Episode 100: Lawyer turned investor who is investing in secondary growth markets
In today’s show, Pancham interviews Brian C. Adams – lawyer-turned-real estate investor and the Principal and Founder of Excelsior GP.
Brian was a district attorney in Nashville who was transferring to a corporate law firm when he realized that he doesn’t want to live a life in golden handcuffs. He then saw his wife’s family background in investing, connected with a business partner, founded Excelsior GP, and the rest is history!
With 10 years of experience in real estate private equity, advanced knowledge in best practices for strategic real estate investing, and a $415 million growth of asset value, He is surely the guy you want to talk to when it comes to investing!
In this episode, listen as Brian will share how the maturing millennials are leading the market today, how his investment strategy works, and how diversified investments can help you in your overall portfolio.
Tune in to this show and enjoy!
- 0:40 – Pancham introduces Brian to the show
- 1:36 – How his wife’s family background got him into investing
- 5:02 – How the maturing millennial generation are driving market change
- 6:48 – Focusing on commercial office assets amidst the pandemic
- 9:16 – How golden handcuffs made him leave his corporate gig
- 15:26 – Why you should not only focus on investing in stocks
- 19:24 – How sleep helped him to be more productive
- 21:54 – Taking the Leap Round
- 21:54 – His first investment outside of Wall Street
- 22:40 – Overcoming his fear of losing control
- 24:05 – Why his bar and resto investment didn’t go as expected
- 26:04 – Why investors should have a good infrastructure in the business itself
- 27:18 – Brian’s contact information
3 Key Points:
- The maturing millennial generation is growing so their geographic metrics are benefitting the enterprise.
- There is no easy solution when it comes to transitioning to investing full time. The success you’ll enjoy is a part of the pain that you went through.
- Aside from stock investments, there are other types of investments that you can consider investing in to supplement your entire portfolio.
Get in Touch:
- Excelsior Capital Website – https://www.excelsiorgp.com/
- Brian C. Adams LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-c-adams/
- Listen to Brandon Hall’s episode in The Gold Collar Investor here: https://thegoldcollarinvestor.com/show4/
- The Gold Collar Investor Banking – https://thegoldcollarinvestor.com/banking/
- Pancham Gupta Email – email@example.com
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Pancham Gupta: Hi, thank you for joining me today and I really appreciate you for tuning in. We have an exciting show for you. We have a lawyer who turned into a real estate investor, Brian Adams has 10 years of experience in real estate private equity and has advanced knowledge and best practices for strategic real estate investing. Brian is a former practicing attorney earning his JD from Suffolk University and his BA from Wesleyan University with honors. Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Pancham Gupta: Thank you for your time. It’s getting towards the end of the day, really excited to have an exciting conversation before we get into the weekend. Before we get started, are you ready to fire up my listeners break out of Wall Street investments?
Brian: I’m ready. Let’s do it. Absolutely.
Pancham Gupta: The market is going up 10% every day. So, you know, you have a difficult job to convince people for that.
Pancham Gupta: Let’s talk about that. But before we get into it, tell our listeners about your background and more importantly, the person behind that background.
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am from New York originally. Met my wife in college in Connecticut. She is from Nashville. My wife’s family has a single family office based here in Middle Tennessee. So, when I joined the family, I got exposure to some of the investments we were making with GPs and sponsors and fund managers in the commercial real estate space. I then connected with my business partner, who is an Indian guy from New York as well, I’m from upstate, he’s from Long Island, he had worked on Wall Street for the majority of his career, but likewise married a Nashville girl. So, we connected, start our company 10 years ago. And we’ve done a lot of different things, but over that course of that time, we’ve amassed a portfolio of around two and a half million square feet. So, it’s about $450 million gross asset value. And we do three things; we provide a place where people can put capital to work in an uncorrelated environment to the macro stage, we provide passive income trying to solve for that eight to 10% cash on cash yield that we distribute monthly. And then we do a lot on the tax side to really accentuate all the benefits that come from direct real estate ownership. So that ideally, you’re getting that 8 to 10% cash on cash yield, but your K1 is demonstrating a loss for the first one to two to maybe three years of the investment.
