The NAIOP Research Foundation has been a steadfast resource for NAIOP members and the commercial real estate industry since its inception in 2000. This week, the Foundation announced a generous gift that will launch a new era of support for its Distinguished Fellows program, which connects the industry with academicians from some of North America’s leading collegiate-level real estate programs.
Ron Rayevich, founding Governor of the Foundation and president and owner with Raymar Associates in Sarasota, Florida, made a significant gift to fund in perpetuity a Distinguished Fellow at Florida State University, where he received his MBA in 1971.
He sat down for an interview about the history of the Foundation and what he sees for the Foundation’s future.
The Research Foundation was founded out of needs identified by the National Forums. Tell us about the connection between the two programs and how the Foundation was established.
In 1995, I was on the NAIOP Executive Committee as vice chair of education, helping plan our conferences. Our national convention (now known as CRE.Converge) was being held in Las Vegas, and at that meeting, we launched the National Forums as small groups focused on a common topic. We had around 80 members organized into four Forums. Today, it’s important to note that the National Forums program has 922 members in 57 Forums.
A few years later, the Forums began having their own meeting, called the National Forums Symposium. I was NAIOP chair in 1997 and was ending my term on the board at our 2000 Symposium in Hollywood, Florida. At that meeting, I suggested to the board of directors that the rapidly growing National Forums and the Industry Trends Committee could really benefit from practical real estate research.
So fellow board member Ronnie Duncan, 1993 NAIOP Chair Dana Rowan, and I studied the idea and concluded that we could begin a NAIOP Research Foundation if we could identify at least 10 NAIOP members willing to pledge $25,000 each, payable over five years. This would establish the corpus on an endowment to provide a source of continuing income that could fund grants to provide meaningful and practical real estate research in support of our National Forums.
How has the Foundation’s endowment grown, and what kinds of initiatives does it fund?
We gradually recruited the first 10 Governors, mainly past NAIOP chairs and longtime NAIOP members who were interested in giving back to the association. After achieving the first 10, we elevated the goal to 40 Governors. By 2005, the Research Foundation really began to grow, and at the May 2022 Forums Symposium, we’ll induct our 80th Governor – NAIOP President and CEO Thomas J. Bisacquino, who is retiring from the association this summer.
Through careful stewardship of our endowment, which I’ve been deeply involved with first as chair of the Foundation for its first 10 years and now as chair of the Foundation’s investment committee and audit committee, we’ve grown the endowment to more than $3.1 million, with a another $2.1 million in additional pledges to the Foundation payable over the next five years. This is combined with very important financial support from members who voluntarily contribute annually with their membership renewals – nearly $250,000 each year – as well as the Sustainer’s Fund supported by Governors who have fulfilled their initial commitment.
Of course, the Foundation has published research studies and reports over two decades. Our intent was to fund practical research that would help the industry identify opportunities and stay well-informed on industry trends.
The first project the trustees of the Research Foundation approved, back at the very beginning, was limited funding for the NAIOP Distinguished Fellows program, which brought real estate professors from a variety of universities offering undergraduate and/or graduate real estate programs and degrees together with commercial real estate practitioners. Today, we have 15 Distinguished Fellows who contribute to the Foundation by conducting research and presented to the Governors – and more importantly, we now have voices on campuses to promote NAIOP.
Our Distinguished Fellow from Cornell University was funded by contributions of more than $100,000, raised in honor of Minneapolis commercial real estate leader and Foundation Governor Boyd Stofer, who suddenly passed away in 2011. This position is in perpetuity to honor Boyd’s long-standing contributions to commercial real estate and was strongly supported by the Foundation’s Governors and the Minneapolis business community, led by past United Properties President Eva Stevens, another Foundation Governor.
Tell us about your career path and why you’ve chosen to support the Foundation.
I grew up in San Diego and am a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. I earned my MBA at Florida State University, which today has 300 students in undergraduate and graduate real estate programs. When I was a student, there wasn’t a real estate department, so I studied finance. I was a history major at The Citadel and earned a three-year fellowship in Russian history, but fortunately decided to join Prudential Insurance Co. (now Prudential Financial) as a management trainee.
When one of the mortgage loan and real estate professionals was transferred, I applied for the position. Although totally unqualified, I was already at Prudential and somehow got the job. When I was transferred to Tallahassee in 1967, I began working on my MBA part time, which I finally earned in 1971. I left Prudential to be the vice president for investment at Columbia University, managing the university’s entire endowment. Why, you ask, would Columbia want a real estate guy? Because 60% of the university’s endowment was in real estate. I then returned to Prudential as president and chief operating officer of the Prudential Real Estate Group, from which I retired in 1994. Since, I’ve had my own consulting firm, Raymar Associates, and relocated first to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and then to Sarasota, Florida.
The industry constantly needs practical research and insights, and I believe that one of the best ways for developers to understand the academic side of the industry is through professors who can translate the data and forecasts so that developers can make informed decisions.
Therefore, I’ve chosen to support the Foundation through a $100,000 gift that funds in perpetuity a Distinguished Fellow at my alma mater, Florida State University. My vision of the Foundation’s future goes far beyond the 15 Distinguished Fellows we have today. In five years, I hope we have 50 Distinguished Fellows, all sponsored by individuals supporting the Foundation’s work. This not only amplifies our research but reaches new generations entering the industry through collegiate programs, introducing them to NAIOP and engaging them as members from the very start of their careers.
As NAIOP President and CEO Tom Bisacquino retires this summer, I want to thank him for his support over the years. He never said “no” to any of our ideas – whether they be the National Forums, the Research Foundation, the Developing Leaders program or the Visionaries program – but challenged us to explore them to determine how they could best advance the industry and NAIOP. He’s been a real advocate of the National Forums, the Research Foundation, and all our members, and NAIOP would not be where it is today without his leadership.