For a time, it was a breeding ground for New Jersey's real estate industry. That's how George Jacobs recalls Rutgers Business School in the 1980s, tracing a “generation” of developers, finance experts and other executives to the Newark campus. About two dozen of them, in fact, led by former MBA professor Richard Marshall.
But the program hasn't been the same since Marshall's retirement in the 1990s.
“Rutgers has had a significant void,” said Jacobs, a Clifton-based developer and president of Jacobs Enterprises Inc. “And there's a handful of us over the years who have been trying to figure out one thing or another to get it moving again.”
If all goes well, that void can be filled in a little more than a year.
Rutgers officials say they've taken the first major step toward launching the academic platform at the university's new Center for Real Estate Studies. The school has selected its new faculty chair in real estate — spurred by a $1.5 million donation by West Orange-based developer Paul Profeta — and plans to unveil its pick in the coming months.
That will mean someone focused on creating an MBA concentration in real estate at the state's largest university, one modeled after the elite out-of-state programs that now lure away many of New Jersey's best and brightest.
“That Profeta chair is here to get Rutgers to be the NYU and Wharton in New Jersey, for real estate,” said Ronald Shapiro, the center's executive director. “They want to have not only excellence in teaching, they want this to be a major research facility for real estate.”
Graduate courses could begin as soon as fall 2015, Shapiro said, but it's still too early to say for sure. The school hopes to follow that offering with certificate programs for young real estate professionals and, ultimately, undergraduate courses.
In New Jersey, the only such curriculum is at Monmouth University, which offers graduate and undergraduate concentrations at its Kislak Real Estate Institute.
And if that program is any indication, Rutgers can expect an outpouring of support and interest from New Jersey's vast commercial real estate industry.
Shapiro has seen the early signs of that enthusiasm since taking his post last July, following three decades as a real estate banker. Case in point: the strong turnout in March when Jon F. Hanson, the revered founder and chairman of the Hampshire Cos., appeared as the inaugural speaker for the center's Distinguished Lecture Series. The event drew 160 people, with more than half coming from firms that were eager to sponsor the function, Shapiro said.
For Hanson, who does his best to keep a low profile, it was important to help Rutgers grow its profile in one of the state's most critical industries, he said. And like many other things in real estate, the opportunity was about connections; it was Jacobs, the Clifton-based developer, who approached him late last year.
“People respond to those who ask them,” said Hanson, who has known Jacobs for about 30 years. He added: “When I thought about it, I thought the state university should have a program that promotes real estate, because real estate is one of the most important businesses we have in the state of New Jersey.”
He also noted that he has grandchildren and young associates at Hampshire, a Morristown-based firm, who have gone outside New Jersey to study real estate.
The turnout for the March 20 event also served as an eye-opener for leaders at the business school, Shapiro said, creating an extra spark for the budding program.
“Making money is good, but my mission internally here was to get the school to understand how big the industry is, and to let them know that it's going to take off like an airplane,” he said.
Shapiro also has started to engage students at the business school's Newark campus. In October, he convened a workshop that brought together 75 students and four real estate professionals, giving him a sample of the interest in the program.
The school plans to organize an industry conference this fall and continue its speaker series next spring, Shapiro said. In the meantime, he will continue to seek input and support from the industry.
For now, at least one thing is clear: the industry is eager to support real estate education — and the Rutgers brand.
“Everywhere I go, people say, 'Let's talk.' I don't have to really sell myself,” Shapiro said. “The big R sells itself, so I get invited to different conferences now, different meetings. People are opening up their doors because of who I represent.”
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