Bill Hughes

Meet Bill Hughes, leader of UF Warrington’s new Applied Real Estate Research Initiative

The University of Florida Warrington College of Business recently announced the creation of a preeminent resource for the real estate industry, the Applied Real Estate Research Initiative, housed in the Bergstrom Real Estate Center. Tapped to lead the Applied Real Estate Research Initiative is real estate expert Bill Hughes.

As Executive Director of Applied Research, Hughes will lead the effort in delivering data-driven reports for the real estate community. Most recently, Hughes served for 15 years as Global Head of Real Estate Research and Strategy at UBS. He received his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and his MBA and Ph.D. in real estate from the University of Georgia. We invite you to get to know the Atlanta-native, from his professional accomplishments to his weekend pastimes, in this story.  

Q: Describe your career path. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Hughes: “Upon completing my degree at UGA, my wife said that she would go with me anywhere in the world other than South Carolina or Louisiana. I was offered a tenure-track position at LSU and absolutely had to accept it. As it turns out, we had a wonderful time in Baton Rouge and would recommend it to anyone.

Although I started in academics, my intention was to move to a professional position at some point. During 1995, I was given that opportunity to move to the ‘dark side’ and joined an institutional real estate advisory firm named MIG in West Palm Beach. I became a partner at MIG and was part of its merger into a publicly-traded REIT out of Cleveland, Ohio named Associated Estates (AEC). Moving from West Palm to Cleveland was a tough sell, but we found Shaker Heights, Ohio to one of our favorite places to live.

I left AEC and ultimately joined SSR Realty Advisors, which was a part of Met Life. That firm was sold to Black Rock shortly after I joined.

I turned down an offer to join UBS during the early ‘noughties’ but did not let the second offer pass in 2005. I joined UBS Realty Advisors as the Head of Research & Strategy for the U.S. and later became the Global Head of Research & Strategy for the Real Estate and Private Markets group at UBS. From there, I joined the UF Bergstrom Real Estate Center.”

Q: Can you describe some of the projects you completed at UBS?

Hughes: “While at UBS, I am sure that I participated in more than $25 billion in transactions, from $20 mm single-tenant industrial buildings to $1 billion office and retail properties. Most of my direct investment committee activity was in the U.S., but I also voted on investments located in Canada, Europe, South America and Asia.

Although not specifically projects, some of the investment recommendations presented by the Research & Strategy Team are very memorable. During 2005-2006, we encouraged apartment sales into the condo conversion market. After the financial crisis and subsequent rebound of the apartment market we decided to continue aggressive apartment investment past 2012, contrary to our peers. Prior to the crisis, we proposed accepting leasing risk in office and reversing that position in early 2007. We also opposed the desire to increase risk-taking during 2006 and 2007, which led to enormous relative success during 2009. In Europe and the U.S., we proposed aggressive logistics/warehouse investment and development as early as 2013. During 2014, the group presented an idea to develop a leveraged income fund and continued to support the idea for several years. Although the firm did not complete that action, the concept proved very successful for other market participants. Not all ideas are good and not all good ideas are implemented.

Starting a private institutional real estate fund requires contributions from many people, so I never developed one by myself. However, I was fortunate enough to participate in the development of several funds: open-end and closed-end, core and value-add, in the U.S. and Europe.

One of my favorite projects was the development of a private open-end daily-priced fund of funds. At the start of my tenure at UBS, consultants would not even consider the type of structure that we contemplated. A private daily-priced fund existed but with unique characteristics. I was intimately involved in the challenging features of valuation and liquidity. By the end of my time at UBS, we managed a daily fund as did a few of our peers. During my time as NCREIF (National Council of Real Estate Fiduciaries) Board Chairperson, I championed the development of a private Daily-Priced Index, which is operational today.”

Q: Up to this point, what’s the career highlight you’re most proud of?

Hughes: “My highlight at this point is not a single event but rather the internal and temporal consistency of my teams’ investment positions. It is often difficult to hold a consistent ideology across a diverse investment platform and ever-changing market. It is even more challenging to hold those ideals over time. I take pride in the teams with whom I have worked and their ability to adapt application while holding a consistent logical perspective.”

Q: What drew you to UF and leading the Applied Research Initiative?

Hughes: “UF is a premier University, and I am excited to be in contact with so many expert minds focused on examining challenging questions. The Applied Research position affords the opportunity to engage academic minds in industry relatable topics and to present the results in a format that professionals can easily consume. I am confident that we can have a significant impact on how real estate professionals make investment decisions.”

Q: After working in the corporate world, why did you decide to come to higher education? How do you feel your past experience in the corporate setting will be beneficial in the academic setting?

Hughes: “Very little of my career has been scripted. However, I always thought that I would return to a university setting, after my term on the corporate dark side. [I will avoid a Star Wars reference here, which is so tempting to us 50+ year old nerds.] Now that I have experienced many years of corporate life, my writing and instruction will be far less absolute than it was during my time at LSU.

Upon moving to the professional side of real estate, I explained to colleagues that there is a subtle difference between academic research and corporate research. In academics, you pick a topic that interests you and study it until you are highly confident in your knowledge of that area. In business, you are assigned many topics and you study them until you run out of time. In both situations, you then take a position and defend it to your community. I now have a street understanding that I can share with students and the industry.”

Q: What impact do you hope this initiative will have on the real estate industry? What do you most hope to be remembered for doing in this role?

Hughes: “Hopefully, this initiative will offer, to those who want it, real estate insights on topics from planning to investing to taxing that are developed throughout this campus and other academic settings in a format that is easily consumed, promotes discussion and aids decisions. We hope to bridge that gap between highly stylized research and practical challenges.

I don’t need to be remembered personally but would like for the Bergstrom Real Estate Center to be recognized as an accessible and practical knowledge resource for the real estate community.”

Q: What can we find you doing on the weekends or outside of work?

Hughes: “Unfortunately, I am lazy, so I spend too much time watching other people play sports.

My hobby is driving sports cars (Porsche 944’s) around racetracks – not racing but driving fast. I have had the opportunity to drive Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, Mont Tremblant and other tracks in the Northeast. Now, I look forward to visiting some Southeast tracks like Sebring, Daytona and Road Atlanta.”

Q: What’s a fact about you that might surprise people?

Hughes: “I am among the few remaining fight fans – watching, not participating.”

Q: Who are you going to root for in the Florida/Georgia game?

Hughes: “First, we call it the Georgia/Florida game. Second, I am currently working on saying ‘Go Gators,’ without making an ugly face. I am sure that I will get better at it. I can easily root for the Gators in all games excluding LSU and Georgia. In time, I will likely move Florida over LSU. However, I may always bleed Red and Black. One thing that I can easily boast is that I am a huge SEC fan.”

Follow along with the Applied Real Estate Research Initiative and Hughes’ work in the Warrington Newsroom.