Commercial Real Estate

Meet the Finalists: Executives from ESRP, Holt Lunsford Commercial, McGraner, Mohr Partners, and STRIVE

Six high-achieving leaders share their thoughts on leadership, growth strategies, and what’s ahead.

Next week, D CEO will reveal the winners of its ninth annual Commercial Real Estate Awards program. Leading up to the big event, we’re featuring all 83 finalists (51 projects and deals and 32 professionals), one category at a time. Today, we’re sharing excerpts from interviews with the six Executive of the Year honorees.   

Holt Lunsford  

Founder and CEO, Holt Lunsford Commercial 

WHY REAL ESTATE: “Unlimited opportunity. The real estate business in Dallas is fertile ground for someone with ambition and a strong work ethic.” 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “It sounds like a cliché, but the people. The Dallas, real estate community is simply the finest group of smart, competitive, and charitable people in business.”   

LESSONS LEARNED: “Always do what’s right, and never mortgage your reputation; it’s not worth risking.” 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “We were blessed to retain our entire workforce during the pandemic. Our company was built on their backs, and we committed to support their families as our first priority. It was worth every penny.”   

LOOKING AHEAD: “I’m excited by what our young men and women are bringing to the business. The future is bright for our industry. Dallas is a coveted geography for companies. I see so much potential in the next generation of leaders. They will create a more diverse and healthier city—one of which we will all be proud of.” 

Matt McGraner 

Chief Investment Officer, NexPoint Real Estate Advisors 

WHY REAL ESTATE: “I’m a lawyer by training, and I started out at a law firm with a practice focused on private equity, real estate, and M&A. In that role, I handled a range of different transactions and was involved in the acquisition and financing of a number of real estate investments. That experience—working on the legal side of the business in a client service capacity—has certainly influenced the way I operate on the investment side. And, given the complexity of today’s investment environment, my legal background has made me better equipped to manage the scope and scale of NexPoint’s real estate platform.” 

“That said, my interest in real estate investing predates my legal career. I started a real estate investment business in law school and worked on that, along with a few related ventures, during my time as a law student. Though I stayed on the legal track, I wanted to return to an investor role at some point—and eventually did, but with a much better understanding of the business, thanks to my time as a lawyer.” 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “It has been great to be a part of NexPoint’s growth, and we’re in a good position for it to continue. We have an entrepreneurial culture and are small enough to be nimble, but at the same time have the scale and sophistication to do large, complex deals and work across the real estate landscape. 

LESSONS LEARNED: “The importance of good partners. Fortunately, we’ve learned that the easy way. The property management partnership we established early on at NexPoint set the tone for how we approach our partnerships today. That relationship began in 2013 when NexPoint was just starting to grow our multifamily portfolio. They remain a key partner today, and we’ve been able to grow our businesses together. We’ve established similar partnerships in other parts of the business, finding organizations that have complementary expertise but a similar outlook and approach. NexPoint’s growth (e.g., recent expansion in the single-family rental sector) has a lot to do with the success of our partnerships.”  

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: NexPoint acquired a publicly traded self-storage REIT in November 2020, and our team did impressive work to make that transaction happen. The team not only completed a $900 million+ take-private deal that included major financing and involved several sophisticated parties, but they did so in record time and amid the countless pandemic-related challenges. That deal showed the strength of the real estate team we’ve built at NexPoint.   

LOOKING AHEAD: The NexPoint real estate business was able to grow in several significant ways last year. We’d built out our team going into 2020 and knew we had a strong group but were nevertheless impressed by the resilience displayed throughout the year. After seeing what the team was able to accomplish in 2020, it’s exciting to think about what we can do as the challenges of last year continue to dissipate.   

Sharon Morrison 

Founder and CEO, ESRP 

WHY REAL ESTATE: “I find myself to be a pretty competitive person, and commercial real estate embodies all of the components of a sports team and a game. We do everything as a team, and each person has their key role in our success. No position is the same, and you cannot have each individual playing quarterback or everyone playing defense. You field the team for the play. We set the team on the real estate side to create wins for us and to best serve the client.  

I like the player-coach model. I can be team captain but also know how to pass the ball to my teammates when appropriate. We all work together for the win. You have to have grit to succeed in this business. It is not easy and not for everyone. You have to be able to get up when you get knocked down. But if you are resilient, have the spirit, and work hardyou will succeed. 

