Last Thursday, January 30, 2020, Warren de Haan of ACORE Capital hosted the Cornell Baker real estate program. Mr. de Haan is a managing partner at ACORE, which he founded together with his long-standing partners Boyd Fellows, Chris Tokarski and Stew Ward. De Haan is a storyteller with a knack for developing relationships and a keen understanding of the ups and downs of capital markets. During his lecture it was clear that he was able to reduce complicated topics to simple facts. During his lunch at the Statler Hotel, he spoke about the importance of “EQ” and “IQ” and referred to the need for both technical and interpersonal skills to be really effective in the real estate finance industry.
Mr de Haan spoke of the days when he worked in the hotel industry and essentially managed the back-of-house staff in the basement of a London hotel. It wasn’t quite the check he needed to buy the three-seater McLaren he had in mind as a young man. During his lecture, he remembered a down-to-earth story about seeing this supercar in a car dealership in London, and after squeezing a few numbers in his head, it quickly became clear that even his lifelong earnings wouldn’t get him behind the scenes of his bike dream. Something had to change. After enrolling in Cornell, a friend decided to join the training and improve. He spoke fondly about his time in Ithaca and noticed that sometimes he focused more on the social aspects of college than on his academic duties. While studying at the hotel school, he worked part-time at the Statler Hotel as a valet service, a tradition of hoteliers that is still maintained today. He stood in the Statler lobby and commented on the familiarity of the room. In a somewhat reminiscent tone, he laughed at the tricks he had learned in recognizing the “big dumpers”. Nevertheless, Mr. de Haan put his shoulder down when it mattered and made deals with colleagues who have become lifelong friends and business partners throughout his career.
After graduating from Cornell, Mr. de Haan went directly to investment banking at Nomura in the commercial real estate finance department in New York, NY. In this role, he would meet three incredibly valuable people in his life: Boyd Fellows, Chris Tokarski and Stew Ward. Together, these were four series entrepreneurs who had great success with every company. Initially, Coastal Capital Partners, LLC founded a company that focuses on acquiring bad debt and advising clients on restructuring. They then founded Countrywide Financial Corporation’s commercial real estate finance business, which started in 2004 and developed into one of the largest lending platforms in the United States, focusing on midmarkets, and over 1,250 commercial real estate loans totaling over $ 11.5 billion. Mr. de Haan spent this time there as co-head of lending. This role eventually led him to join Starwood Property Trust, Inc. as Chief Originations Officer. Starwood is a household name – a hitter, so to speak – who has seen many Cornell alum in its ranks.
Mr. de Haan and the rest of the team that had also moved to Starwood (Fellows, Tokarski and Ward) left after four years to found ACORE. ACORE currently manages $ 17 billion in real estate loan strategies and has completed over $ 21.5 billion in transactions averaging over $ 73 million since its inception. Mr. de Haan cited five projects during his presentation, one of which was particularly popular with the infamous Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. This is a luxury condominium branded by Mandarin Oriental, a respected luxury hotel and resort management group known for its superior quality and taste. While this project is indeed impressive, it is one of many projects that ACORE is funding. The debt industry can sometimes turn out to be dark and misunderstood by the masses. However, it is vital to the health of the real estate industry and can be a catalytic force for new developments.
When asked about the financial structure of a typical business, Mr. de Haan rolled up the projection screen to expose the whiteboard and immediately began drawing diagrams of the various parts of the capital stack that ACORE is funding. While many of the Baker program students came to Cornell with a financial background and were familiar with some concepts, many of those with a design background found the illustrations incredibly helpful. It was enlightening for a class that is often stuck in the technical aspects of cash flows and IRRs when an industry veteran briefly describes this concept. In this series of speakers, Mr. de Haan embodied the educational philosophy that brought so many of us to the Baker program. This means that Mr. de Haan has helped to strengthen the link between science and professional practice.
Mr. de Haan left the students ten of the hours of his life that he had won over the course of his career:
1. “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” – Albert Einstein
2. Value partnerships.
3. Beauty lies in simplicity.
4. Make yourself comfortable if you feel uncomfortable.
5. Respect time.
6. Be aware of those who distort reality. Let intellectual honesty prevail.
7. Be fit.
8. Polish the back of your shoes.
9. Being an entrepreneur is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
10. Earn miles in the saddle … Earn it!
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