Before Senior Managing Director Jaime Fink began his career in commercial real estate, he was an officer in the United States Air Force. He spent four years on active duty and then another two decades in the United States Air Force Reserves, ultimately achieving the rank of major.
“I wanted to serve my country and help others,” Fink, who is in HFF’s Chicago office, said of his reasons for joining the military.
This same sense of duty is echoed over and over by several HFF employees who are veterans or current reservists about why they chose to serve. In honor of Veterans Day, we want to share why some of them chose to serve their country and what they learned from their time in the military.
Senior Director Patrick Burger grew up in a small, rural town in southern Oregon with fewer than 20,000 people.
“Oregon is one of the few states that has virtually no military presence, so it’s not like I saw or knew anything about the military,” Burger explained. “I had a high school classmate whose older brother had attended the U.S. Air Force Academy. That piqued my interest a bit, so I started exploring the service academies out of pure curiosity.”
Neither of Burger’s parents attended college, and the family didn’t have the finances for out-of-state travel for college visits or tours.
“I kind of stumbled through it on my own, and, by the grace of God, ended up at the United States Naval Academy,” Burger said. “I showed up at Annapolis sight unseen, got my head shaved on the first day and that was that.”
After graduation, he was commissioned as a U.S. Marine Corps officer and served from 1994 to 2002 in the Marines, where he flew F/A-18Ds and was based out of MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California. With the callsign “Cheese” (due to his last name being “Burger”), he logged more than 1,000 hours in the F/A-18D and was deployed to the Middle East and East Asia for more than two years. During that time he had the opportunity to fly in Australia, Thailand, Japan, South Korean, Guam, Hawaii, Wake Island and parts of the Middle East, but one of the best things he said of his time in the Marine Corps was the camaraderie among the guys in his squadron.
Burger, who said he has always had an interest in real estate, uses the skills he learned in the Marine Corps in his every day career as a specialist in joint venture, equity and debt transactions throughout the western United States. He’s based out of HFF’s San Diego office.
“I learned a great deal about initiative, persistence, resilience and teamwork,” Burger explained. “That was drilled into my head during my time in college and in the Marine Corps and it has paid dividends ever since. Now I’m trying to teach my daughters the same thing. Believe it or not, aviation and commercial real estate require similar skills with respect to multi-tasking, prioritizing, being a generalist and working as a team toward a common goal. The learning process is also very similar – you’re constantly acquiring new information or knowledge and learning from your own mistakes.”
Director Peter Yorck served in the U.S. Army for five years beginning in 2010 after graduating from Princeton University, where he studied politics and economics while also a four-year member of the Princeton Football team and the University’s Army’s ROTC program. He comes from a family with an extensive history of military service.
“I grew up wanting to serve our country, just as my father and brother did,” he explained. “My father’s side of the family has served in the military – continuously – since the late 1600s, so there was always an expectation to selflessly contribute to our nation.”
During his five years on active duty, he was an infantry captain in the 101st Airborne Division and 3rd Ranger Battalion with two combat deployments to Afghanistan, once in 2013 and then again in 2014.
“Being away from family and friends for extended periods of time was difficult,” Yorck said. “But I had tremendous relationships, experiences and bonds with the men I served with. Those bonds will endure for the rest of our lives.”
It was one of those relationships that led him to a career in commercial real estate.
“The father of one of my friends in Ranger Regiment works for a real estate private equity firm in Dallas,” Yorck explained. “He knew that I was finishing my military commitment and helped introduce me to a number of real estate principal and brokerage firms in the Dallas area in the spring and summer of 2015. From there, one of my college football teammates, John Callahan, helped make the formal introduction to HFF Dallas.”
A few months later, Yorck started working in HFF’s San Francisco office, where he specializes in multi-housing investment advisory sales throughout northern California and references what he learned in the Army to help him be successful.
“There was a variety of skills that I learned while in the Army,” he explained. “I think the two most valuable skills I learned were effectively managing people and maintaining perspective, which have been directly transferable in the private sector. The military helped me really focus on what is most important in life. I feel that I am able to draw on certain military experiences to really help maintain calmness under pressure.”
Director Matthew Stewart was always fascinated by space and technology, so he sought an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy and was accepted. Stewart, who studied systems engineering at the academy from 2004 to 2008, says that he always felt compelled to serve.
“At young age, my parents always instilled in me a strong sense of service, and the Air Force ultimately was that outlet,” he said.
Following graduation, he became a captain in the United States Air Force, where he worked as a launch systems integration program manager. During his time in the Air Force, he led a team of more than 100 people and was responsible for the cost, schedule and performance of the launch component of a $4 billion national defense satellite program. To put it simply, he launched satellites into space.
