Development at Boston Properties Group and Takshi founded Takol Real Estate with his partner and another Rotman Alum, Daniel Kolber, the two have clearly maintained a great relationship. Over the course of the Fireside Chat, we discussed North American cities and regions that make an attractive commercial real estate investment or development opportunity and the types of capital structures available to commercial real estate projects - David works at a REIT, so he is familiar with public equity, while Takashi works in private equity, and he talked about the merits of low-cost debt. They also talked about some of the innovations that are disrupting the commercial real estate industry. David spoke of the growing shift in retail tenants towards increasing customer experiences, most notable in Apple’s retail spaces. On the other hand, Takashi discussed Takol’s uptake of the European trend of converting office buildings into office condo units for sale. As President of the RREA, it was terrific to sit in on the session and their wisdom will shape the strategic thinking I will bring to my role.
As the president of the RREA, what are your goals for the club?
As President of the Rotman Real Estate Association, I lead a team of five-executives to plan and execute industry events throughout the academic year. The RREA hosts panel discussions on career opportunities and real estate trends at Rotman and facilitates “meet and greet” opportunities with leading real estate firms at their offices in downtown Toronto. In addition, the RREA Executive team is focusing on opportunities to develop students’ application of their core first-year skillsets in a real estate context, which is why we are hosting the club’s first real estate development case competition, sponsored by Cadillac Fairview. Concurrently, we are concentrating on creating a platform for RREA Alumni to maintain their network post-graduation. There are over 250 Rotman Alumni working in the real estate industry, and given that real estate is a highly relationship-based industry, there is an opportunity to develop a platform for Alumni to capitalize on their Rotman network. In association with the Rotman Alumni Relations team, the RREA is launching a pilot program for the school’s first industry-focused alumni network, The Rotman Real Estate Association Alumni network, which is a membership-based opportunity for Alumni to attend several relevant RREA events throughout the year. For example, Alumni will have the opportunity to attend the RREA’s site tour of First Gulf’s East Harbour master plan project on a 60-acre site directly east of Toronto’s downtown core, led by RREA Alum and First Gulf’s VP of Development, Derek Goring.
Learn more about the RREA here