Lessons Learned from our Family-Owned Real Estate Clients

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As a real estate-only executive search firm, our practice has grown over the past two years in a very unexpected, but exciting direction – helping family-owned real estate companies build their teams and plan for succession.

Through this practice, we have gleaned seven interesting trends that we hope you will find useful in your leadership efforts. The basis for our collective thoughts comes from a dozen family-office searches (highlighted below), ranging from CFOs and Heads of Real Estate to leaders of Portfolio Management, Acquisitions, Development and Marketing. If anything strikes a chord or raises a question, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Seven Lessons Learned:

  1. Family-owned and other closely held real estate companies continue to be major players alongside institutional companies during this real estate cycle; buying and selling properties in competitive markets on a national basis. As a result, these family businesses control significant real estate portfolios that require a greater need for institutional best practices across their teams.
  2. The transfer of responsibilities from generation to generation puts “cultural fit” at the top of the list of priorities – keeping family-first, without compromising business objectives. Spending time with all active family members and observing the culture firsthand has been critical to finding the right matches.
  3. Since many families maintain a vertically-integrated business model, they are seeking senior placements to evaluate and oversee in-house asset management, property management, development, and accounting functions – offering great step-up opportunities for candidates to take on increased management responsibilities.
  4. Working in a consultative role, we have encouraged families to be fully transparent in defining what’s in place today and clearly communicating the vision of the next generation with a preview of what the new organization will look like. This includes the company structure, team roles, and hierarchy. Flexibility and openness to change is as important to family owned businesses as it is in the rest of the industry.
  5. Regardless of the structure, candidates need to be aware that investment decisions will be driven by the goals of the founder/CEO and/or extended family members, with cash flow and wealth preservation being the primary drivers in some cases.
  6. In a competitive recruiting environment, some families have found it difficult to attract talent from mid-sized or large corporate platforms, particularly if there is no wealth creation opportunity. However, many later career candidates view a family office as an opportunity to have a voice on a small senior team, as well as a chance to get back to a hands-on real estate role. A true win-win for both parties.
  7. Families must be prepared to communicate their growth plans internally, across all constituents, with full transparency. This will include all members of the team (including those that may be preparing for retirement), the Board of Directors, any third party consultants or other advisors to the family. Everyone must be fully onboard to ensure a successful search outcome.

One overarching conclusion: As with all search, but particularly for family-owned companies, our focus is equally divided on consulting and seeking. The consulting component – helping our clients think through where their company is headed, any current or future generational transitions, and the fit of a senior executive into their company culture – is absolutely our #1 priority.


Each of these family-owned companies has a story of success that allowed them to attract strong talent in a very competitive Bay Area market. Each company was able to meet candidate demands for compensation, growth potential, leadership opportunity, and, most importantly, strong cultures of transparency and loyalty.

Clint Reilly Landmark Properties
Paul Radich, Senior Managing Director, Real Estate

Mr. Reilly owns and operates the Clint Reilly Organization, a growing family of companies focused on commercial real estate, hospitality, event production, food & beverage, media, and nonprofit endeavors.

Paul Radich was hired to asset manage the real estate portfolio at Clint Reilly Landmark Properties, consisting of multiple historic downtown San Francisco office buildings, most notably the Merchants Exchange Building. Paul also works closely with the organization’s hospitality team, responsible for Credo Restaurant, the Merchants Exchange Club, and the Julia Morgan Ballroom. Previously, Paul worked for Boston Properties, responsible for the management of Embarcadero Center 1 and 2.

Klingbeil Capital Management Ltd.
Robert Conn, Vice President, Acquisitions

The Klingbeil family real estate business was established in 1959 by Jim Klingbeil in Columbus, Ohio. Today, the operating company, known as Klingbeil Capital Management Ltd. (KCM), is a multi-faceted national real estate company with holdings throughout the United States.

After a long-time acquisitions officer left to start his own firm, KCM hired Robert Conn as Vice President, Acquisitions in the San Francisco office. Robert has his J.D. from Columbia University and practiced real estate and corporate law. More recently, he worked for Essex Property Trust where he managed the underwriting of apartment acquisitions, developments, and preferred equity investments.

MKD Property Investments
Lisa Vogel, Director of Asset Management & Leasing

MKD Property Investments, along with Veritas Property Management, LLC, were started 10+ years ago by Pat and Darla Flanagan to acquire and operate a diversified portfolio of office, industrial, retail, and mixed-use assets across the Greater Bay Area.

