Amir Atefi ’12 (BBA)

Undergrad Alum Leverages USD Experience to Land Job

Amir Atefi ’12 (BBA)Undergrad alum Amir Atefi ’12 (BBA) discusses his post graduation work experience, including his new position at Wells Fargo, which he starts next month.

Q: What have you been doing since you graduated?

I have been working with my family’s general contracting business, Atlas Development, since its inception in 2009. After working as an assistant project manager for two years, I began managing my own projects the summer before my senior year for owners such as the city of San Diego, San Diego County, the California Department of Transportation, FEMA, the U.S. Navy, as well as some private clients. After I graduated from USD, the projects I worked on were larger, more critical and much more technically complex.

Q: Your family’s business ad an interesting opportunity to work at the San Diego Airport. What role did you play and what challenges did you encounter?

In April 2012, I estimated and was awarded a sizeable project to renovate existing infrastructure for concession and retail spaces as well as to build out some new ones in both the Commuter Terminal and Terminal 1 for the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. I was the Project Manager, which meant that I was Atlas’ primary point of contact with the airport, as well as with our numerous sub-contractors and suppliers. To keep my finger on the pulse of the project, I was on site every night from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to direct the field construction. I also worked during normal business hours to manage the business and office side of the project. My primary responsibilities were estimating, scheduling, change order negotiations, submittal review and field coordination.

Our biggest challenges were in the form of unforeseen conditions, such as obstructions that forced us to work with the architect and engineering team to redesign a good portion of the project. However, this was a great opportunity for us to implement value-engineering techniques, such as when we proposed to run the natural gas line on the roof of Terminal 1 rather than through the T-bar. This allowed our company to save enough money in the form of labor hours that we were able to give some money back to the owner. We turned a problem into a win-win situation.

Q: Tell us about your new opportunity at Wells Fargo. What prompted you to pursue it?

My decision to shift careers and industries shocked many people in my life. In only four years, we managed to create a startup construction firm run by my father, brother and myself out of our living room, where we would actually perform some labor, into a multi-million dollar a year company that has become a force in the San Diego public contracting market. I have always been interested in pursuing a career in real estate finance and after obtaining some invaluable leadership experience as well as construction expertise with Atlas, I decided it was time for me to move on from the family business and create my own career from scratch.

I had heard about Wells Fargo’s Commercial Real Estate Financial Analyst Program (FAP) when I was the chairman of the USD Real Estate Society and how Wells Fargo is the No. 1 bank in commercial real estate. When I got an e-mail from career services stating that they were hiring, I decided to send my resume. Before I knew it, I was being interviewed on campus, then put up in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, interviewed again in Century City, and was offered a position at the West Los Angeles Institutional and Metro Markets Group office. I begin working there in early March.

Q: What was the hiring process like? Did your experience as a student in USD’s real estate program help you at all?

I went through one on-campus interview and a “super day” where I had eight back-to-back interviews, some of which had two interviewers. This was slightly intimidating as they were the first and second interview experiences in my life. The first interview was more technical than the second. Questions ranged from basic accounting to real estate specific to work experience. The second interview was more personal. I was able to overcome any lack of previous finance or real estate experience on my resume because of my experience in USD’s undergraduate real estate program.

By networking with alumni and real estate professionals across the industry through the Real Estate Society and its Mentor Program, as well as by asking the staff at the Burnham-Moores Center to put me in touch with industry leaders, I was able to get some insight into the world of real estate finance. My experience as a team member on the NAIOP University Case Challenge allowed me to speak about financial and real estate terms during my interviews. Going through a semester-long case study of a live property allowed me to apply my education from the classes I took as a real estate major into the context of a development project from concept to closing. Without these extracurricular activities, I am not sure that my work experience would have been enough to land me the job.
“Students should stop wasting time on Facebook and go have a face-to-face conversation with someone who can help them get their life on track.”

Q: What advice would you give to undergraduate real estate students regarding their time at USD?

It is crucial to get involved. You will only get out what you put in. I do not believe taking a few classes or showing up to Real Estate Society meetings for extra credit is going to cut it. The staff at the Burnham-Moores Center wants to see their students succeed and will do everything they can to help them out; however, they need to know them first. Undergraduate students should show interest in real estate and take the initiative by seeing John Ferber during his office hours, applying for leadership positions in the Real Estate Society, applying for participation for the USC and NAIOP case competitions, attending professional organization events such as NAIOP, ULI, IREM, IYP, ICSC, and CREW. If you don’t know what these organizations are, you should. Most students stand in the corner at these events and talk to each other. Be the one to show up and confidently speak to everyone in the room and make sure they remember you. A lot of these activities go further than your GPA and internships because in the corporate world a lot of it is who you know, not what you know.

The other very important thing is to prioritize your activities and to not make excuses when it comes to multi-tasking. During my junior year I was managing five public projects, taking a full-time course load, serving as the chairman of the Real Estate Society, sitting on the board of a professional organization, and working on the NAIOP challenge. The job market is brutal right now so students should stop wasting time on Facebook and go have a face-to-face conversation with someone who can help them get their life on track. If you are passionate about real estate then USD is the perfect place to be. You just need to really show up.