And just like the thrill of a game, our industry is fun. Life is too short not to have fun. That is very important to me personally and professionally. The business is lucrative and one of the few careers you can have where there is no cap on your income. You reap what you sow. Like investment banking, it is high risk, but there is also high reward. If you do not like risk, you would not like our business. If you do not like risk, you cannot be entrepreneurial.   

I have also been blessed being in this field because it is flexible. Although we work often and work hard, the business has always allowed for me to be able to put my family first. My husband Kevin and I have been together for 31 years, and we have three amazing daughters.  I would hate to look back and think I missed out. No regretsmy line of work has made this possible. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “Along with everything mentioned above, I have loved creating a company where others can find success and opportunities they may have not had otherwise.  I love our culture and the fact our team created it. We had a good example and mentor in the form of Roger Staubach. It does not come without its challenges. You have to work on it every day. With human beings, there are human issues. It is how you handle them that makes a difference.   

also really enjoy being entrepreneurial and being around other entrepreneurs, turning ideas into real thingsactions and results. 

LESSONS LEARNED: Too many to count. I am truly learning all the time. When you start a company for the first time, there are lots of firststhey never end. You learn to expect the unexpected. Something will happen, you do not know what it is, but you better be ready to handle it and be prepared.  My favorite saying is “Champions adjust. You have to adjust, be flexible, go to plan Bevery day. That is life. Thoughts are things. So, be positive, and positive results will come out of any challenges.   

I do not like hanging around negative people. I definitely learned that! 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: In 2020, esrp made key growth decisions and continued to expand our team. While our competitors were having to restructure or lay off people, we were financially stable (thanks to our many producers and an amazing CFO in Karra Guess). We were in a position to strategically take it to the next level. We made sure to continue to meet as a team, call on new companies, and serve as a true advisor to our existing clients who had great needs in unprecedented times. We did not freeze up! Unlike the rest of our industry, we have an employee model and not just a house for a bunch of independent contractors. It has served us well.  

I am pretty sure we are one of the largest minority-led companies in AmericaOur leadership team has four womenone Black male, one Puerto Rican male, and a couple of White men. We have worked hard to have diversity from day one since we began in 2013, and not just because everyone expects it or demands it as a result of a movement or shareholder pressure. Our idea of diversity is not about our skin color or gender. Diversity means we have different people from different backgrounds and different talents. As a result, we all think differently.  The end result is creative and diverse skillsets for our clients. They get the benefit of a team of people who can help solve problems and create opportunities from different perspectives.  It is the best thing as a company and the best thing for our partners/clientsand we can to continue to add more diversity and do even better.” 

LOOKING AHEAD: “We are competing head-to-head with the big global firms. The investments we have made in resources, people, and processes along the way are paying off.  The tremendous amount of energy and new ideas we have today are going to propel us into the next phase. We are in a big push to scale the company through adding service lines, adding the right people, and opening other offices. We are not trying to get big, just trying to grow in the right ways. We are looking for others who want to be part of something special and make a difference. The timing has to be right, and our leadership team is aligned in that this is great timing. I am excited to grow, as that means we are creating more solutions for clients and can become an even better partner. 

Jennifer Pierson 

Managing Partner, Strive  

WHY REAL ESTATE: “A glass ceiling for women was very real when I graduated from college in 1992. I wanted to work in an industry where I did not have to wait for a man to promote me. Commercial real estate allows a woman to go as far as she wants; the scoreboard has no gender. I have many men in my life that I love, respect , and hold in very high regard, but I just wasn’t willing to let my future rest in their hands. All of us are preconditioned with biases; many times, we do not even know it. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: It has changed over time. In the beginning, I loved that I could surprise people who did not think a woman belonged in commercial real estate. I also really loved that I was working with clients who had made it on their own. Many had crushed it, lost everything, and then built it back again. That kind of grit and resilience is so empowering. Many of those people took me under their wing and taught me how to build my own business.  

Now, one of the things I love most is teaching the younger people coming up in our company, some of whom start with very little knowledge. Watching them grow and start to walk on their own—and then runit is very rewarding. 

