Shawn Clark of CRG: “Building new projects is another aspect of the real estate industry that excites me”

Building new projects is another aspect of the real estate industry that excites me. Whether developing or redeveloping, it’s so rewarding to see creative ideas come together in architectural drawing and make their way into reality. Most of our projects are new construction, so we always get to experience the latest trends in technology, design, […]

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Building new projects is another aspect of the real estate industry that excites me. Whether developing or redeveloping, it’s so rewarding to see creative ideas come together in architectural drawing and make their way into reality. Most of our projects are new construction, so we always get to experience the latest trends in technology, design, and construction.


As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need to Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Clark.

Shawn Clark is the President of CRG, a leading real estate development and investment firm that has completed over 200 million square feet of commercial, industrial, institutional, and multifamily building projects with assets exceeding $12 billion. He oversees the company’s ambitious growth strategy and its expansion into new marketplaces across the country. Shawn is also a founding co-chair of the Greater Chicago Food Depository Associate Board as well as the founder of Illumination, an organization that raises awareness of rare genetic diseases like RVCL.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

I grew up around the commercial construction industry. My father started Clayco in 1984 as a building delivery firm with a focus on solving our client’s most complex construction problems. Over time, what started as a construction business morphed into a design-build firm with an in-house architecture company and a self-perform concrete business.

In the early 90s, Clayco added real estate services to continue delivering full-service solutions for our clients. After the Great Recession, the commercial real estate development business changed in a way that required developers to control or acquire land in advance of user requirements and form strategic partnerships with investors to remain competitive.

I’ve always loved design and ground-up construction and was fascinated by the financing and deal structures that enabled our projects. Coming out of the recession, I was tapped to explore joint venture equity structures and fund investment vehicles. What I learned helped me shape CRG into an institutionalized real estate investment and development firm with seven regional offices focusing on industrial, residential, and office projects.

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 or takeaway you took out of that story?

When I first began raising capital for our industrial projects, it was nearly impossible because we didn’t have a track record with third-party investors. Even though Clayco had over $2 billion of annual revenue, was ranked as the #1 distribution and warehouse builder by Engineering News-Record, and had developed for Fortune 500 clients, CRG still faced a high barrier to entry as it related to raising institutional capital.

After getting rejected by many of the most prominent institutional investors in the country, we had to get creative and raise our own funds to capitalize several of our early projects. I learned a ton about the importance of building a good track record, relationships, reputation, and the detailed reporting requirements of our target investors. My biggest takeaway was that if it was this hard for me to raise capital, it must be even more difficult for minority-owned firms that don’t have nearly the financial backing and story that benefited CRG.

Now that we have built our platform and learned our way around the institutional investment world, we are focused on partnering with highly competent and hardworking developers that come from diverse backgrounds and allowing them to leverage our platform to break through the barriers. This is one of the most important legacies that we can leave behind.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t spend time or energy on things that don’t matter or that you can’t control.”

Picture a Venn diagram of overlapping circles. One circle has things that matter, and the other circle has things you can control. Where the two circles overlap, these are all things that do matter and that you can control. 100% of my time is focused where the two circles overlap.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on some incredible industrial, mixed-use, residential, and office projects in great markets throughout the country.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Over anything else, I would say that treating people the way we wish to be treated is by far the most important aspect that makes our company stand out. We are honest and transparent with our clients and truly see ourselves as an extension of their companies. We treat our team members like family and demand a safe work environment for everyone. We believe in giving people a chance because we wouldn’t be where we are if others didn’t give us a chance.

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?

There’s really no one I can thank more than my father for helping me get where I am today. He taught me to think big and to be especially cautious whenever someone says “well, that’s just the way it is.” He really loves design and construction and has built an admirable business. He helped me create a vision bigger than myself and has pushed me to be a better and more focused person than I ever thought I could be.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.

Our clients are the most exciting part of our business. I love learning about all the different businesses that we serve and playing a part in their success.

Meeting with our investors and partners is another favorite. It’s fun to learn from the success stories of each of our investors and get an understanding of their investment objectives moving forward.

Building new projects is another aspect of the real estate industry that excites me. Whether developing or redeveloping, it’s so rewarding to see creative ideas come together in architectural drawing and make their way into reality. Most of our projects are new construction, so we always get to experience the latest trends in technology, design, and construction.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

The high barrier to entry nature of our business makes it difficult for minorities to participate in the real estate business. I’m hopeful that debt and equity providers will take the time to meet with up-and-coming sponsors to give them a chance to build a track record.

If every established real estate investment and development firm would partner and mentor a minority-owned developer, it could create more access and opportunity for a broader group of sponsors.

Underserved communities not receiving investment. I think the spirit of the Qualified Opportunity Zone program is the right idea, but we need to ensure that developers and investors prioritize areas that are truly underserved. There is some meaningful development that has been enabled by the program, but most of the program has been used to develop luxury projects in already growing markets. I’m hopeful the QOZ program gets renewed in a way to incentivize continued development in communities that need it the most.

Diversity in our industry is one of my biggest concerns. The real estate industry has come a long way with more women in the business, and I continue to see this grow. At CRG, we work hard to create inclusive searches when we recruit new team members. The bench is not very deep with diverse candidates. We are now very focused on recruiting young people with diverse backgrounds at entry-level positions and teaching them our business. If all of our peers would make this a priority, we could see a very big difference over the next 5–10 years.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

I would encourage everyone to get back to the office. We re-opened our office on May 10th and everyone is thrilled. You cannot replace the energy, excitement, and collaboration of a team working in person together. We pride ourselves on being fair and transparent with our team and making sure when we succeed that everyone feels part of it. We believe in a safe work environment and treat our team members like family.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/realshawnclark/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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