Real Conversations: 10 Questions with the 2019-2020 REA Co-Presidents

The Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate sat down with incoming Real Estate Association (REA) co-Presidents Federica Burelli ’20 and Jason Segal ’20 to learn more about what brought them to the MBA Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School, into leadership positions in the REA, and beyond! Read more to get the inside scoop on the lives of Federica and Jason!



What inspired you each to run for co-president of the REA, and how did you decide to join up as a team?

Federica Burelli: The REA has been integral to my MBA experience (in fact, my non-REA friends complain about how much I prioritize it). The amount and variety of programming offered by the club is truly remarkable, and provides students an incredible network, resources, and access to the industry. I enjoy approaching things holistically, and this role allows me to think big picture while supporting each of the REA Board teams and the Paul Milstein Center to create great events. I want to ensure the REA continues to be an amazing organization that impacts students the way it has impacted me!


Jason and I met at the Real Estate Open House in the fall of 2018 (I thought it was great he has the same name as Jason Segal, the actor). Over the fall, I was very persistent and eventually convinced him to sign up for the Mexico Real Estate Chazen Trip (which I was planning). It's a good thing he decided to join because we bonded on that trip! When election season came up I knew I wanted to work with him.


Jason Segal: When I first decided to pursue an MBA, one of the determining factors that drove me to a full-time program was the ability to benefit from the outside-the-classroom education that complimented the in-classroom academics. The REA and PMC made that a reality in my first year at CBS. It offered a broad spectrum of resources from recruiting preparation and financial modelling training, to alumni breakfasts, site tours, and industry treks. Most importantly, it introduced me to some of my closest friends.


I ran for co-president in hopes of continuing that programming for the next class of students. It didn’t hurt that I had an amazing co-president as a running mate. Federica and I shared several classes last year, and we got to know each other well during the spring break trek to Mexico City. She led that trek, in a virtually flawless execution, and I developed a tremendous respect for her dedication and attention to detail. Our strengths complement one another, and we share a similar vision for where we see the REA going, which made our partnership a natural one.


What do you hope to accomplish this year?

FB: We are excited about several initiatives that aim to 1) deepen engagement and interaction among members, 2) increase opportunities for students to develop industry knowledge and skills, and 3) help students better position themselves for career planning and recruiting.


JS: This year, we hope to build on the great work the REA does, with several new initiatives. We’re are going to start the year off strong with the first New York City “trek”. For years, the REA has led trips to national and international cities, where students spend a week meeting with companies in that city and immersing themselves in the local market. The treks have been a tremendous success and we figured why not conduct the same in our own backyard?


We also want to be sure the sense of community among REA members continues to remain strong. So, we are putting an emphasis on informal interactions like brown-bag lunches, happy hours, and supper club dinners. These are simple efforts, but at the end of the day one of the best things the REA has to offer is a means to build friendships with classmates who share similar aspirations.


What previous roles did you have in the REA or other student organizations?

FB: I was an AVP of Trips for the REA; planning and leading trips to LA, DC, and Mexico City for our fellow students was an incredibly rewarding experience! I was also AVP of Events for the Hospitality & Travel Association; I am excited to continue as VP in that role this coming year—looking forward to planning hotel tours, company visits, and speaker events. One of the highlights of my first year was being a Peer Advisor for Cluster Z (Zeus) in the J-Term Orientation.


JS: I did not hold a position in the REA last year, which is part of what drove me to run for Co-President. As a first year, I found myself utilizing nearly all the resources of the REA and spending more time with my fellow club members than any other group on campus. I felt a formal position in the club would be an ideal way to further that interaction. Outside of the REA, I participated in the Nonprofit Board Leadership Program and Pangea Advisors. Through each program, I completed a consulting assignment for a community-based organization, one domestic called the Bronx Arts Ensemble, and one international called Yamba Malawi.


What led you to the MBA Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School?

FB: I had always wanted to attend CBS, I knew it offered an amazing MBA Real Estate Program, and I only wanted to live in New York. So, I was very stubborn and only applied here.


JS: Prior to coming to CBS, I worked for the KRE Group, a New Jersey–based real estate developer. I was on a team where three of my managers had received an MBA. They spoke very highly of their experiences and encouraged me that at some point it would be something I needed to do. When I began researching programs, speaking to alumni at various schools, CBS clearly stood out.


