St. John continues building through partners in training

The Daily Record  |  Adam Bednar

Brooke Harlander
Brooke Harlander
Angelo Munafo

Brooke Harlander and Angelo Munafo took different routes into the commercial real estate industry, but they now find themselves on track to eventually start their own regional offices for St. John Properties Inc.

Harlander planned on attending law school before joining St. John as a retail leasing representative two years ago. While Munafo, whose father is in general contracting, seemed destined for the field.

Both possess unique skills that made them impressive candidates for the company’s “highly selective” Partner-In-Training Program, said Sean Doordan, senior vice president, acquisitions at the Baltimore County-based firm. But they share an important trait with the vast majority of successful commercial real estate professionals.

“I would say personality is the main driver,” Doordan said.

Harlander, a Towson University graduate, earned a master’s degree in real estate and infrastructure from The Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School in 2017 after starting with St. John.

Commercial real estate, she said, is more than providing offices, shops, and industrial space for employees to work. The sector provides the basis for businesses to thrive and grow. Providing a business friendly environment is what drove her to join the program.

“Real estate is really the ground work for everything,” Harlander said.

Munafo, who recently earned an economics degree from the Wharton School of Business, interned with St. John in 2016. But it was growing up going to work sites on weekends, wearing hard hats while running around and discussing deals with his dad as he got older that attracted him to the business. While many of his classmates were gunning for jobs in finance in New York City, he wanted to be in an industry providing a tangible product.

“I really like the fact that St. John has so many departments in-house that work together,” Munafo said.

The “sequence,” as the company calls it, is an in-depth, four-year course. St. John pays partners-in-training while educating them on every aspect of the commercial real estate business, including marketing, construction, and development. Earlier in the day, before this interview Harlander had been in the field working with maintenance crews.

“You essentially learn how to be a developer,” said Doordan, who graduated from the program about 14 years ago.

Developing an understanding of every facet of the business is a key part of the program. That’s because fledgling partners are expected to be a major part in expanding the company’s brand. St. John, founded in 1971, owns and developed roughly 19 million square feet of various asset types in Maryland, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Utah and Wisconsin.

After graduation, employers generally are assigned to open and run a regional St. John’s office. The graduates and the firm target parts of the country they believe provide growth and development potential.

Daniel Thomas was the program’s most recent graduate. He completed training in 2014, and roughly a year later opened the firm’s first regional office in Salt Lake City. That move almost immediately paid off for Thomas and the company.

In the last three years he has developed about 425,000 square feet of space. Earlier this year Thomas delivered a six-story 195,000-square-foot office building. It’s now the single largest building in St. John’s portfolio.

But the program that set Thomas up for success, according to the company, is about more than just establishing regional offices and turning graduates loose with founder and Chairman Ed St. John’s capital.

Being part of the St. John brand provides a network of experienced professionals who can help guide new regional offices, establish a pipeline of deals, and provide insights in how to get projects done correctly.

“When we go into a community we really immerse ourselves into the community,” Doordan said.