By Brad Stewart, Project Manager, Quest Windows
Andrew Garrett is the Director of Cadillac Fairview’s (CF) real estate development group, overseeing a team of analysts responsible for assessing development and redevelopment opportunities within CF’s portfolio. In his spare time Andrew is known for helping early career professionals trying to break into commercial real estate and has been an important force in helping ULI Toronto develop its leadership program for mid-career professionals, now midway through its second class. He is also the founder of the WeBuild organization, which he started to afford aspiring commercial real estate enthusiasts an opportunity to develop practical experience.
Andrew’s pathway to commercial real estate came by way of his employment at the Fairmont Hotel in Toronto 15 years ago. Having completed the Hospitality Management program at the University of Guelph, it was a logical next step in his career. Responsible for customer service and the occasional dishwashing, he had the opportunity to interact with a variety of professionals staying and passing through the hotel. Through these interactions, the early stages of Andrew’s interest in real estate began to develop. He found himself fascinated by conversations around city building and Toronto’s growth. Andrew sought ways to obtain higher office positions, doing so by taking on mini consulting projects focused on ways to improve top line growth and developing tools to improve reporting methods.
Andrew’s efforts led him to move to PKF Consulting, a firm focused on providing advice to developers concentrated in the hospitality sector. Through developing feasibility studies, he gained further insights into the key factors that drive development decisions and grew his responsibilities gradually to service clients from the Maritimes, through Ontario and Quebec for asset types at both the high end and budget side of the hospitality industry.
Andrew’s drive to break further into commercial real estate led to his initial introduction to the Urban Land Institute (ULI). ULI’s professional networking opportunities, along with its lunch and learns, assisted in increasing his knowledge of the broader industry. Andrew completed his post-graduate education in real estate from UBC and pursued Argus training to sharpen his modeling skills. These efforts would eventually pay off and facilitated his recruitment to Cadillac Fairview as a junior analyst. Andrew recalls being given very senior access early on in his time at Cadillac as the company evolved from a primarily retail-focused company to what it has become today, with mixed-use and lifestyle assets far beyond its original portfolio. Andrew now plays a key role in Cadillac’s decision-making process. He recently assisted in Cadillac’s decision to purchase the Ritz Carlton in downtown Toronto. He also played an important role in the BMO Urban Campus currently being discussed for development on top of the Toronto Eaton Centre. As Cadillac’s development portfolio continues to expand so to has his oversight responsibility and scope of decision making.
As Andrew’s career progressed, he continued to make time for aspiring young professionals looking to break into the industry. His involvement with ULI has shifted to more of an advisory role, auditing financial modeling courses and helping to create the first ULI Toronto Leadership Program. Now in its second cohort, the ULI Leadership Program combines practical application of real estate concepts with leadership education and community involvement. Guest speakers welcomed by the program have included Richard Florida, Jennifer Keesmaat and multiple executives from CF.
Parallel to his efforts with ULI, Andrew has been working steadily on his project WeBuild. WeBuild is rooted in Andrew’s understanding of how challenging it can be for early career professionals to break into real estate development with limited connections. It was also derived from Andrew’s own observation that there was an education gap for early career real estate professionals wanting to transition into a more entrepreneurial stream of real estate development. WeBuild works to help early career professionals identify and understand the different streams within commercial real estate with strategy sessions complemented by guest speakers.
Topics covered in WeBuild’s sessions have included blockchain, micro financing and socially minded developments — including lofts built out of a church — that focus on environmental impacts.
Core to WeBuild’s mission is community involvement. This approach affords early and aspiring career professionals the opportunity to get hands on experience while providing non-profits with much needed assistance. As Andrew puts it, “the Googles of the world don’t let products sit in incubators, they go out and test them in real world situations.” The evolution of WeBuild has come from the understanding that students can tell better stories about what they’ve done as opposed to what they’ve read. Projects included advisory support to help agencies like the United Way better utilize existing spaces, or helping complementary mental health organizations move into shared spaces. WeBuild also offers professionals the opportunity to explore different functional areas within development. Andrew points out that it can be very easy to be siloed in large real estate corporations. WeBuild affords students opportunities to showcase skills in other areas of real estate.
Over the span of a near 20-year career, Andrew has managed to make a significant impact in Toronto’s commercial real estate environment and a very meaningful mark on the careers of many aspiring and active real estate professionals. His contributions to Toronto’s commercial real estate community cannot be underestimated yet the generosity with which he offers his time and expertise to young professionals may be his greatest contribution.