Between the course offerings, the PMC, and the REA, CBS offered a more holistic MBA real estate education than any other school. I think part of that is driven by the location in NYC. I’ll give an example. Last semester, one of my favorite classes was Social Impact Real Estate Development, taught by James Patchett the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Each week we’d study a case on an acquisition or development and then the team that led that deal would come into class to walk us through the process. I’m not sure you get a professor like James Patchett or the guest speakers like the ones he brought in, if they can’t hop on subway after the class and be back in their office in 20 minutes. To me, that’s what makes this MBA Real Estate program so unique.


Describe your summer internships. Role, responsibilities, highlights.

FB: This summer I joined the NYC Development team at Boston Properties. I’ve been managing the development of a really cool and unique food and beverage project at the former Citicorp tower (the most recent NYC building to be landmarked). It consists of 21 restaurant and bar operators who will provide a curated and varied range of options in a beautifully designed space. I oversee and coordinate the work of all the project players including internal BXP teams, tenants, designers, and consultants. I’ve really enjoyed this experience and the people are amazing. A few responsibilities that have been quite fun include furniture selection, thinking through arts and music programming, and developing the PR strategy ahead of opening date. I plan on remaining involved throughout fall semester until we open.


JS: I spent this summer working for Douglaston Development here in New York City. They are a full-service real estate developer, owner, and manager, and I was part of the affordable housing team. My role covered everything from acquisitions underwriting to development project management. The team at Douglaston is very talented and I learned a ton just by spending each day in the office.

One of the more interesting projects I spent time on was the RFP submission for the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) PACT. NYCHA provides housing to some 400,000 New Yorkers, but they also hold a deferred maintenance bill of nearly $32 billion. To overcome this, NYCHA has partnered with HUD to help bring in the private real estate community to renovate and upgrade the buildings all why the tenant remains in place and at stabilized rents. Our team has submitted a bid for some of the properties in the RFP. It was very interesting for me to work through the complex capital structures that make these deals financially viable, and to see the level of detail the city government demands as they vet a possible partner.


How did your first year at CBS help you prepare for your internship experience?

FB: The amount of support provided by second year students was incredible. They helped me understand the recruiting process, reviewed my resume, and volunteered to do mock interviews to better position me for landing my internship. I was able to broaden my industry knowledge by attending events and speaker panels, and through the exposure to a broad range of real estate firms during our treks to different markets.


JS: I came into my internship with a good amount of experience in market rate real estate development, but I had virtually no exposure to affordable development. One of the things that is so unique about affordable development is that you are typically operating in a set of regulatory constraints, and so it requires a creative use of capital sources to make the project viable. In my first year at CBS I had walked through several case studies with creative capital structures and that really helped me hit the ground running when I started my internship.


In what ways do you expect your second year to differ from your first year?

FB: I’m looking forward to feeling more established and simply knowing a lot more about how CBS operates. My first year flew by, and I’m sure the second year will feel even faster, so I want to get straight to it and make the most out of this year. Last semester, I ended up missing all CBS Matters due to a Thursday night class (tragic!); I cannot wait to start going to these again!


JS: I’m very excited to dive into more in depth and specific courses such as Real Estate Transactions and Real Estate Equity Capital Markets. The program is designed so that the second-year course list builds on the first-year core and I think these in-depth classes will bring about topics I have never learned before.


What is the best thing about living in NYC?

FB: I really like walking all over the city, seeing the design and architecture of buildings, and discovering cool spots to eat, drink, shop, etc. I love getting a sense for the individual vibe and character of each of the neighborhoods. New York City is amazing, and I feel very lucky to be here.


JS: The food. New York is an amazing city. It has everything to offer. But if you’re going to enjoy a place, why not do it through its food?


Favorite place you’ve traveled?

FB: Japan!... I’m also dying to travel to Scandinavia.


JS: Malawi—I’ve spent about a year in total living there. It is incredibly beautiful, and the people are the friendliest I have met anywhere in the world.


What three words describe you? And what three words describe your co-president?

FB: Me: Positive, energetic, detail-oriented. Jason: committed, thoughtful, curious.


JS: Me: Patient, thoughtful, curious. Federica: Dedicated, diligent, welcoming.

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