Pancham Gupta: Yeah, absolutely love bonus depreciation there. So, you know, Brian, before you got into this, like, was it right out of college you got into this business? or how did you get into this?
Brian: Yeah, it was it was through my wife’s families. So, they had been investing in -commercial estate-for the last 25-35 years. My father in law had had experience investing with various managers. After I’d moved to Nashville and practice law, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer long term, it just didn’t really seem like it was gonna be that much fun. Or I could really create a lot of wealth myself doing that so pivoted towards real estate back in, gosh, 2010. So right, I guess 11 years now. Yeah, we bought a lot in Nashville. We were very lucky with the timing with the recession. And then everything that was going on in Nashville was still growing a lot, but you could still afford to buy things. And then we’ve since expanded out geographically. So now we’re in 12 markets total, across the southeast and the Midwest.
Pancham Gupta: Okay, great. So how many states are you focused? How many cities are you focused in?
Brian: Yeah, so we’re in 12 markets today, we’ve been priced out a lot of those markets. So, you know, for instance, Nashville is now just too expensive to invest in. The same as for Raleigh, for the most part for us, Tampa Bay. And so, we’ve gone to different places. Right now, we’re focused on Kansas City, Fort Worth, Detroit, some markets in Florida, but we’re optimistic. That’s one of the great things about being a fun less sponsor is I’m not beholden to a certain mandate. I can go where I find deals that go where I see opportunity. So, we’re constantly evaluating. We probably have around five to six markets on our watch list right now.
Pancham Gupta: Got it. Yeah and you know with COVID and all that, lot of demographic shift and changes and people moving to different places. And, you know, recently United Van Lines report came out and you could see where the most inbound moves were happening. And it was great data point to see. So, you’re talking about that, like, you know, can you talk about like, what are some of the secondary growth markets and key demographic, you know, metrics that are driving change?
Brian: Absolutely. So, when we started the company, we started out buying in Nashville. And that was unsustainable, we knew we would have to expand geographically. So, we started doing the numbers and digging into the data points about this maturing millennial generation, which I barely qualifies millennial, I’m just on the outer edge of it. But I do qualify. I think the Wall Street narrative has been that this generation, which is around 78 million people total. There’s the largest working generational cohort in American history, that they would live in Brooklyn, in a five story, walk up, wear skinny jeans, eat avocado toast, and they would never get married or have children. That clearly was not the case. What happened was because of the great recession, their family formation phase got pushed back three to five years, but they’re increasingly making choices about where they want to live, work and play based on quality of life cost of living, access to single family homes, access education for their children. And so, what we saw playing out was a bit of a boomerang effect, where they were leaving these gateway coastal markets that have become prohibitively expensive, and pernicious tax regimes. And they’re moving back home and those were places like Nashville, like Kansas City, like Texas, like Florida, etc. So those are the numbers and the data points that we track is what markets that have a million plus MSA that have experienced year over year population job and wage growth over the last 5 to 10 years. But you could still, you know, afford to buy a commercial real estate building at a seven cap or an eight cap and try to solve for that 8 to 10% yield without taking on too much leverage or too much debt
Pancham Gupta: God. So, based on this, I’m sure you kind of change your investment strategy. So, what is now with COVID, COVID into the mix, it’s changed even more. So, what is your latest philosophy? And, you know, focus?
Brian: Sure, it’s a good question. We’re still bullish on office. In these markets, you know, we really do think that because people are moving here, corporate relocations are going to be robust. You hear a lot of headlines about people leaving California, leaving New York, and having a distributed workforce where they have smaller hub and spoke models, secondary offices. Now, pre COVID, 4% of the workforce worked remotely, clearly in a post COVID world, that’s going to be more than 4%. That being said, this trend line towards massive densification that we saw play out over the last 10 years, the pendulum will swing the other way. And people want more traditional office layouts were in a we work, they had maybe 100 feet per square foot for a user, a traditional office layout is more like 350 square feet per user. So that plus you know, people being in the office less, I think it’ll be kind of a wash, frankly, so we are still bullish on office. That being said, there is the reality today that it’s very difficult to underwrite, lease renewal probabilities, or new leasing activity. So, we’re not buying suburban office today. We do have a background in industrial and flex and single story product and some triple net. And again, still trying to solve for that cash on cash yield, which is what our investors want. So, we are looking at some of those other product types, but still in the suburban markets.
