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New Board Member Profile: Christopher Merrill, Chairman and CEO of Harrison Street Capital


October 3, 2023

A W crest banner on Bascom Hill is pictured among the colors of the fall leaves at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during autumn
Christopher Merrill Headshot

We are proud to welcome Christopher Merrill, Chairman and CEO of Harrison Street Capital, to our Board of Advisors. His industry insight and experience will be a valuable addition to the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate as we work to maintain our position as the global leaders in real estate education. Read below to learn more about Christopher.

Describe your current position and what an average workday is like for you.

I am currently the Chairman & CEO of Harrison Street, a real asset investment management firm with approximately $60 billion in AUM. Wish there were such a thing as an average workday! I enjoy the challenge of building a complex business with some of the world’s most talented investment professionals.

In your view, what is the biggest opportunity in commercial real estate today?

We have always been huge believers, since our founding, of investments focusing on demographics versus pure GDP. Areas include student housing, senior housing, medical buildings, life science, self-storage, data centers and renewable energy. Today the demand side of the equation has never been stronger given enrollment increases and the aging population. While at the same supply is very constrained. These fundamentals are global, so we see opportunities not just in North America but also in Europe.

What does the world need from real estate professionals today?

Patience, humility, innovation. We live in a very divisive world. We need leaders with edge that are willing to have difficult discussions but in a way that is constructive and pushes people to a place where they would not go if you the leader were not there.

What are the industry’s most profound changes over the last 15 years? Looking to the future, how do you think the industry will change in the next 15 years?

The most profound changes, in my opinion, included the expansion of the various verticals in the industry ie. the growth in alternative asset classes. While at the same time seeing certain sectors such as office and retail falling so far out of favor. The future state includes many changes one in particular we are focused is the growth in need for more public to private partnerships.

What do you enjoy most about being in the real estate profession?

The people we work with including our team, the investors, lenders and operating partners. We have a culture of developing win/win partnerships across all aspects of our business. Also really enjoy trying to innovate or be a first mover in an industry that does not offer a lot of change.

What’s the most interesting or fulfilling project you’ve worked on?

Hard to pick one property. The relationships we have developed with Universities and Health Systems have taken a lot of but can be very rewarding and can create tremendous long term value for our stakeholders.

What advice would you give to our students who are about to embark on a career in real estate?

Be patient. Find a mentor. Listen. Ask questions. Work on as many projects as possible. Work harder than the next person. Don’t be afraid to develop new ideas. Differentiate yourself.