Lisa Vogel was hired to lead the asset management and leasing of the portfolio and to support the underwriting and on-boarding of new assets as the company grows. Prior to joining MKD, Lisa worked for Rialto Capital Management as VP, Asset Management and previously had a long career with Deutsche Bank as a VP/Asset Manager responsible for their San Francisco office portfolio.

Prado Group
Charles Shin, Vice President Development

Prado Group is a privately held real estate development and investment management company with a primary focus on residential, retail, and mixed-use properties in supply-constrained in-fill markets in the Greater Bay Area.

As the firm grew, Prado sought a “soup-to-nuts” developer and recruited Charles Shin as Vice President – Development. Prior to joining Prado, Charles was Director of Development with JS Sullivan Development, where he led and managed real estate development and construction activities. Earlier in his career, Charles worked as an architectural designer with Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects Inc. in San Francisco.

Sunset Development
Robin Urvinitka, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Bishop Ranch

Sunset Development has been owned and operated by the Mehran family since 1951, with its flagship property, Bishop Ranch, commencing construction in 1978. Today, Bishop Ranch is being transformed into a suburban downtown destination with the groundbreaking of “City Center Bishop Ranch” featuring 300,000 square feet of entertainment, restaurants, and retail.

Robin Urvinitka was hired, in a newly created position, to lead the Marketing efforts for Bishop Ranch, including the office, retail and future multifamily and hotel developments. For the past 15 years, Robin had her own consulting firm, developing marketing strategies for retail and mixed-use projects across the country. She also held positions with Ghirardelli Square, the Yarmouth Group, and Stanford Shopping Center, as their Marketing Director.

Swig Company
Elaine Dell’ Aquila, Vice President, Asset Management

The Swig Company is a privately-owned, San Francisco-based real estate investor and operator, founded by Benjamin Swig more than 75 years ago. The company is a vertically-integrated platform, with in-house asset management, development, construction, and property management over a nine million square foot commercial portfolio.

Elaine Dell’Aquila was hired as a Vice President, joining the San Francisco corporate office Asset Management team. Previously, Elaine worked for Harvest Properties where she was the Asset Director overseeing their San Francisco office portfolio. Earlier in her career, she worked her way up the Operations/Property Management track for Oracle, RREEF and CB Richard Ellis.

Trinity Management
James Goody, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance

Trinity, founded in 1949 by Angelo Sangiacomo, is a vertically integrated real estate company that owns, develops and manages thousands of residential units and high-end retail and office properties throughout San Francisco; including the development of Trinity Place, four residential towers currently under construction in the booming Mid-Market neighborhood.

James Goody was hired as the Chief Financial Officer, responsible for Trinity’s Accounting, Finance, Human Resources and IT functions. Previously, James was the VP, Director of Real Estate for First Republic Bank and, for 15 years prior, was the CFO for Bay Area Equity Real Estate Acquisitions, a privately held multifamily investment company.

Westlake Realty Group
Jessica Smith, Senior Vice President, Portfolio & Asset Management
Lino Campanile, Chief Financial Officer
Deborah Tu, Development Manager

Westlake Realty Group, based in San Mateo, has been owned and operated by the Chang Family since 1972. The family has invested in a significant portfolio of commercial and multifamily investments throughout the Bay Area, many of which are positioned for redevelopment in the coming years.

Jessica Smith was hired in May of last year to work side-by-side with President, Kristina Chang to execute the company’s new vision, as Gen 2 and 3 implement a well thought-out succession plan. Previously, Jessica was the VP, Real Estate Services, for Westcore Properties; and spent 15 years managing the real estate portfolio for The RMR Group, a family office based in Boston.

Lino Campanile was hired as the Chief Financial Officer, rounding out Westlake’s new Executive Management team. Lino was previously with Lennar and Carmel Partners and was the CFO at Dwell Finance when it was acquired by Blackstone in 2015.

Deborah Tu was recently hired to work on a growing number of redevelopment projects scheduled to break ground in 2018/2019. Deborah was previously the Project Manager for Signature Development Group’s Brooklyn Basin in Oakland.


Matt’s podcast interview series, Leading Voices in Real Estate, has also focused on a similar theme talking about leadership with several owners of family-controlled businesses. Check out his interviews with Jonathan Rose, Tom Geddes (Plank Industries), Toby Bozzuto, and Steve Wilson (21c Hotels) in Season One at www.leadingvoicespodcast.com or on your favorite podcast app. And stay tuned for more conversations in Season Two, coming soon.