Pancham Gupta: Wow. It’s very hard to underwrite office right now, I can tell you, yeah,
Brian: We’ve been, you know, it is difficult to underwrite new acquisitions. We’ve been very fortunate, we’re running at 96% occupancy, and we’ve been able to make full distributions on all of our assets. So, people are happy. That being said, it’s hard to gauge how many people are actually in the office today in these various markets. And to your point, leasing activity and lease renewals have been muted, as you would expect. So, we feel confident that we’ll be in a good place long term, but buying new properties, unless there’s a very compelling story, or there’s a discount there. It’s a bit of a challenge for us. So, we have, you know, look forward to the industrial flex space, as well as some triple net product.
Pancham Gupta: Got it. Got it. And that is great. So, it’s mainly office right now industrial for you. That’s like, let’s say 2021.
Brian: All commercial. Yeah. All commercial.
Pancham Gupta: Got it. Got it. Cool. Thank you for that. And I want to switch gears a little bit. And I know you eluded to this a little bit before, you know, most successful people that I’ve interviewed and you know, you’ve been a lawyer and you shift moving to real estate, they’ve had multiple events, sometimes one or two events happen in their lifetime, right, where they decided to draw a line in the sand and decided to become above average. Do you have an event like that in your life that has happened?
Brian: Yeah, I actually do. So, when I was an attorney, I was actually a district attorney. So as a prosecutor in Nashville, and I was thinking about making a move to a corporate law firm. I had a young child; I was looking to make more money. I had been a prosecutor for, you know, four to five years and that’s typically, you know, you’re either there for five years or 50 years that was never a lifer. And so, I started talking to some of these older partners, mostly 55 to 65 year old guys. And almost to a tee, they were all pretty miserable. They were divorced, for the most part, they seemed unhappy, they had a golden handcuffs problem where they were making just enough money to live the quality of life and the lifestyle that they were expected to live. But it was never enough for them to have some kind of financial freedom. And increasingly, when I talked to them, I realized that the value that they were creating for themselves and for the enterprise they were working with was based on the amount of time that they were spending away from their family, right. So, it’s a function of how much energy and effort and time they’re willing to grind on something, and not necessarily the value of the product they were creating. And I just realized it was a crazy way to live. That’s not how I wanted the legacy of my professional life to be. And so that combined with a birth of my child kind of made me say, okay, I need to burn the bridges, cross the Rubicon, whatever cliche you want to use, and actually do this full time. So, it had been a side hustle. And that was just about when I connected with Abi Shek, so it all kind of worked out together. But there was definitely a moment I remember, I was watching the masters, it was Mother’s Day weekend, it was a beautiful spring day in Nashville. And I just said, screw it. I’m gonna go to the office tomorrow, if you get all my stuff, put in my letter, and I’m gonna see if I can make a make a run at this.
Pancham Gupta: So how long before you were doing your side gig before that moment?
Brian: It was probably, gosh, still kind of runs together? law school, it was probably about two years
Pancham Gupta: Two years? So just in two years kind of decided this is it.
Brian: I know yeah,
Pancham Gupta: That’s pretty impressive.
Brian: I would probably never take the risk today. Frankly, it was looking back on it, it was a little crazy. But it’s worked out. So, it’s been a fun run.
Pancham Gupta: Right, right. I have a lot of, you know, I went through this similar struggle. And I know a lot of people, a person who’s listening and who’s going through the same kind of mindset struggle, where he is in a corporate job, maybe in a tech firm, maybe working at Facebook, Apple, Amazon. Most of these guys love what they do, but let’s say there is one person who’s listening, and he wants to, he is in your situation, what advice would you give to that person? If he’s in that dilemma?
