This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.
Morgan Malone was named managing director of Farpoint Development in December and is overseeing the $3.8B Bronzeville Lakefront megadevelopment in Chicago. At 28 years old, she is one of the city’s youngest managing directors in the commercial real estate industry, and she brought with her a background in labor organizing and a passion for developing communities to create a more equitable society.
Malone said investors are too quick to write off some neighborhoods as poor investments.
“We should be willing to be bold and reimagine the markers for success as central business districts become increasingly crowded and expansion into adjacent communities continues,” she said.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Courtesy of Farpoint Development
Farpoint Development Managing Director Morgan Malone
Bisnow: Baron Rothschild once said the “time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Where is the blood today?
Malone: A strong argument can be made that the blood in the streets can be found wherever neighborhood amenities are underinvested in and there is a user base primed to patronize after a period of lack. Without a lens for cultural economic development, opportunities to buy in submarkets or in underinvested communities seem like poor return, below-market deals. In reality, the less access a community has had to an amenity, the higher the likelihood that when rightsized for the demographics and needs of said community, the amenity can thrive and become profitable. We should be willing to be bold and reimagine the markers for success as central business districts become increasingly crowded and expansion into adjacent communities continues. Two years into a pandemic, when many asset classes proved vulnerable, quality-of-life amenities are still standing and still in demand.
Bisnow: What is your most controversial CRE opinion and why are you right about it?
Malone: As an industry, we discuss increasing the pipeline for diverse talent as an imperative but we enable, and at times increase, barriers to entry. A majority of the people within our industries did not go to college for CRE and gained their expertise on the job. Development requires organization, problem-solving skills, agility, the ability to think quickly on your feet and project management skills. The rest is all teachable content or work that will be let to consultants. The transferable skills needed to be successful in this industry reside in community development financial institutions, community and economic development corporations, government, etc., and there are diverse candidates within these organizations and institutions that are ripe for recruitment. And yet, we still have a habit of prioritizing existing non-diverse networks during our recruitment efforts.
If we are going to truly diversify the industry, we have to change our approach and acknowledge the tensions that have made diverse candidates unsuccessful in this industry. Even if we have to interrogate our own actions and behaviors, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I always say that if you can be excellent when there are areas with significant room for growth, you have the talent, skills and knowledge to be excellent, improve and enable transformative solutions.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in real estate, what path would your career have taken?
Malone: I’m an explorer at heart, I’ve always been curious and I love traveling for extended periods of time and exploring new cultures as a local. I’d likely be an anthropologist or working in an international organization like the World Bank or the World Economic Forum.
Courtesy of Farpoint Development
Farpoint Development’s Morgan Malone
Bisnow: If you could make one change to the industry, what would it be?
Malone: An area of improvement for the industry is the lack of a sector partnership that intentionally helps us share the assumed cost burden of ESG initiatives. If we are all going to be using diverse vendors on CRE projects and we understand the barriers for achievement on the industry side and the barriers for access on the vendor side, why not share the cost burden of alleviating those barriers as an industry and support the tools needed to advance collectively? We all spend less as individual companies and projects and are able to do more, more efficiently, together.
As we design pathways for impact in our work, there are also pathways to alleviate any perceived barriers to implementation as long as we work together. We have to do more than workshops and seminars but truly sit down with one another, solve for solutions, roll our sleeves up, and put our money where our ideas are.
Bisnow: What is one thing you would do differently from early in your career?
Malone: If I could do it all over again, I’d have prioritized work-life balance and self-care more intentionally. As the old adage says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup!” Getting into the habit of prioritizing time to rest, engaging in recreational activities and traveling farther and more often with loved ones are things that I wish I had acted on sooner.
Bisnow: As a leader, how do you decide who is worth mentoring and who is simply not a good fit?
Malone: I approach leadership from an asset-based lens. I believe that everyone has something to offer and has unique value to contribute to the world and to society. Given that belief, I don’t operate in terms of who is worth mentoring, as that implies that some people are worth mentoring and believing in and others are not. Throughout my career I’ve learned that mentorship takes many forms and is still possible through our differences as long as I, the mentor, am cognizant of the diverse needs of my mentees. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentorship.
I think of myself as an open-source mentor; my mentorship isn’t conditional. Rather, I strive to share as much as I can with as many people coming after me as I can with no qualifiers or projections on who they should be in the world and how they should utilize the information.
Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Does it have any relevance for CRE?
Malone: There are boundless opportunities in digital real estate, from placemaking to virtual real estate advisory. Through technology and virtual worlds, we can build simulations of our communities and implement test cases with less risk. We can also use the metaverse as a tool for participatory design. The metaverse can enable a reduction in the learning curve for citizens and design and can generate real-time data for developers regarding market feasibility and user interest.
Courtesy of Morgan Malone
Morgan Malone speaking at an Urban Land Institute Equitable Development Summit
Bisnow: What do you see as the lasting impacts of the pandemic on CRE?
Malone: The pandemic has required us all to see both the culture we create within our organizations and the buildings we develop with fresh eyes. The pandemic provided a level of silence we’d not previously seen before that gave employees time to reflect and consider prioritizing the wellness of themselves and their loved ones. It also gave everyone time to think about who and what they value most and what they desire out of a work environment.
Employees are likely to advocate not only for more remote work but for their employer to consider their overall health and wellness within the company and through office building amenities. This is an opportunity for CRE to be creative and innovative about the amenities their employees and prospective tenants need as human beings. I’m hoping that we see more in-building childcare, health and wellness centers, fitness centers, green space and biophilia, etc.
Bisnow: As you know, there is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?
Malone: Since joining Farpoint I’ve seen our company take an intentional approach to recruiting diverse and women candidates. As a Black woman in the industry, I embrace the unique lived experience that I bring to this work and it is no secret that diversification of the industry and its leadership is an area of importance to me. Fortunately, it is an area that my founders care a lot about as well.
While the road to diversifying the CRE industry won’t happen overnight, executive sponsorship is key to reducing and removing barriers for access to opportunity. I am not the only woman who’s been promoted to the role of managing director at Farpoint and I’m certain that I won’t be the last. Intersectional perspectives are an added strength to every company. Diversity in ethnicity, gender, ability and otherwise strengthen company strategies and solutions. This added perspective helps to make our collective solutions more considerate, inclusive, transformative and resilient.
In my free time, I host happy hours for Black women in the built environment and community development in Chicago each quarter, and I also mentor young people, women and diverse employees throughout the industry nationwide. The pipeline to a diverse workforce requires intentionality, relationship and targeted effort. On any given day, I am employing all strategies to engage with the next generation of diverse CRE professionals and leaders — for my organization and yours.
Bisnow: So, this is the weekend interview. What’s your typical weekend routine?
Malone: I am a frequent weekend traveler. On any given Saturday I can be found exploring a town somewhere in the U.S. or visiting friends and family. When I’m not traveling, I’m catching up with friends or doing an outdoor activity (hiking, biking, etc.).