As a student at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., Peter Reinhart planned to become a high school teacher after graduation. But he finished his studies in 1971, as the Vietnam War raged, and spent the next four months training with the National Guard.
"When I got out, it was October," he said. "And you can't get a teaching job in October."
But Reinhart, who started law school the next year, ultimately became a full-time educator, even if it came after a distinguished 40-year career as a real estate attorney. In July, Reinhart retired as general counsel of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. to become director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University, in Long Branch, putting him at the helm of New Jersey's only undergraduate program in real estate.
Reinhart, 61, is now responsible for molding some of New Jersey's future leaders in real estate, while bridging the gap between students and professionals in the industry. And Reinhart is up to the task, according to colleagues and industry executives, who say he's among the most knowledgeable, energetic and respected people in the business.
"His track record of accomplishment in New Jersey, and what he's done to shape the real estate industry, is … somewhat unparalleled," said Carl J. Goldberg, managing partner of Millburn-based Roseland Property Co. "He really elevates the importance of the real estate institute at Monmouth University by virtue of his reputation and his intellect."
Reinhart spent 33 years with New Jersey's largest homebuilder — among the hardest hit by the housing downturn — but he said his decision "was more about this opportunity bringing me back to doing what I wanted to do." His career also includes service with trade groups like the New Jersey Builders Association and public-sector work under three governors.
As a professor and administrator, Reinhart has tapped "a cadre of potential lecturers" in development, banking and law from his Rolodex; Mitchell Hersh, CEO of Edison-based real estate investment trust Mack-Cali Realty Corp., said that's among the greatest strengths of the institute.
"It doesn't operate in a vacuum," said Hersh, a member of the institute's advisory council. "I think that's one of the real positive elements of Kislak — the fact that it's connected to the industry on a real-time basis and has the benefit of so many professionals … who can talk to the students about what's really going on in the world."
Reinhart had been an adjunct professor at the nearly 20-year-old institute since 1996, he said. While he only taught one class for most of that time, members of the institute's Executive Advisory Council say he helped the program grow by drawing support from some of the state's largest real estate executives.
Raising the profile of the program and expanding course offerings are now full-time duties for Reinhart, who will work in conjunction with Don Moliver, the school's founding director, who said "it was really a no-brainer" that Reinhart succeed him.
"He has hit the ground running," said Moliver, who in May was named dean of the Leon Hess Business School. "I feel very good knowing that the institute is in great hands."
Reinhart joined Hovnanian in 1978 to replace the only lawyer at the company, which was then privately held and had about $24 million in revenue. It grew to become a $5 billion firm by 2006, when Reinhart was overseeing 20 attorneys as the senior vice president and general counsel for the Red Bank builder, he said.
"My job morphed as the company grew," Reinhart said. He started his career attending planning board meetings and negotiating contracts, and ended it handling strategic functions like mergers and acquisitions. He also was active with NJBA, including a stint as president in 1995; Goldberg said Reinhart played a role in crafting policies that "have become the foundation of how real estate is developed" in New Jersey, including wetlands protection and permit extensions.
The Edison native became a Monmouth University professor in 1996, teaching a course on real estate development with John Giunco, a fellow real estate attorney from Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla. Giunco called Reinhart "a natural teacher" because of his engaging demeanor and the depth of his knowledge. "I saw that enthusiasm and passion he has for teaching and his concern for the students, and it's a genuine, interested concern," Giunco said.
In 2006, the institute took the Kislak name following a $2 million donation from Woodbridge-based Kislak Co. Inc. That also was when the school established its undergraduate program in real estate, which has since grown to include about 30 students, Reinhart said.
In his new post, Reinhart hopes to expand course offerings, especially at the graduate level, so that undergraduate real estate students are encouraged to continue their studies at the institute. He also said he hopes to grow the institute as a research hub and a forum for the current issues facing the real estate industry, such as municipal consolidation and distressed assets.
His plans are ambitious, but Reinhart, an avid runner since his youth, believes he still has the time and the energy to see them through.
"When I was 10, and you hear about somebody being 60, you think they're a few breaths away from dying," he joked. "Now that I'm 61, I feel like I'm still 40."
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