Brian: Yeah, you know, it’s a good question. It’s hard to articulate. But some of the things that I’ve realized after looking back and having this conversation with a lot of other folks, a lot of my attorney buddies who are now you know, junior partner, are trying to get out of the rat race, but they’re a little bit too deep, and they don’t know how to extricate themselves. My response to them is, if you want that style of life, and if you want that financial freedom, it doesn’t come easy. And that includes the choice to leave your corporate gig, it’s not supposed to be a simple, easy decision, because if it were everybody would do it. And that’s part of the process. And that’s kind of what I’ve realized is, when I was early in my career as an entrepreneur, I was always looking for some kind of like turnkey solution, like, there’s got to be an easier way, if I could just meet the right person, or if I could just do the right deal. But I’ve realized now looking back on it, that it’s meant to be a process, it’s meant to be difficult. And that is part of being an entrepreneur is going through that challenging period of making those hard choices and gaining that scar tissue and gaining that experience. So, if this person listening and their heart of hearts really wants to do this, part of the success that you will enjoy later on, will be because of the pain that you have to go through by leaving that corporate cushy gig,
Pancham Gupta: yet so many great points there. I 100% agree with you. This is you know, Jim Rohn has this quote, I don’t remember exactly, but it’s one of my favorite quotes that, you know, it’s it says that something like this, you will go through at every single point in time to pains, pain, of discipline of pain of regret, is just that the pain of discipline is something that weighs ounces, and pain of regret is based stands, something like that. So, it’s the same thing, you know, in 20 years from now, if you’re going to regret that you have, would have could have should have done that, you know, that kind of weight is much, much more than, you know, actually just going and doing it and you would never regret doing something which actually didn’t work out.
Brian: Yeah, I mean, and I think it comes down to what your motivation is right? I mean, what are you trying to solve for I know my partner, he is trying to prove to his father in law that he can be a successful entrepreneur. That’s really important in his family, in his culture, and that’s a big driver for him, and that’s a motivator and he wasn’t going to be able to do that working in a corporate law gig. For me, I wanted more financial flexibility and more financial freedom for my family. And I just wasn’t going to be able to do that working at the dean’s office. And so, if you understand the problem, and you know what your goal is, it’s simply a function of reverse engineering into that place that you want to go to. And if you know that you cannot get there realistically in your corporate gig, then it’s a really simple choice. You just have to have the where with all to make it.
Pancham Gupta: Yeah. Great. Cool. So, Brian, I have two questions for you, person who’s listening right now and they’re invested in, let’s say, stock market, and the market is doing great, you know, whatever the reason is fed printing, low interest rates, whatever the reason is, where it’s going great, right? And you have stocks like Tesla growing 10%, every day, Bitcoins going up every day I wake up, it’s like 5000 more than what it was yesterday. Just kidding. But in exact numbers are different. But yeah, it’s going like crazy, right? And if you have that kind of investors who is invested in stock market, or maybe in crypto, and he listens to the show, when he’s listening to this show, and he’s listening to you industrial and office building, forget about it, right, like so what would you tell them? Why they should be investing in that same industrial, and maybe talk about quickly some of the tax benefits that you would get by doing so?
Brian: Yeah, listen, part of the reason I like my job, and that I don’t want to be a wealth manager, is I’m not trying to get all of your assets under management. I’m not trying to go in your wallet and get all of your money. There’s a place in your portfolio for Bitcoin for Tesla. But I would ask you to go back in time and see how you felt about the world in April and feel what that pain was when you were down 30 to 40%, with nowhere to go, no levers to push, and no light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, my portfolio, which does not have a scoreboard every day, was chugging along just fine. Making distributions is a real asset, it continues to be there. This is just supposed to be a portion and a supplement to your entire portfolio. It’s not meant to replace your market positions. So, I never look at it as a zero sum game, like, you’ve got to take your Tesla position out in order to invest with me. This is a place that’s supposed to replace your fixed income portfolio, frankly, which you know, with 10 year being negative in real rates. And there’s really no bond portfolio out there that can replicate a double digit yield on a tax adjusted basis like we can. That’s really what this is about. This is about passive income, fixed income, and something where you can get all these tax benefits. And what I tell people all the time is you can talk about don’t fight the Fed. And that makes a lot of sense for your stock market position. When you talk about your wallet, and your personal income. Don’t fight the IRS, because you look at the IRS tax code, it is a set of incentives and disincentives meant to encourage certain behaviors or discourage certain behavior. And I could promise you, it is meant to encourage you to invest in real estate, because the cost segregation analysis and accelerated bonus depreciation, nothing beats a real asset position like that, if you’re a taxable high income earner, where I can give you a 10% yield, and also show you a loss in your K one for year one and two, it’s very difficult to replicate that anywhere else. So, this is really just meant to be a supplement and a part of your overall position. It is not meant to take away from your stock portfolio.
