In this edition of The Hiring Squad, Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates (RETS) – a leading real estate recruiting firm – connects with Jack Cohen, managing partner at 3650 REIT, a national commercial real estate (CRE) lending, investment and services firm. The two discuss Jack’s 38-year career trajectory in CRE finance, 3650 REIT’s unique business platform, and how a like-minded recruiting partner with a keen eye for talent helped support the firm’s rapid growth.
Kent Elliott (KE): As an industry veteran with nearly 40 years of experience in CRE finance, how did you get started in your career and what led to a position as managing partner at 3650 REIT?
Jack Cohen (JC): I started my career in 1981 at Cohen Financial as a loan originator before assuming the role of chief executive officer – a title I held for 25 years. During my 34-year tenure at Cohen Financial, I recapitalized the firm six times and helped create, grow, close and sell many lines of business. Following my departure, I moved to London as a business consultant. When I returned to Chicago in 2016, I started Darkknight Ventures – an advisory and investment firm focused on accelerating the success of young entrepreneurs.
Then, while consulting for two CRE debt firms in 2017, I was reconnected with two of the founders of 3650 REIT – Toby Cobb and Justin Kennedy – and learned that they had raised a significant amount of capital from a private equity firm. While I don’t have an extensive direct lending background, I bring a wealth of originator, owner, operator and service provider knowledge and experience to the table and the founders saw this as a unique opportunity to join forces. Since then, I’ve helped the firm open its first Midwest office in Chicago – bridging 3650 REIT’s reach from the East to the West Coast and enabling us to capitalize on the market’s unique and entrepreneurial use of capital.
KE: What an impressive career journey. So, tell me, what sets 3650 REIT apart and how has this initiated the firm’s rapid growth?
JC: At 3650 REIT, we have an impressive roster of executive-level talent and a track record of success across CRE lending, capital markets, mortgage banking and loan servicing. We leverage this experience to offer our clients tailored capital solutions, reliable execution and responsive customer service. Our name also embodies our differentiated business model and commitment as a relationship-focused lender to remain by our clients’ side beyond loan funding through each of the 3,650 days in the life of a 10-year loan.
3650 REIT’s relationship-first approach and long-term capital is truly what sets us apart and has enabled the firm to become one of the fastest growing balance-sheet lenders with five offices across the nation. The firm also experienced a banner first year, lending in excess of $700 million from April 2018 through April 2019. To support the company’s growth, we recently added a senior associate to the team in Chicago.
KE: What was your strategy and process in securing the right person for the senior associate role?
While seeking to hire a senior associate for our Chicago office, I was looking for an individual who could offer more than financial analyst and marketing support. I was in search of a candidate with intellectual firepower, robust business experience and the ability to handle big data. During this search, I worked closely with Jess MacNaughton, a former business associate who is now a recruiting director at RETS Associates. Over the years, Jess and I have maintained a great professional relationship. Not only is she fearlessly confident and a pleasure to work with, but she has been in my shoes – so I knew she would deliver.
Jess was invaluable in helping me define the senior associate job description and she brought in the right people to support her. This eventually led to several interviews with highly qualified candidates. However, Jess encouraged me not to settle and always had the firm’s best interest in mind. She also advised me to look beyond candidates’ skills and talent and seek a true culture fit. This counsel allowed us to find a perfect match – someone who not only has the right experience, but embodies our core principles of being reliable, relationship-driven, and service-oriented.
KE: What advice would you give to CRE firms looking to hire top talent?
JC: With new generations entering the workforce, companies will need to evolve their recruitment strategies to attract and retain the next generation of talent. This means truly understanding their needs and workstyle preferences and considering how to offer more than a place to work, but a company culture people want to be a part of. As Peter Drucker once said, “strategy beats tactics, but culture eats strategy for breakfast.”