Meet Dan, Real Estate Developer and Architect

Related career Architect

Full Name: Dan Hill 
Title: SVP Development, Unibail Rodamco Westfield
Career: Real Estate Developer, Architect

Dan is a creative, resourceful leader of complex property developments with a global network of industry relationships. Dan has 25 years of development and design experience in creating high-value, profitable retail, mixed-used and master plan projects. He is a dedicated professional who is able to challenge and manage multi-disciplinary, global project teams in the strategic visioning, creation, development and delivery of dynamic, customer-focused projects.

Who/what influenced or inspired you?
The middle school that I attended in, Bowling Green, a small town in Western Kentucky, offered 1- month long rotational vocational classes during the school year ranging from Home Economics, Typing, Automotive Repair, Woodworking, etc. One of the courses that I took, and particularly liked, was technical drawing. I was 13 at the time and recall vividly my excitement of the first day of that class. Up until that point I always enjoyed freehand drawing and art, but never had experienced technical drawing with engineering tools; T-Bar, mechanical pencils, triangles, et. To this day, I remember asking the teacher at the end of the class “who does this type of work?”: His response was engineers and architects. I stayed late at school that day and went to the library to look both up. I remember the setting distinctively, sitting alone in the small school library at a long oak table at the far end of the library under the double high windows, I had found the encyclopedias for both searching for an understanding and explanation of what an engineer and architect actually do. After reading through both, it was clear in my mind: I wanted to be an architect and build buildings.

How did you gain entry into the industry? What was your big break?
My first job came later through the alumni program of my school. Had I not taken advantage of knowing the alumni network and getting involved, I wouldn’t have had my first job opportunity. It wasn’t until after working in architecture for about 8 years that I got introduced to my second career: real estate developer. The opening for me into real estate was by joining the client that I had been working for and forged a strong relationship with over 5 years: he trusted me and knew what I was capable of. I had a great opportunity to understand development and the overall real estate process. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, as I didn’t have the strong financial background or training that my other colleagues had: Architects weren’t taught that! I made up for that lack of financial training with a strong work ethic, strong project management skills and a natural sense of how to get things done and built. I devoted myself at every opportunity to learn the financial side of things and wasn’t afraid to ask questions and to get involved with others in the company who I could learn from.

Are there certain things/events that happened in your life that have informed who you are or what you are doing in your life/career? Or what barriers have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I have always been someone interested in taking on new challenges. And as a result, most of my career has been working in taking on different challenges and working in different countries: to date I have lived in 6 countries (not including the US) and worked on projects in additional 6 since my graduation from Graduate School. Facing these challenges does mean overcoming apprehension and fears: of the unknown, of working in a place where you don’t speak the language, haven’t been before and or not sure you understand the customs or way of working. I think what helps in overcoming some of these challenges is to approach with an open mind and sense of adventure.

Do you have any words of advice? 
Throughout my entire career the one thing that has been consistent and provided the most value to me is the network of contacts that I have been able to make, maintain and utilize. The network itself is a dynamic thing, changing and evolving with me as I get more involved at work, or in volunteering, as I grow as a professional and an individual. I once read somewhere that you need to maintain 3 core networks: The first is your larger all-encompassing contact base: containing all the people you have met, directly worked alongside or simply made a connection with(this larger group is likely the contacts that you have on your Linkedin account as an example). The second is a group that you regularly manage and utilize to support and engage with, perhaps anywhere from 1-2 dozen, but no more: You should check-in often with this group, without becoming a bother, in either formal or informal ways (a call, text, coffee, email, share an interesting idea or joke, et) something that is unique to that contact and/or your relationship and lets that person know you are still connected and interested in them personally and professionally. The third is a core group of people that you stay in touch with and engage with regularly, perhaps as few as 3-6 individuals. This last group are the people that you believe and hope you can gain direct benefits from, the people that you call on in a professional manner that can provide you either a recommendation, a contact in a new company, unlock an interview, etc. Now comes the tricky party….You are constantly shifting contacts between the groups depending on how you move through your career journey and what trajectory you may take professionally. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey either, just starting out or a more senior person, managing your network is a critical part of steering your career as the environment, your prospects and life itself changes around you.