Pancham Gupta: Great, yeah. And can I invest? If you’re listening to the show, and some of these words that Brian mentioned, cost segregation study or our you know, some of the accelerated depreciation and the tax benefits. If you have any, you know, want to know, great detail about this, I did a show with one of our CPAs, Brandon Hall, you know, if you want to listen to that show, it’s thegoldcollarinvestor/show for thegoldcollarinvestor.com/show for, you know, Brandon talks about in from a CPA perspective, exactly how it’s done and why and how it’s applicable. So that’s great. Thank you, Brian, for explaining that. My last question before we move on to the next part of the show, is do you have a morning routine that you follow? And if so, what is the routine? And do you think that it attributes to your success?
Brian: It’s a great question. I get this question a lot on these shows. And it’s interesting how different it was pre COVID to post COVID. So pre COVID, well, pre COVID I was traveling 100-150 days a year. So, I was on a plane or getting up early to go to the airport but when I was home, I’d get up at 4:10 have coffee, read the news, do a 5 minute 10 minute meditation Then I would go to the gym. And then that would be my day. What I realized during lockdown is my natural body clock really wants me to wake up more like 5:30. And so now I focus a lot more in my sleep. And I have a much quieter, slower morning, where I don’t do a whole lot between, say, six o’clock and nine o’clock, I spend time with my children. I have breakfast with them, I read the news, I have coffee, I take them to school often and speak to them. And then I start my day at around 8:30 or 9:00. And I find that I’m much more productive and much more energetic. If I can get, you know, more sleep. And so, I shifted working on the morning to working out during lunch. So, it’s still kind of in flux. I don’t have a very concrete routine. But that’s kind of where I am right now.
Pancham Gupta: Thank you for sharing that. We’ll be back after this message. Have you ever wondered why the rich keep getting richer? What is the secret that they know? But you do not? What if I told you that wealthy people make their money work for them in two different places? Yes, the same dollars invested into different places, and working hard for them while they sleep. They utilize these special accounts that have been in existence for more than 100 years. Do you want to learn more about these accounts, then you are in the right place? Listen to the episode number five by going to thegoldcollarinvestor banking.com/bankingshow I repeat, thegoldcollarinvestorbanking.com/bankingshow or visit thegoldcollarinvestorbanking.com. So, Brian, we talk about four questions in the second round of the show. And we call this taking the leap round. My first question for you is when was the first time you invested outside of Wall Street?
Brian: Oh gosh, when I married the family, I started learning about what private equity was and what real assets were. And that’s when we bought our first property in 2010. on Music Row in Nashville. I had to borrow the money because I didn’t have any of my own. We bought a small office building that ended up, I can’t remember what year, probably two years later, ended up selling it to a big multifamily developer that scraped the property and built a big apartment building. And I think I got a two and a half x on that deal.
Pancham Gupta: Nice. That’s great.
Brian: I wish I could do more of those deals, I should have put more money in that thing.
Pancham Gupta: So, what fears did you have to overcome when you bought that small office building?
Brian: I mean, just the fear of lack of control. I think all of us who, especially financial services or professional services, high achievers, it’s very hard for us to, you know, we can underwrite the deal that we want. We can do our homework, we can track all these metrics, we can talk to a million people about what they think, we can talk to experts. But at the end of the day, there’s a reason that the returns are you know outsize is because you’re taking some sort of outsized risk, and that illiquidity factor I think is just really underappreciated for people that haven’t invested in these type of deals before because you are locked in. There’s really not a good exit. And so those are the big fears that I had to overcome before I, you know, participated in the first offering.
Pancham Gupta: Do you still have those fears?
Brian: Oh, yes. Now, you know, the majority of my net worth is in these real estate deals, so I become much more comfortable with it. But it doesn’t make it any easier. Yeah, I still haven’t.
Pancham Gupta: Yeah, you know, I totally hear you and has the same thing.