Stewart, who also has an MBA with a concentration in real estate finance from University of Southern California, was in the Air Force until 2013. Shortly after he finished his service, he started working in HFF’s Los Angeles office, where he is primarily responsible for the origination and execution of both debt and equity placement transactions for all property types throughout the United States.
“More than anything, the military and my time at the Air Force Academy instilled in me a very strong sense of discipline and a work ethic that has proved to be very valuable in the civilian sector," Stewart said.
Associate Thomas Nealon, based in HFF’s Atlanta office, served as an Army officer in 1-77 Armor Battalion, part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas. During his military service, he achieved the rank of captain and held positions as both a tank and mortar platoon leader, mechanized infantry company executive officer and battalion plans officer. In 2015, he deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to the Horn of Africa, where his unit served as a contingency force, providing security and conducting joint training with African partner nations.
“It was a tremendous experience, and I was grateful for the opportunity to deploy with my fellow soldiers and to see a different part of the world,” Thomas said. “I chose to serve in the Army because I enjoyed the physical challenge of soldiering and the mission-oriented nature of the work.”
While military service had its share of challenges including time spent away from family, he counts the privilege of serving with the soldiers in 1-77 Armor among the most rewarding experiences of his life thus far.
Thomas’ journey to the Army started in high school, when he chose to attend The Citadel, a public military college in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.
“I applied to The Citadel with the idea that the military college lifestyle would be a fun experience and a good way to exercise discipline and develop grit,” he explained. “While I was wrong about the fun aspect—at least for the initial ‘knob’ year—the experience changed me for the better and some of the folks I went through that first year with have remained my closest friends to this day.”
While he learned good habits and work ethic from his time at The Citadel, Thomas credits Gary Kurtzhals, his first platoon sergeant in the Army, with molding him into a professional.
“Gary was the most capable individual performer I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, but his best attribute was his ability to inspire and raise the performance of the people around him—not just his subordinates and peers but also senior leadership,” Nealon said. “He demanded excellence of himself and everyone around him and he never lowered his standards or let me off the hook if he knew I could perform better as a leader. His example of what it means to lead at any level of an organization has stayed with me and was really the foundation of my career after the Army.”
Nealon brings those lessons to work with him in HFF’s Atlanta office, where he has worked since January 2017. Real estate was a natural progression for him after completing his military service.
“I pursued a role in investment sales because I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of finance in my undergraduate studies and was attracted to the tangibility of real estate,” he explained. “I chose HFF specifically because of the firm’s stellar reputation and because I wanted to learn from the top capital markets professionals in the industry. HFF is a terrific place to work for veterans because the culture rewards performance and promotes teamwork.”
Analyst John Adair graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2012, where he was a four-year member of the Men’s Division I Lacrosse Team. He was commissioned as a field artillery officer right after graduation and eventually achieved the rank of captain.
“I wanted to be challenged, receive a great education, play division I lacrosse and, most important, have a chance to serve following graduation,” Adair said. “I knew West Point would be a great place to do all of these things. I chose to serve simply because I felt it was the right thing to do and knew I would benefit from the inevitably great learning experience.”
Adair served in various leadership roles throughout five years of service, most notably with the 3rd Infantry Division, where he had the opportunity to participate in multinational training events throughout Europe with our NATO allies as a part of the U.S. Army’s Atlantic Resolve mission.
“It was a humbling experience to lead, work alongside and accomplish tasks with great people from all walks of life,” Adair said of his time in the Army. “My ability to remain poised, calm and positive and how to prioritize and make decisions under pressure and stress was definitely tested at West Point and in the Army.”
Adair completed his service in 2018 and came to work for HFF in the Boston office, where he applies what he learned at both West Point and his time on active duty.
“I benefit from these experiences as I face new challenges throughout my HFF career,” he explained. “I also realized the importance of getting to know co-workers on a personal level, and, in my experience, this undoubtedly enhances culture, performance and teamwork.”
Analyst Chris Grevious grew up in New Jersey, and his father was in the World Trade Center when it was bombed in 1993. Although he was only in the third grade at the time, he remembers feeling disappointed he was not able to help. When 9/11 occurred, he turned disappointment into action.
“I didn’t know anything about the Army or The United States Military Academy, but if I could help, I promised myself that I would,” he said. “Fortunately for my twin brother and me, we were recruited by several Division I schools to play football. One of those schools was West Point. It was an easy call to serve.”
At the Academy, he studied engineering management and, upon graduation in 2007, commissioned as a field artillery officer.