LESSONS LEARNED: “I if you can imagine it, you can do it. I do not think it is possible to have dreams that we cannot achieve. We must want it badly enough. We are capable of so much if we just believe we can do it. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “We stayed focused during the pandemic. We had 12-14 Zoom calls a day during the shutdown. We stayed close to our clients and as a result, had a 20 percent market share in our sector for the year. Many took the time to relax, which I understand. But we did not; we stepped our game up, as did all our team. 

LOOKING AHEAD: Growing STRIVE. We started an office vertical in 2019 and an Industrial vertical in 2020. Next, we want to start a retail project leasing vertical. We have big dreams for this little company; it is exciting to watch it grow.  

Robert Shibuya 

Chairman and CEO, Mohr Partners 

WHY REAL ESTATE: While in college, I saw all my classmates fathers driving fancy cars and asked what they did for a living; almost all said they were commercial real estate brokers. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: “The people. I have met the most interesting, smart, and creative people during my 38year career. This includes one of my mentors, Mike Lafitte, who is the CEO of Trammell Crow Co.” 

LESSONS LEARNED: “Hire people for their potential, and not simply based on their past accomplishments and track record.   

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “During the COVID-19 Pandemic, my team pivoted from our normal course of business to help businesses raise capital and reduce their operating overhead. As a result, our 2020 revenue exceeded 2019 by 10 percent, and we remained profitable, despite the pandemic. We also avoided having to reduce staff and continued to pay our people their full salaries and bonuses. 

LOOKING AHEAD: “As the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, Certified Minority Business Enterprise, we are committed to giving women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community an unprecedented career opportunity.  

Jason Vitorino  

Managing Partner, STRIVE 

WHY REAL ESTATE: “Fortuitously. The original plan was to attend medical school. Since I was waitlisted at UMass Medical, I had a year off, so I moved to Dallas with a girl I was dating at the time. Her father was in real estate, so the thought of me being broke for the next 10 years wasn’t exactly appealing to him. Thus, he highly recommended I interview with several real estate companies. As I had a year off, I figured I would diversify my resume and venture into the business world, despite not knowing anything about the industry. After a few months, I witnessed many young brokers capitalizing on the market and making a lot of money. I felt this was something I could do as well if I put 110 percent into it. And at that point, I realized I didn’t love medicine for medicine and never went to med school. I strongly believe everything happens for a reason, and I’m so grateful I had the courageor ignoranceto move from Boston and try something new and different. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT IT: Working with clients helping them achieve their investment goals. There is nothing more rewarding than building true relationships with clients, where they value you, trust you and work in partnership to achieve their goals. If I can solve problems and help them, everything else falls into place.  

Additionally, now owning STRIVE, it also gives me great pleasure to watch our young agents grow into adults/business people, close transactions, create personal wealth, buy cars, homes, get married, and start families. I’m so honored to be able to witness and aid in this growth.”  

LESSONS LEARNED: “This is a tough one because I learned so much in the past 17 years. But if I had to pinpoint one, it would be marrying the right person. Someone once said, “Behind every great business person is an amazing significant other.” Although rewarding, this job at times is very tough, stressful, and extremely demanding. You always have to be on,” and having a solid support system at home is paramount.”   

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “I’m most proud of Adam Gottschalk for becoming a partner in STRIVE. Adam has been with me for more than eight years. I remember when he drove here from California in his Chevy Volt; now, to see the young man he has grown into is the most rewarding part of owning a company. He’s had tremendous success as a broker by adding value to clients, solving problems, and closing transactions, but more importantly, he’s a great guy with a solid moral compass, a giver rather than a taker, a guy that one can trust in good times and in bad. I’m so proud of him, and he’s a future leader, not only in our company but within the industry , and I’m so happy to be a part of his upward trajectory and to call him a partner. 

LOOKING AHEAD: “I’m a family guy, so I’m so excited to watch my kids be kids, enjoy everything that life has to offer. I’m excited about their future and the value they can bring to society. I just want them to be great human beings, add value to relationships and be givers rather than takers. I often joke if I were retired, I would be their school bus driver. Everything I do, all the sacrifices I have made, is for my family and to be able to provide for them.  

In context of business, I would say I’m most excited to see how technology will evolve with every aspect of our lives. Technology has been the ultimate disrupter. However, I view technology in a very positive light. It has revolutionized almost every business, and it will be cool to watch it continue to be interwoven into commercial real estate. 

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