Brian: Luckily, I’ve got a lot of infrastructure and people around me that, you know, we have 15 people in the company now so, and they’re really smart. They work really hard. So, I think the risk is much more manageable now than it was just me and my buddy doing this kind of in the wild west. But yeah, I mean, on some level, it’s still there.
Pancham Gupta: Great. Cool. So, my third question for you is, can you share with us one investment that did not go as expected?
Brian: Yeah. So, I am actually in it right now. It’s an old legacy investment that I made a long time ago, probably 2011, maybe 12. It’s a bar restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, that had been doing really well. It had been performing. We were actually going to try to sell it this year, because we had just extended the tenant to a new lease renewal. And because of COVID, they end up going bankrupt. So almost really out of the blue in this this summer. And so, we’re working through that process. And it’s been really frustrating, and you talk about underwriting risk and thinking that you understand the investment profile, but we didn’t underwrite for a global pandemic that caused bar restaurants to close in a in a market that had experienced this terrible civil unrest because of the Briana Taylor shooting, just confluence of things that all occurred, and you know, we’re working your way through it, but it’s been painful, I won’t lie.
Pancham Gupta: Well, thank you for sharing that. And it’s,
Brian: I don’t do any retailer bar restaurants anyway.
Pancham Gupta: I can imagine, but thank you for sharing that it’s, you know, these are the things that you do, and you learn and just because of that you have the real world education, hard lessons, and
Brian: you can’t, you know, you can’t second guess yourself, my business partners family is in a lot of hotel deals, and they were terrific for 20 plus years, just, you know, they would hold them, they would take the corporate flag off, they’d run them independently, Cash flow really well, they’d refinance them every couple of years. But obviously, you know, this last 12 months have been just very difficult for them. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not good operators, it doesn’t mean that the hotels aren’t well located. It just, this is part of the business that we’re in. So, I think that makes you a better manager long term, though
Pancham Gupta: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, Brian, my final question for you is, what is one piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking of investing in main street that is outside of Wall Street?
Brian: Yeah, so a question that I think not enough investors ask when they do a deal with somebody like me, a sponsor is, obviously you’ve got to underwrite the real estate, you’ve got to, you know, think it’s a good deal inherently. But the other side of the risk profile is, you really need to make sure that that sponsor or GP has a good infrastructure in the business itself. So, there’s the real estate component, the deal has to make sense. But also, you need to make sure that that person has accounting, tax, Investor Relations, reporting, marketing, HR, all these things that support that real estate investment, but don’t really have anything necessarily directly to do with that apartment building or that industrial building itself. But if you don’t have the proper infrastructure, or the proper team in place, that real estate deal is not going to do well. And I think that’s sometimes people conflate those two risks, but they need to underwrite them each individually, in my opinion.
Pancham Gupta: Wait, great advice. So, thank you, Brian. This has been awesome. You know, how can listeners reach you know, if they want to connect with you?
Brian: Yeah, I really appreciate you having me on. You can go to the website, excelsiorgp.com. You can sign up to the newsletter, or if you’re interested in seeing some of our investment opportunities, that’s a great entry point. And then I’m very active on LinkedIn. That’s how we connected. If you just look up Brian C. Adams, Excelsior Capital, connect with me, shoot me a message, set up a call whatever you want. I post a lot of content on there that hopefully people find useful. That’s probably the easiest way to connect with me.
Pancham Gupta: Wait, no, I have to tell you this, Brian, I know I’ve never told you this. But I actually find your post very, very, you know, educational and really nice.
Brian: Well, thank you. I do have a slant against Wall Street. So, for all of your finance guys out there, but you know, hopefully is educational. So yeah,
Pancham Gupta: Great. Thank you. Thank you for your time here today.
Brian: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Pancham Gupta: I really appreciate you for joining me today. I hope you got some value from it. If you have questions you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s P as in Paul @ thegoldcollarinvestor.com. This is Pancham signing off. Until next time, take care.
Thank you for listening to The Gold Collar Investor Podcast. If you love what you’ve heard and you want more of Pancham Gupta, visit us at www.thegoldcollarinvestor.com and follow us on Facebook at The Gold Collar Investor. The information on this podcast are opinions. As always, please consult your own financial team before investing.