During his military career, Grevious graduated from Ranger School, one of the toughest training courses for which a soldier can volunteer, in 2008.
To this day, Grevious, who works in HFF's Dallas office, holds himself as much as possible to the specific standards set by the Ranger Creed, which includes among other things, that a Ranger “Never shall fail their comrades, they will always keep themselves mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and will shoulder more than their share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.”
“I found that most of my reflection is drawn from my experiences at Ranger school, mainly because it was the first true test of my will and spirit,” he said.
In 2009, he was deployed for a year in Kirkuk, Iraq.
“Our mission changed during our month-long train-up and subsequent deployment from Kuwait to Kirkuk,” he explained. “My unit was now designated as the main occupying force in Kirkuk. I was made infantry platoon leader of a 27-man team and lead combat operations in the two most-targeted districts within Kirkuk.”
Despite the personal sacrifices made since the war started, Grevious instead chooses to focus on what is important.
“I have no regrets and would gladly do it again,” he said. “The best part about it was the people and the enduring relationships built over long days and long years.”
Analyst Johnny Kight in HFF’s Houston office is currently serving as a reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps and has since 2013.
“My call to duty dates back to when I was a child where I have always had somewhat of an infatuation with the military and the thought of serving the USA,” Kight said. “I knew if I did not act on it after graduation, I would deeply regret it. Serving has been a great honor; I have had the opportunity to serve with some of the finest men in the country from all different backgrounds.”
The physically demanding job takes a considerable amount of time away from work and family, but it goes with the territory of, according to Kight.
“The reality of signing up to join the Marine Corps is that it takes absolute priority over everything else in your life,” Kight explained. “Regardless of what’s going on in work or personal life, I made a decision and commitment to the Corps to do what’s asked of me at the drop of a hat. The unique opportunity about the reserves is I am able to serve while also progressing my civilian career. I knew there would be some conflicts while working both jobs, but I am so thankful and appreciative of an employer like HFF who supports me wholeheartedly.”
Kight enlisted immediately after graduating from the University of Texas in 2012. His military occupational specialty is a 0351 assaultman, where he specializes in using the SMAW rocket launcher, demolition and breaching techniques. He is now a corporal and serve as the section leader for his unit, where he is in charge of 15 other assaultmen Marines.
Kight says that his service has taught him discipline, how to get the job done no matter the circumstances, how to have a team-oriented approach and invaluable leadership skills, all things he brings with him to work, whether it’s at the Marines or HFF. He also gets to serve ‘’with some of the best men in the world while learning invaluable life skills.”
Kight got into real estate also after graduation because of his grandfather, who he describes as one of his heroes, is in the real estate industry.
“I also have had a love for real estate since walking buildings with him as a child,” Kight added.
“While serving in the Marine Corps for the last seven years has been an absolute honor, some things have changed in my life that may ultimately lead me to passing the flag to the next generation when my contract is up in 2019,” Kight said.
Senior Managing Director Jaime Fink feels the Air Force gave him the opportunity to serve with people who have the highest ethical standards and the utmost professionalism.
“I was very fortunate to serve with some exceptional people,” Fink said. “Serving in the military provides a combined feeling of pride, fellowship and common loyalty to our country and to each other. You learn integrity first and service before self in accomplishing the mission.”
Fink was awarded a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship and attended the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. After graduation, he was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force officer and was based out of the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, California. Fink worked on mobile and fixed installation systems for the Defense Support Program (now Space-Based Infrared System) and spacecraft for the Global Positioning System. After his active duty service ended, Fink attended graduate school and earned a master’s degree in real estate and urban land economics from the University of Wisconsin.
“I found I had a passion for real estate and transactions,” explained Fink, who specializes in the disposition, financing and re-capitalization of investment real estate as well as multi-market portfolios through investment advisory, equity placement, financing and structured transactions.
Since joining HFF in 2004, Fink co-founded HFF’s Global Capital Team, which coordinates the marketing of assets to international investors and develops strong relationships with clients seeking to invest outside their home region.
“Many of the investors we were dealing with on office transactions were from overseas,” Fink said. “I saw a need within HFF to form a team that would focus on strengthening the HFF brand and developing stronger relationships with these overseas investors.”
Fink, who currently serves as co-leader of HFF’s Office Group, ended his formal commitment to the USAF in 2016 but he still carries with him what decades serving his country taught him.
“The Air Force taught me to be disciplined and to have a strong will and determination,” Fink said. “Never give up. Always do the very best at all times. Live life to the fullest. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the extra effort. These traits that I developed early in my military career also allow me to be successful in business and my personal life.”
By Kimberly Steele, Digital Content/Public Relations Specialist