Editor’s Note: The following post was originally published in the spring 2015 edition of Whitman Magazine.
While it is certainly possible to be good at something but not enjoy it, it is far more likely that you’ll excel in doing what excites you.” David Schwartz ’99 encourages Whitman students to take his word on this when he addresses them during the Real Estate Janmester.
The Janmester is a weeklong, three-credit course open to Whitman undergraduate and graduate students between the fall and spring semesters. Professor Yildiray Yildirim, Michael Falcone Chair in Real Estate and director of Whitman’s James D. Kuhn Real Estate Center, accompanies the students as they listen to and learn from accomplished alumni in the real estate industry.
Schwartz spends his time with students not only talking through complex real estate case studies but also imparting advice about finding their career calling. “Too often, people do what is expected of them,” said Schwartz. “If you pursue a path to please others and not yourself, chances are you won’t enjoy it, prosper in it or stick with it.” That’s a lesson he lived out early in both his college and professional careers.
Schwartz grew up in Brooklyn and attended public schools there. His dad was a city commissioner and his mom a social worker. When he arrived at Syracuse University, he did the same as his father before him and declared civil engineering as his major. Fortunately, he also decided to minor in finance.
From day one, he preferred his Whitman classes—so much that he switched his major to finance during his sophomore year. That would be the first of a few changes Schwartz would make in pursuit of his calling.
While studying at Whitman, he set his sights on investment banking. A connection at J.P. Morgan led to a full-time position out of college. He felt fairly quickly that it wasn’t for him, but he wanted to give it a
real chance to be sure. A year later, he didn’t want to waste anymore time doing unfulfilling work, so he left to start a venture capital finance firm with a friend.
That work didn’t suit Schwartz, either, so he decided to take a few months off to really sort things out. He had been fascinated by real estate growing up, and that interest had persisted. It seemed a logical next step in his quest to find fruitful work.
His first day on the job at the real estate development firm of Crescent Heights, he was sent to California and the next day to Hawaii. “Don’t be jealous,” he said. “I was in the plane, on the ground, in meetings, back on the plane, ground again, meetings and back to New York in 72 hours.” But he was hooked.
After four years at Crescent, he decided to go out on his own. “I am an entrepreneur at heart. I really enjoyed my entrepreneurship classes at Whitman and they gave me a solid foundation for pursuing new ventures. I had found my passion in real estate, gained great experience and established a strong network of connections. The stars were aligned.”
In 2005, Schwartz co-founded Rush Brook Partners and later formed Slate Property Group, where he is a principal today. He decided to focus development efforts in Brooklyn, because it was home and familiar. He certainly made the right call, given the area’s emergence as a real estate mecca. Today, Slate is a ground-up, mixed-used commercial and residential development and management company with 900 units valued at approximately $1.5 billion.
Over the course of his career, Schwartz has been instrumental in developing 3,000 units. He recognizes his success but jokes about what might have been if Whitman had the real estate major when he was there. “I would probably have developed 5,000 units by now if I had the benefit of those classes and access to the resources of the Kuhn Center.”
Jesting aside, Schwartz credits much of his success to the skills and knowledge he acquired at Whitman. “My education at Whitman was challenging and comprehensive. The foundation I received in finance has been invaluable. This is a numbers business, so having that aptitude is quite advantageous, and the classes in accounting, marketing and management have been extremely helpful.”
Schwartz also attributes his ease in interacting with people as a result of working with students from a wide
range of cultures and backgrounds as a team to achieve the project goal.
“I can effortlessly go from negotiating with equity investors to problem solving with a sales executive to strategizing with the marketing team to surveying a site with an architect and talking through construction plans with a foreman all in one day,” he said.
People skills are key in Schwartz’s line of work and so is multi-tasking. “It is a business of solving puzzles, moving parts and putting out fires,” said Schwartz. “It is hectic, exciting and stressful with no two days the same, but I love it.” And he is committed to doing whatever he can do to help students find that same passion.
“We are so appreciative of David’s participation in our Janmester program,” said Yildirim. “The students really enjoy hearing his perspective and are inspired by his enthusiasm. He also gives liberally of his time in serving on the Real Estate Advisory Board and is a generous donor to the Kuhn Real Estate Center.”
Despite his packed workdays and the wonderful whirlwind of life with two sons under age 4 who keep him and his wife on the move, Schwartz is very mindful of finding time to give back.
In addition to his commitment to Whitman, Schwartz serves on the board of Horizons at Brooklyn Friends School, an organization that brings music, arts and enrichment programming to economically challenged public schools. He is also a board member of the New York State Association of Affordable Housing.
Along with Carmelo Anthony (of SU and NBA basketball fame), Slate Property Group has embarked on an initiative to develop affordable housing and community recreational facilities in underserved areas of New York City. They are focused on projects that entail affordable housing as well as recreational areas for children, teens and seniors that include facilities for basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball and more. “I have had top-notch educational opportunities and made a nice living doing work that I love in a place I long called home,” said Schwartz. “I do not take that good fortune for granted. It is very important to me that I give back to my alma mater, my profession and my community.”