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Pay It Forward: “Look at Challenges From New Perspectives and Be Open to Insights From Team Members”

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Area of ​​expertise or focus: Commercial real estate finance and debt management.

Kevin Swill, Courtesy photo

Kevin Swill is the CEO of Thirty Capital Financial, a CRE debt advisory firm and pioneer in the defeasance space. Swill entered the investment banking field in 1987 in debt restructuring at Citigroup and was instrumental in the first wave of CMBS originations in 1994 at Merrill Lynch. In 2001, Swill took the role of president at the Kushner Cos., a large diversified real estate company, heading up the finance, commercial, and hospitality divisions. After that, Swill held other executive roles in real estate finance and operations before joining Thirty Capital Financial in 2020.

What has been the biggest challenge in your particular role and how have you overcome those obstacles? The most significant challenge in my current role is to better understand the intricacies involved with the disposition process of CRE loans. Managing the various components of that process, including resources and technology, has been an enormous undertaking.

I have found that the best way to overcome these obstacles is to personally get involved with every step of the defeasance and interest rate cap process. With a complete understanding of the process, I am better equipped to put the most qualified team in place, as well as to streamline the process and make it more efficient. Technology has allowed me to succeed in overcoming this challenge in my career.

What about your current role as CEO at the company are you most happy with? I love the teamwork among the Thirty Capital Financial divisions at Thirty Capital and how they work well together to provide our unique service to clients. In other words, one division works on the defeasance engagement, another on securing the borrower’s success for that defeasance, and the third is separate but inclusive as it relates to an interest rate cap or a swap. Using Salesforce CRM across the organization has enabled us to communicate effectively among our divisions and with outside companies.

What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry and what advice do you have specifically for the next generation?

Advice received

Be open-minded — there are many different niches within the real estate financial ecosystem.

Learn all the various aspects of commercial real estate finance. Having excelled at that over the last 25+ years has taught me how to succeed within the real estate industry. I now truly understand how vital the defeasance and hedging process is on a real estate disposition for most real estate developers.

Advice given

Learn and understand all aspects and facets of commercial real estate finance, ie, underwriting, loan negotiations, networking, equity raising, debt, and equity optimization. Once you have learned about all these components, pick one and hone your skills and knowledge to become an expert.

Would you advise any younger person to start a career in CRE? Yes! Real estate is one of the most exciting and rewarding investments. The risk and reward are determined by every decision that is made. I encourage the next generation to learn about all the different types of real estate and choose to focus on either the development or finance side. Once that decision is made, continue growing in that sector.

At the beginning of my career, I wasn’t given the opportunity to research and understand the full scope of commercial real estate. Looking back, I realized how important that was, and I took it upon myself to learn all of the aspects of CRE. Also, the use of data can help in crucial decisions, which wasn’t a tool available to me when I was starting out.

Please share with us the best lessons learned from your unique journey and what initiative you are working on that you are most proud of. Risk and reward are critical components in CRE — you have to be a risk taker and experience failure to become educated enough to make the right decisions and reap the benefits in the future. I failed in my first four CRE transactions; however, I’ve learned from my mistakes and have enjoyed the economic and social rewards during my journey.

I’m currently working to create various services for CRE developers and lenders that will be more efficient and economically beneficial to them. As a developer, having your legal and financial documents, distribution formulas, and real-time financial portfolio statements in one portal affords the CRE community a more efficient and optimal way of conducting business.

In your opinion, what takeaways did we learn from the COVID-19 crisis? The CRE asset classes you owned going into the crisis significantly affected whether you would survive as a company. Due to COVID, the hospitality and office markets reached a standstill. The pandemic created a tremendous challenge in CRE worldwide but also exposed new opportunities.

In addition, low-leveraged fixed-rate loans were a key component in preserving your real estate during these turbulent times. Another takeaway is that it was beneficial for developers to have a cash reserve for difficult times, so they could maintain their debt service payments even when occupancy was declining.

What three words, phrases, statements, or mantras would you use to describe your work mindset?

  • Think outside the box — look at challenges from new perspectives and be open to insights from team members, mentors, and advisors.
  • Heighten your situational awareness — understand daily changes in market conditions related to real estate to be ready to navigate risks and embrace opportunities.
  • Understand the relationship between risk and reward — gather the knowledge, experience, and data to know the objective threats and upsides and to make the best decision.

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