Howard Lee is an Acquisitions and Asset Management Associate at AEW in their Downtown Los Angeles office. Howard graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree from the Marshall School of Business with a minor in Real Estate Development in 2016. Howard did not have the conventional path to a real estate finance role. While at USC, he worked on a startup before transitioning into the more traditional career path. It was then that he decided to take a position at AEW Capital Management, one that he has progressed as his mastery of the real estate field has grown.
AEW is a global real estate investment management firm that invests in all product types. The company serves over 400 clients with close to $76.0 billion in assets under management. Currently, Howard splits his time between acquisitions and asset management. On the acquisitions side, his main focus is assisting the acquisitions director underwrite and close on deals, primarily Denver and west. As a member of the asset management team, his main responsibilities include supporting the asset managers in all facets including reviewing leases, updating financial models (both Excel and Argus), and completing quarterly and annual reports. By doing so, he executes upon the plans and decisions which were made by the acquisitions team.
When prompted as to what students should focus on while still at USC, Howard responded with a few tips. As for which hard skills students should be focusing on, Howard harped on the importance of learning as much modeling in excel before entering as an analyst. He highly recommends taking both “DSO 401 – Business Information Systems – Spreadsheet Applications” and “FBE 599 – RE Analysis and Computer Modeling”. After taking these two courses, the student should be well prepared for any internship or full-time opportunity. Also, the less someone has to focus on teaching and training the analyst, the more the analyst is able to stand out and showcase their expertise in other aspects. The next step would be to get as much practice with Argus as possible, although that program is a bit harder for undergraduate students to get their hands on. The best way to gain some experience would be to either try to get access to it through an internship or take a class that offers it such as the one at UCLA extension.Other than technical skills, Howard has some fresh insights as to what else it takes to be consistently successful in the real estate field. A piece of advice he gave, which I personally had never heard before, was to try to learn as much as possible about the legal aspect of real estate. Whether through reading leases, purchase and sale agreements, letter of intents, joint venture documents, or asking questions to legal counsel, try to get your hand on understanding the legal implications. This will help frame your way of thinking and help you stand out from your peers in the long run. In addition to learning more about real estate law, Howard stressed the importance of taking advantage of the “student card” in order to speak and learn from as many professionals as possible. Most professionals in the industry, especially Trojans, enjoy sharing their experience and providing insight into the next generation of Trojans. Don’t be shy and try to reach out to as many professionals as possible.
My chat with Howard left me with a more in-depth view of not only what goes into acquisition and asset management, but the organizational structure of AEW as a whole. Howard’s work ethic and mentality can be portrayed by what he said was one of his favorite quotes “First learn, then remove L.” Howard has achieved such consistent success in his position because he is focused on learning as much as he can and being able to provide the most to whatever team or project he is assigned to. It was truly a pleasure speaking to and learning from Howard.