Soccer, finance and real- estate
As Thomas kickstarts his journey as a soccer athlete with an affinity for Economics and Religious study in Beloit, he walks us down to his professional milestone as the Vice-President of Investments for a major real estate firm in Chicago.
Why did you decide to go to Beloit College?
Honestly, I was unsure about what I wanted to do at that time. However, to some extent, I was particularly looking for small schools because I wanted to have a tight-knit community to be surrounded by. I visited a couple of schools, but the visit to Beloit College stood out the most for its warmth and friendliness. I remember that I got welcomed by so many amazing people when I visited the college and stayed overnight. The faculty and the students (especially from the soccer team) were willing to show me around. Also, during my visit, the prospective students joining me were high school soccer players, so the whole visit turned out to be a hanging out between my friends and me back in high school. That was when I felt like I was actually at home but in a different place, Beloit College.
How do you feel about your transition from high school to college? Was it challenging for you as a freshman?
I would say my transition was both easy and challenging, to some extent. I went to a Jesuit Catholic school, St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago during my high school years. Thus, I was well-prepared to navigate the liberal arts education (well-rounded teaching approach and small class sizes). However, it was my 1st semester when I was intensely overwhelmed and worried about my academics. Initially, I intended to go into the history field, so I challenged myself with an upper-level History course right in my first semester at Beloit. Filled with excitement about this History course, however, I immediately felt I did not belong to this class right after the moment I got into it. The material was challenging, and I found it hard to make friends with people in the class (the course was not designed only for first-year students.) After staying in this course for 2 weeks, I went to see the professor of that course, Professor James L. Osen, with a drop-add card saying that maybe I was not smart enough to keep up with the class progress. Instead of signing my drop-add card, the professor refused to sign and said, “Just because you feel that you are not good enough for this class, it does not mean that you are not as smart as anyone else in this (class) room.” He convinced me to stay in the class and consistently pushed me going forward. That was the defining moment when my professors recognized my potential, believed in my capabilities and motivated me to strive for excellence. I ended up passing the class with a not-bad grade (a B+, and it was my worst grade in college.) Sometimes, you just need to have a person who believes in you and tells you that you always have the ability to achieve anything you want. For me, this kind of motivation is stronger than anything else in this world.
What are your majors and minors, if any? When did you declare each of these?
I declared a double major in Economics & Management (now changes to Economics) and Religious Studies in my sophomore year.
You mentioned that you initially planned to go in-depth into History. What made you change your mind to major in Economics and Religious Studies?
I did not have any plans for my majors before coming to Beloit. At that time, I found History interesting, so I took some history courses. I also took various classes from different departments because I wanted to explore and figure out what interests me. After taking a wide range of courses, I found Economics and Religious Studies tremendously exciting and engaging. The history analysis included in the class material combined with economics and Religious studies-related knowledge was a perfect combination. Also, the professors from these 2 departments played critical roles in my decision. I forever admire and respect Professor Allan Patriquin from the Religious Studies department. I enjoyed every class I took with him, which ultimately made me decide to major in this field. Regarding Economics, the Economics professor that I took my first course with, Professor Emily Chamlee-Wright, was instrumental in getting me into economics by introducing me to the concepts and inspiring me to know more about them.
Did you continue playing soccer while at Beloit College? If so, could you share with us some of your fondest experiences with the team?
Yes, I did. Beloit College allowed me to continue pursuing my soccer interest in all of my 4 years at Beloit. The soccer team is my second family in Beloit. I was able to form lifelong friendships that I still keep in touch with. There are so many memorable experiences. But the one that I remember the most is when I received the Team Spirit Award in my junior year. At that time, I did not contribute a significant amount of physical work to the team since I was not always on the field. I also did not think that I was a valuable member of the whole group. However, receiving the award made me feel that my thought was not true. My team had always valued me as an indispensable part of the whole group.
What opportunities did you have as a Beloit College student?
Beloit College always offers students various opportunities to learn and grow. For me, the beauty of Beloit lies perfectly in the way they encourage students to push themselves forward, but at the same time, giving them the freedom to explore and pick up whatever opportunity that fits the most. I continued playing soccer while maintaining high performance in academics. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with 2 departmental awards for being one of the top students in both the Economics and Religious Studies departments. It is nice to have people recognize the work and effort I have put into during my 4-years at Beloit. I also gained practical working experience and improved my leadership skills by being the Manager in Belmark and the Teaching Assistant for the Religious Studies department.
Do you think that your time/ education at Beloit has influenced where you are present?
Yes, definitely, and that shows the most throughout my career path after graduating from Beloit College. Beloit College has instilled in me the willingness to take on opportunities. It is not about randomly taking what is available. It is about considering and thinking critically and creatively about it. I have learned to evaluate every opportunity offered to me to figure out which one could help me learn and grow the most. Beloit College also taught and framed me to become an independent taker. I remember that I had an interview with a consulting firm through the Beloit College network in my senior year. During the interview, I asked them several questions about the company culture and the people. They answered me back, “We are going to teach you everything you need to know.” Right at that moment, I knew that I did not want to work for this company.
Could you name a few people that have influenced the person you are today?
It is impossible to answer this question. There are so many names coming up in my mind. But I think, overall, they are all the people I have been lucky enough to meet and form relationships with during my time at Beloit. I am thankful to have Professor James L. Osen, Professor Allan Patriquin, Professor Emily Chamlee-Wright, Professor Jeff Adams, and everyone in the Department of Economics and Department of Religious Studies be with me in my college journey. My friends, my soccer teammate, and my wife (also a Beloiter) have made my Beloit College experience memorable and wonderful.
What paths did you take from graduation to your current position?
My career pathway is pretty much a winding path. I started as a Financial Analyst in the retail industry with Borders, then slowly got involved in some aspects of the real estate industry within the same company. At that time, I decided to further my knowledge, so I went to the University of Michigan for my MBA degree. When I was halfway through my MBA degree, I got an offer asking me to join a real estate firm, McKinley, even though I did not know much about real estate operations and investment. However, I knew that I would like to work for a small firm rather than a big corporation, so I decided to take my chance. I took jobs with little industry-related work experience. However, over many steps and years, I finally caught up with and contributed to the company’s growth (I was with the team to grow the company from 750 to approximately 15,000 employees before leaving.) After working with that company for 5 years, I moved to a different company in the real estate industry, McCaffery Interests. I worked as the Senior Managing Director of Investments there. Currently, I am the Vice President of Investments for CRG, another real estate firm located in Chicago. To sum up, my career path is like this, in my 20s and early 30s, I tried to find the career path that fits me the most, and now, in my 40s, I continue with the chosen one.
Could you walk us through your typical day at work?
My role focuses on capitalizing on multifamily development and acquisition opportunities. My work involves overseeing all parts of the company investments, from planning, underwriting new opportunities, and acquiring value-add properties to structuring equity investments in joint-venture development projects.