Aug. 2, 2013
CHICAGO – Marisa Bast of the Northwestern softball team is spending her summer in the heart of the Chicago Loop, interning at Harrison Street Real Estate Capital.
Harrison Street is a real estate investment management firm that offers investment products across both private and public real estate segments. Bast works at the company’s headquarters in Chicago and her boss, Tom Errath, who is who is the Vice President and Director of Research and Strategy for Harrison Street, is a Northwestern alum.
Bast received this internship opportunity through NU for Life and the learning and organizational change major is gaining knowledge about the real estate world and what it’s like to work in the city of Chicago. She detailed her experience so far with a number of blog entries, which can be found below, and be sure to check out the photo gallery at the top.
Update No. 1
My first few days here have been an absolute whirlwind and I am learning a TON every day. In addition, the people here are beyond willing to help with just about anything. I have already been exposed to various departments, each saying they'd let me dabble in the work they do or giving me the opportunity to sit with them at various meetings, etc. The culture here is also phenomenal...especially for a college student. The majority of the employees are younger, and they definitely embody the "Work hard, play hard" mentality. They are extremely hard-working, sometimes putting in ridiculous hours, but I always hear laughing and everyone just seems to love working here.
The past two days, they've had both a cotton candy man (literally someone who works for a cotton candy company) bring his machine and make salted caramel or lemongrass cotton candy for the employees. The day before, it was 'cupcake' day. It goes without saying that I'm loving that part. Rumor has it tomorrow there is going to be a taco man.
Also, when Tom Errath (Vice President, Director of Research and Strategy for Harrison Street and NU alum) said this was a cool place to work, he wasn't kidding. It's right in the heart of all the Chicago hubbub...pedestrians everywhere, the smell of Garrett popcorn, coffee, more coffee, suits and ties, and an endless amount of honking from the millions of cabs on Wacker. The building is also HUGE and has beautiful architecture. I am on the 35th floor and still getting used to the endless amount of ear popping that occurs in the elevator car. The offices are equally beautiful and each of them has a gorgeous view overlooking the city.
I must admit, though, that I was a little overwhelmed the first couple days. Being a SESP girl, it was difficult for me to keep up with all of the business/econ/finance jargon that everyone seemed to be experts with, but Tom was very understanding and stressed the fact that this was going to be a constant learning process and that he'd be here to help me. As I was learning more about the company, I realized how innovative they are, and how it has ultimately led to their successes and constant progression. They seem to have never reached a point of stagnation...and it was amazing to see myself understanding more and more each day. I already feel like I've gained an incredible amount of knowledge, knowledge not only applicable to real estate and investment, but also transferrable to any business setting.
Currently, I am working on researching international markets and putting together a white paper on the student housing sectors of Germany, France, the UK, and Spain. The research is exhaustive and time consuming...I haven't even finished one part of one country yet. Tom said he'd help me with all of this, but he said, "If you're the expert, then you're going to be the one pitching it." EEK! I can't imagine presenting all of this to the company 'big wigs,' but what a great experience that'd be for me. I am also constantly challenged here, which is something that is helping me as I grow into a businesswoman.
Update No. 2
It's officially been three weeks since the start of my internship. I must say, time has gone by VERY quickly. I have learned so much throughout the past three weeks...I don't even know where to start. However, I do have a list that I'd like to share. When working downtown, there are a few things everyone should know:
1. Learn how to use public transportation. Whether it's the “L”, Metra, bus, or taxi, public transit will be your BEST FRIEND because driving to and through downtown Chicago in rush-hour traffic is not the most convenient option and will probably leave you more stressed than you want to be before walking through the doors of your company.
2. If you think you walk fast enough, you probably don't. The pace of downtown Chicago is much faster than Evanston. When people walk here, you know they have somewhere to go. My leisurely strolls stuck out like a sore thumb my first few days. I think I've increased the "pep" in my step since I've been here. I don't get passed nearly as much, so I guess that's a start.
3. There are enough restaurants to satisfy any and all taste buds. Whether it's Mediterranean, American, Japanese, or Italian, downtown Chicago has the cuisine for you...and it's all delicious. I have tried a few places around S. Wacker since the start of my Harrison Street tenure, and I (if I had a well-respected rating scale) would give them all five stars. Just be sure to get down there before the mad rush of businessmen and businesswomen flood these restaurants for lunch (usually around noon).
4. There are always things to do downtown. For example, the Taste of Chicago happened to be just a few blocks away from my building. Make sure you talk to your co-workers to find out what the "happenings" are for the month, or just check out Chicago event websites. You wouldn't want to miss anything when you're so close to the heart of downtown Chicago!
I'm sure I will be expanding on this list throughout my stay here, but those are a few of the things I wanted to be sure to include. A couple noteworthy events that happened in my second week include attending the Blackhawks parade and completing my first project. On Friday, we were allowed to wear jeans and Blackhawks gear in celebration of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, our very own Chicago Blackhawks. The parade was passing through just a block away from my building, and my boss told me, along with one of the other interns, that we could go. So, we walked outside our building...only to see a flood of hundreds of people dressed in red and black. Just as we got down there and found a spot to stand, the buses starting passing through. We actually caught a glimpse of the Stanley Cup itself. It was pretty awesome, although, it didn't last any longer than five minutes for all of the buses to ride past.
As far as my project was concerned, I was responsible for researching the student housing market in Spain, France, Germany, and the UK, and compiling the information I found into a "white paper" (basically an organized research report). Once I wrote the papers for each of the countries, I was asked to make conclusions about the markets, basically asking "Why" and "How" along the way. I then presented my findings to Tom, my boss, and also a Northwestern and Kellogg alum himself, who approved it and then asked me to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on the four countries. Once I was finished with that, this project was complete, minus the presentation to the company. I now am working on doing the same thing for the same four countries for the healthcare and senior housing sectors.
Update No. 3
Well, my fifth week at Harrison Street is coming to a close. I can't believe I have already been here for over a month. I am so busy each and every day that the weeks just seem to continue flying by. One reason why these two weeks came and went a tad quicker than the previous weeks is because I was out of town in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters from June 14-June 18 for a leadership conference (not associated with Harrison Street) called F.L.A.M.E., which stands for Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience than fostered my passion for learning, leadership, and sports.
A few tidbits of knowledge I have gained throughout my five weeks at Harrison Street are presented below:
• Professionals want to help interns. As an intern myself, I have taken full advantage of this, whether it is asking about the individual's specific job and contributions to the company or simply asking them about their story and how they got to be where they are now.
• Quality is much better than quantity. Obviously, both would be nice, but Tom, my boss, very much appreciates the quality of my work versus the quantity or speed with which I produce the documents. He has mentioned to me that I could "take my time" to ensure the paper I am producing is thorough, detailed, and meticulously crafted.
• When asked to go to lunch or sit with someone in the staff lounge, think of it as a great opportunity to get to know your co-workers outside of their office space/workplace. At first, I was very intimidated to be going to lunch with some of the people that work here and I feared that I was going to end up eating my lunch without uttering a word. However, I was surprised with how much other people wanted to learn about me, Northwestern, and the work I'm doing for Tom. Needless to say, I have not once regretted accepting an invitation to any of the local restaurants.
• Asking questions is better than assuming or guessing. In other words, asking how to do something or which program to use is much better than assuming what your boss wants. I understand that this sounds very practical and almost makes you say, "duh," but I have run into this situation multiple times in which I have been timid with asking Tom a question.
• Ask for feedback. With everything that you do, from the interview to your final project, ask your boss to provide you with feedback so you are constantly furthering your development as a professional.
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