Investing comes with risk and everyone’s goals are different so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. When providing any investment advice, it is important to take time and understand someone’s goals and risk tolerance. This provides important insights to determine where they should be investing and the appropriate asset class allocation for their holdings. With more options available today than ever before, understanding a client’s risk tolerance and goals determine what makes sense for them personally.
As a part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Dhanda, Chief Executive Officer of Black Creek Group, a Denver-based real estate investment manager and development firm with a more than 25-year history.
Raj joined Black Creek Group in 2016 as President of Black Creek Group U.S., responsible for the oversight of distribution, marketing, product development, operations and legal functions. In April 2017, Mr. Dhanda was appointed President of Black Creek Diversified Property Fund Inc. and President of Black Creek Industrial REIT IV Inc. In May 2018, Mr. Dhanda was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Black Creek Group.
Prior to joining Black Creek Group, Mr. Dhanda spent 26 years at Morgan Stanley, leading key divisions of the firm’s Institutional and Wealth Management platforms, while also serving on the firm’s Management and Risk Committee for his last eight years. Most recently, he was Head of Investment Products and Services in Wealth Management, responsible for all of the products distributed by Morgan Stanley’s financial advisors. In this capacity, he worked closely with the firm’s financial advisors and third-party asset managers to design and distribute products offering a breadth of investment solutions. In addition, as a member of the division’s Executive and Operating Committees, Mr. Dhanda worked to develop strategies for the changing regulatory environment and the opportunities that technology and data offer today in the wealth management channels.
Mr. Dhanda holds a Bachelor’s degree in both Business Economics and Organizational Behavior & Management from Brown University.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
Istarted my career in the summer of 1987 as an intern with Goldman Sachs. I was interested in finance because it was a fast-paced environment focused on growth and cultivating young talent through a learning and apprenticeship model. I thought, what could be more exciting than learning next to the titans of Wall Street? I spent 26 years in the industry working my way up the ranks at Morgan Stanley, getting a front-row seat to some of the most impactful economic events of our time, including the 2008 global financial crisis, the September 11th terrorist attacks and the dot-com bubble. In 2016, I was approached by Black Creek Group, a Denver-based real estate investment firm, about joining as president of the company. Being aware that commercial real estate was an undelivered asset class to many investors, I was intrigued about the opportunity. After learning more about the company and its culture, it reminded me of my early career days. The firm was fast-paced and focused on growth and it felt right culturally. Having witnessed many different times of market uncertainty and volatility firsthand, I appreciated the commercial real estate industry as one that was well-positioned to endure all cycles.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson you took from that story?
There are so many stories that come to mind but the one that stands out the most is from the beginning of my career as it provided a lesson that I have carried throughout my professional life. I am sure many people have heard the old saying “careers aren’t made at holiday parties, but they can definitely be ended there.” Well, I think I may be the only person who can say the opposite occurred. In my 20s I was assigned the primary role for my first big client, a major Fortune 500 company. When the client explained to me that the firm did not allow outside attendees to join its holiday party, I decided I needed to find a way in to connect with my clients and build relationships. After contemplating a few different ways that I could make an appearance, I settled on the plan of renting a Santa costume. Now, I can’t say it was the best made Santa suit and the beard was sparse, but shockingly I was allowed into the party and even more shockingly, I was allowed to stay. Throughout the evening, and of course over a few drinks, I was able to connect with my clients and build a rapport that was authentic and unmatched to one built in the workplace. I realized that in order to succeed in business you must think outside of the box and set yourself apart because most of the time the reward outweighs the risk. The story didn’t end that night either as it was told repeatedly and let’s just say I had a permanent invite to future events sans Santa costume.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Something that I am very passionate about is a working cattle ranch near Gypsum, CO that my family supports. I do not often discuss this passion project publicly, but it is something very close to my heart. My family and I have been involved with the ranch for a number of years and moving to Denver not only came as a welcome change of pace, but also made it easier for us to visit the ranch and be more available to assist when needed. I have always had a deep respect for ranchers and all the hard work they put in to making an operation successful. Even under great conditions, it can be an unpredictable business and when unforeseen events occur such as the COVID-19 pandemic, operations can be deeply impacted. As the pandemic spread, I took a more active approach, adding more staff and using the ranch to support the local community. The ranch, which has been entitled to always be a working ranch, is a very meaningful cause to me and I am committed to it and all of the people connected to it so that they can come out stronger on the other side.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a difficult question as I can’t name just one person who has helped me to achieve my success. Rather, I have had many mentors who have positively impacted my career and life, especially throughout the years that I spent at Morgan Stanley. However, as I think about the people who have helped to shape me, the one thing that they all have in common was their willingness to take the time to get to know me as a person. I will not forget how much it meant to me that these individuals took an interest not only in my work life, but also my personal life. I remember one mentor in particular would start almost every conversation asking about my family, remembering everyone’s names and what they were doing in their lives. It showed me that he genuinely cared about me, my well-being and my family. It meant a great deal to me and it’s something that I have carried with me as a leader.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious because of the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
While I am by no means an expert in this area, I think first and foremost checking in on loved ones and seeing how they are doing is very important. Knowing someone is thinking about you can make a world of difference. With shutdowns across the country, people are starting to feel isolated and anything that can be done to connect with each other now helps to alleviate some of those feelings. Personally, I have been amazed at how quickly people have adapted to the changing environment, staying together through technology. Secondly, I have found that any anxiety I may feel is driven by the fear of the unknown. This is one of the hallmarks of COVID-19, as people work around the clock to combat the pandemic and find a cure. Anxiety tends to rise due to the fear of the unknown. So, to counteract this, I advise people to be present and live in the moment. Focusing on the here and now versus the unknown decreases anxiety and provides a helpful reminder of what is in our control right now and what we have to be thankful for even in the most turbulent times.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put a monthly sum into a long-term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. What would you say if a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been investing $500 a month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months or until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”
The number one thing I would say to them is — do not panic! Investing comes with risk and everyone’s goals are different so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. When providing any investment advice, it is important to take time and understand someone’s goals and risk tolerance. This provides important insights to determine where they should be investing and the appropriate asset class allocation for their holdings. With more options available today than ever before, understanding a client’s risk tolerance and goals determine what makes sense for them personally.
Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?
This is a great question. Over my career I have talked with many investors, both institutional and individual, and they all have unique goals and risk tolerances that would require different advice. You are right that certain sectors are set to recover faster than others, but if you are an 85-year-old seeking income, you’re going to invest differently than, say, a 30-year-old who has a higher risk tolerance and is looking to accumulate wealth. There will be opportunities for both individuals, but someone looking to produce income will seek core investments whereas someone willing to take a greater risk may find opportunities investing in hospitality or distressed real estate that could take longer to recover. It is paramount to understand someone’s investment goals and then layer on a risk tolerance for those goals to determine the appropriate investment and asset allocation strategy.
Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the market’s volatility and uncertainty?
Historically we have seen institutional investors benefit by investing in privately owned commercial real estate versus publicly traded real estate or REITs, especially in terms of volatility and uncertainty. When comparing the two types of real estate — private versus public — you find that private real estate offers a number of benefits including greater diversification and strong overall risk-adjusted returns (returns with less volatility). In particular, public real estate returns are more closely correlated with stock market returns than private real estate returns, making public real estate more vulnerable to market volatility and uncertainty. In addition to its strong historic risk-return profile, private real estate’s low or negative correlation to other asset classes can complement traditional portfolio investments and potentially add a layer of insulation from market volatility. It also used to be that individual investor could not easily access private real estate, but in recent years, new investor-friendly structures with greater transparency and enhanced liquidity features have made an investment in private real estate more accessible to individual investors.
Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?
Despite being the third-largest asset class in the U.S., commercial real estate is generally underrepresented in individual investors’ portfolios. On average, institutions generally have more than 10 percent allocated to commercial real estate, whereas individual investors hold less than 1 percent on average. In light of stock market volatility and uncertainty, investors may want to explore layering non-publicly-traded stock and non-bond investments, such as private real estate, into portfolios to help achieve positive long-term results.
If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have $10,000 that they want to put away today for a long-term investment, what would you advise them to do with it?
Again, I think it goes back to risk tolerance and their other asset allocation, but typically a person around that age would place a greater focus on wealth accumulation and growth, which alternatives such as commercial real estate offer. Often times, people wait until later in life to invest in real estate due to a lack of access and understanding, but investing in it earlier may help shield them from market volatility and provide more long-term benefits such as tax efficiency, portfolio diversification and growth characteristics. Some of the wealthiest families in the world use real estate investments as a means to generate income and they all cannot be wrong.
Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. You are a “finance insider.” If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
Well, this is a hard one for me as I do not have any adult children and hate to think about my children growing up that quickly. I can tell you though that my children are more tapped into resources at a younger age than any generation that has come before them. At any given moment in my house five different phones may be going off with a variety of alerts — breaking news, social media interactions, emails, etc. This wealth of resources has the potential to provide them with more knowledge than investors ever had in the past. It can be vital in analyzing the market, as I believe you should invest in what you know. For instance, I would recommend younger investors be more experimental in their investing and back companies that they believe in or support because of their technology, leadership, innovation, etc. Additionally, I would recommend younger individuals invest in something that has the potential for a great growth story.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote resonates with me as I have been through many economic crises during my career and at the beginning of each one, it is unclear what will happen in the long run. However, after the dust settles and normalcy resumes, I reflect on what made a company come out the other side successful, and in my experience each time it is due the culture — teams connecting and working together. I saw it early on in my career in finance and I continue to see it at Black Creek; a company is only as successful as its employees and I believe our employees are our greatest asset.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is an interesting question because in my household of five people, I would say that I have the least influence, assuming that none of our animals are getting a vote! However, in reflecting back on my career, I have been a person of great fortune who has tried to live in the moment and not take myself too seriously. With that, I really would encourage a movement of people living in the moment, putting down their devices and connecting with those around them.