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Chief Real Estate Officer

  • Industry: Facilities Management
  • Location: Maryland
  • Client: Institution - Higher Education
  • Search ID: 17-0305-04

Helbling has been retained by a private university in Maryland to lead an executive search for its newly created position of Chief Real Estate Officer (CREO). The CREO will serve as a member of the university’s senior leadership team, responsible for identifying and leading development opportunities; establishing and implementing long-term real estate portfolio strategies; and managing the daily real estate operations that support the institution's academic, research, community, and health care goals. The CREO will also serve as the expert in real estate development and finance, acquisitions/dispositions, asset management, land development, property management, and leasing.

The CREO will work closely with the Vice President of Facilities & Real Estate, Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration, President, Board Members, and varying internal and external stakeholders. The current portfolio for which the CREO will be directly responsible is spread across several of the university’s campuses in the greater Baltimore area, and Washington, D.C. It includes a 12 building portfolio and a hospitality venue. The current department that the CREO will be directly responsible for oversees more than 5M square feet of leases as lessee and lessor under management across all university campuses.

The CREO will serve as a direct report to the Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate while serving as a senior liaison across the university and health system. S/he will support and advise the President and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration on several priority initiatives, including both as the lead on real estate development opportunities and the implementation of various financial and technical strategies in support of operations and cost reduction initiatives. The CREO will work also with senior leadership, deans, divisional business officers, department chairs, faculty, researchers, trustees, donors, and all internal stakeholders and/or team members on all matters related to real estate.

Responsibilities include:

Development Oversight

  • Strategically explores new development opportunities and/or acquisitions for the university in various locations. Also provides support to the ongoing local community developments.
  • Leads land use planning.
  • Manages the marketing of development opportunities, engages developers, identifies tenants, and manages relationships with local jurisdictions and neighboring communities.
  • Works closely with affiliated organizations and outside parties related to ongoing activity and development opportunities at all campuses.

Acquisition and disposition of purchased and donated property

  • Leads property master planning for strategic acquisitions. Negotiates property acquisition and disposition.
  • Engages brokers, financial advisors, and owner’s representatives.
  • Develops financing plans with division and central budget staff.
  • Works to expeditiously dispose of donated property.


  • Identifies and negotiates leases for all institutions.
  • Manages and monitors 400 leases representing over 5M SF in commercial and university owned space.
  • Uses critical analysis and data to make informed decisions on whether the university can reduce leasing costs through property acquisition/ownership in certain situations.

Property Management

  • Directs asset management of off-campus properties to include selection and oversight of property management firms, development of budgets for debt service, operating costs and capital renewal, leasing, and tenant relationships for both university and other lessors.
  • Oversees twelve (12) off-campus properties. These buildings have a collective operating budget of $15M and are largely serviced through outsourced providers. The total property management budget approaches $50M annually.

Real Estate Division Managerial and Program Oversight

  • Maintains financial and other information systems and records that are critical to the function of the real estate division. Ensures the proper process, procedures, and best practices are being utilized within the department and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Provides leadership of the overall real estate division, including supervision of its employees (6 senior staff and 2 support staff); establishes performance objectives; develops budgets and holds financial accountability; interacts with senior management of the university, local government officials, and the real estate community of behalf of the university, and supports trustee committees for those matters requiring their review and approval.
  • Supports the Vice President for Facilities & Real Estate by developing presentations and reports for the Trustees Capital Subcommittee relative to Real Estate actions and planning.

The ideal candidate will be a committed and experienced professional with an understanding of the university’s mission of excellence in teaching, scholarship, public service, and research, and a strong appreciation for the complexities of a private university with multiple locations and constituencies. The successful candidate will have strong analytic and strategic skills, demonstrated leadership, and a commitment to diversity. In addition, the ideal candidate will understand and work toward accomplishing the President's vision for the university.

Additional requirements and experience include:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, Finance, Architecture, Engineering or related discipline is required.
  • MBA or related advanced degree or the equivalent combination of education and experience is preferred.
  • At least ten (10) years of experience leading, motivating, and managing a complex real estate department, team, and/or division, preferably with a focus on real estate development and finance. Experience within higher education or a similar environment is beneficial but not mandatory and individuals from outside of the industry are encouraged to apply. All relevant backgrounds will be considered.
  • Experience planning, design, financing, construction, property management, and asset management in a multi-divisional, matrix management environment.
  • Thoughtful listener, strategic thinker, strong communicator, and negotiator with unquestionable integrity. Ability to foster collaborative, inclusive, collegial, and consensus-building relationships at all levels of the university based on competence, trust, and respect.
  • Demonstrated ability to establish credibility within a complex organization based upon integrity, critical thinking, outstanding operational performance, a customer service orientation, and excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to hire, lead, and mentor a diverse workforce. The CREO will continue to evaluate, build, and develop their team in the coming years.
  • Proven experience making public presentations to executive teams. The CREO is a highly visible position, and this individual will need to be comfortable as a public face, voice, and champion of the university for all real estate related matters.
  • A consensus builder with vision, comfort facilitating change, patience, flexibility, and an ability to engage extraordinarily bright people in difficult and challenging decisions.

Search Consultant: Tom Dunn

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