Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:58 pm
Like most successful college athletes, Mike Kleber had dreams of going pro. But four knee surgeries in three years cut his football career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison short.
Kleber’s younger sister and Thomas Bernacchi’s daughter played basketball together, which led to an internship 11 years ago at Milwaukee-based Zilber Property Group, where Bernacchi is the managing director.
Kleber wasn’t sure he wanted a career in commercial real estate, but something clicked. He decided to study the craft, outwork the competition and learn from his mistakes – all things he did on the football field.
“When you get into real estate it is fast-paced, with constant highs and lows,” Kleber said. “You can’t bathe in self-pity because the next deal will pass you by.”
Kleber’s dedication worked. Today, he is the director of industrial leasing at Zilber.
He credits the skills he learned on the field for his success, and he’s not the only one who thinks college athletes could succeed at real estate.
The Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin is working with the University of Wisconsin athletic department to put together a program to attract more student-athletes to the real estate business.
Unlike many other professions, commercial real estate is not a career most students think about unless they are exposed to it, said Chris McIntosh, associate athletic director for business development at the University of Wisconsin.
“Our kids are used to high-pressure environments, they are comfortable in those environments, and we think it could translate very well into commercial real estate,” McIntosh said. “We’re excited to develop some programing that will educate our underclassmen about what the profession is all about.”
McIntosh played football for UW and starred on the offensive line for two Rose Bowl championship teams. Then he was a first round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2000. He played three seasons in the NFL before a series of neck injuries cut his career short.
Then he dabbled a bit in residential real estate before starting his own business. McIntosh returned to Madison in 2014 to work for UW.
He said he can easily see how the skills needed on the playing field translate to the real estate industry, including resiliency, competiveness and resourcefulness.
“We’re just beginning our conversations with CARW, but we would like to get something off the ground, possibly this fall,” McIntosh said.
CARW already has a relationship with the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate at UW and also works with UW-Milwaukee on a scholarship program each year for two students who plan to go into commercial real estate.
Being able to develop a program with the athletic department would be another way to keep students in the area after graduation, said Tracy Johnson, president and chief executive officer of CARW.
Johnson said it could be as simple as hosting an event to get the two organizations acquainted with each other, but she believes it will lead to something more.
“I don’t know what the program will look like, but when we got together we couldn’t stop thinking of ideas,” Johnson said. “They have the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that connects well with what we do and who our members are. This is a great opportunity and we are excited to take it a step further.”
David Pudlosky, vice president of JLL’s Wisconsin office, always knew he wanted to go into real estate. When he was a child, he would grab the sports and real estate sections from his parents’ Sunday paper and pore over the two, unable to decide which he liked better.
Pudlosky believes his time playing baseball at UWM from 2000 to 2003 has helped immensely in his career.
“Being in commercial real estate, you hear ‘no’ a lot. You also work as a team with your colleagues, with your client. On a baseball team, it’s 30 guys and 30 personalities,” Pudlosky said. “It’s a grind all day, every day and you can’t do it right if you are half-hearted about it and don’t love it.”
Kleber said when he first started in commercial real estate, he was counting commission checks before the deal was even signed and when they fell apart, it was tough, but he knew how to deal with it.
“College sports, no matter what you are playing, you are challenged mentally and physically,” Kleber said. “I am forever grateful for the things Coach (Barry) Alvarez taught me. Those guys prepared me for life lessons that at the time, when I was 18 or 19, I didn’t even know they were doing.”