Driving Disruption: Rob Finlay Of Thirty Capital On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Forecasting Interest Rates: Instead of passively waiting for rates to drop during a period of economic uncertainty, we proactively analyzed forward rate trends. This foresight allowed us to make informed decisions on debt management and investment timing, staying ahead of market shifts.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Finlay.

Rob Finlay is the CEO and founder of Thirty Capital, a mid-market commercial real estate (CRE) investment and advisory firm. As a seasoned professional in the CRE industry, his career is marked by innovation, leadership, and strategic growth. With extensive experience in the field, Rob has a deep understanding of the complexities of the industry and the transformative power of innovation.

Rob is also the author of “Beyond the Building,” a comprehensive guide to innovation in CRE. He teaches operators how to think like a technology company whose product is real estate. The book reflects Rob’s journey in the industry, what he has learned through experience, observation, and mentorship, and his commitment to driving success through data-driven decisions, effective leadership, and strategic planning.

In addition to his work in CRE and his contributions as an author, Rob is a passionate advocate for continuous learning and adaptation in the face of industry changes and trends.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Myjourney into CRE began at a young age, immersed in a family business that exposed me to various facets of the industry, from leasing to property management, construction, and development.

After gaining valuable experience, I ventured into Wall Street, where I identified a critical need in the market for streamlining the defeasance process. This realization led to the creation of Defeasance with Ease, which I successfully sold by the age of 36. Subsequently, I transitioned into property acquisition, laying the foundation for Thirty Capital. Alongside partners like Summit Partners, we established multiple businesses, leveraging our expertise to innovate and drive growth in the CRE sector. Today, Thirty Capital combines our deep understanding of real estate with cutting-edge technology and capital markets expertise to empower clients and investors.

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

Thirty Capital stands out in the CRE sector for several reasons. First and foremost, we possess a unique blend of experience spanning CRE, capital markets, data, and technology. This diverse expertise enables us to approach challenges with innovative solutions that transcend traditional boundaries.

One example that highlights our innovative approach is our response to the Jobs Act of 2015, which opened up retail capital for CRE syndicators. Recognizing the significance of this regulatory change, we launched Investor Management Services (IMS) to assist sponsors in navigating this new landscape. By leveraging our foresight and adaptability, we positioned ourselves as leaders in facilitating the transition to retail capital investment, driving value for both sponsors and investors.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three character traits that have been instrumental to my success are an innovative mindset, resilience, and a commitment to continuous learning.

Innovative Mindset: Innovation isn’t just about technology; it’s about doing things differently. A prime example of this was my initiative to streamline the loan defeasance process with Defeasance with Ease. By recognizing a niche in the market and developing a more efficient solution, we transformed a complex task into a streamlined process, setting a new standard in the industry.

Resilience: Real estate is inherently cyclical, requiring resilience to navigate through market fluctuations. This resilience was evident during challenging times, such as the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, where our ability to persevere and adapt allowed us to emerge stronger and more resilient.

Always Learning: Continuously seeking new opportunities and learning from diverse experiences has been crucial. Whether it’s applying insights from a personal hobby to a business strategy, or recognizing market trends, the commitment to learning has enabled us to stay ahead of the curve and identify growth opportunities.

Each of these traits has not just shaped my career but also fundamentally influenced how I approach challenges and opportunities in the dynamic world of CRE.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

One challenging decision that stands out in my career was the choice of direction for TCAM, Tax Credit Asset Management.

TCAM was a company I started in 2008, and at a crucial point in its growth, we faced a decision between two paths. Some members of the management team wanted TCAM to become principals in transactions, while others advocated for a role as advisors. This decision was particularly difficult because there were perceived conflicts of interest between the two paths. Ultimately, I had to respect the viewpoints of my senior managers, even though I favored a different direction. This experience taught me the importance of relying on my team’s expertise and having a collaborative decision-making process.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

“Disruption” refers to a significant change that challenges and alters traditional business methods, models, and industry norms.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

In the CRE industry, disruption is both a necessity and a strategic imperative. The traditional methods and models that once defined the industry are being challenged by technological advancements, shifting consumer preferences, and regulatory changes. Embracing disruption is essential for staying relevant and competitive in this rapidly evolving landscape. I’ve embraced disruption by leveraging technology to innovate processes and drive efficiency. Whether it’s adopting AI and data analytics to enhance decision-making or embracing new investment strategies, embracing disruption has been integral to our success at Thirty Capital.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

Challenging conventional wisdom has taught me invaluable lessons that have profoundly influenced my leadership style and approach to business. Here are some key insights:

Embracing Innovation and Technology: By adopting a technology-driven mindset, we can unlock new opportunities, streamline processes, and drive efficiencies across our operations.

Data-Driven Decision Making: Delving deep into advanced analytics and data-driven insights has empowered us with a profound understanding of market dynamics and consumer behaviors. This enables us to make strategic decisions confidently, steering our ventures toward success.

Questioning the Status Quo: Challenging conventional wisdom means not accepting the ‘usual way of doing things’ without scrutiny. It’s about being open to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches, even if they initially seem unconventional.

Focus on Relationships and Team Building: In a field as complex and multifaceted as CRE, having a team that shares a vision and collaborates effectively is crucial. This involves encouraging open communication, mutual respect, and shared learning.

Adaptability and Resilience: In an ever-evolving industry, the ability to adapt to change and navigate uncertainty is critical for long-term success.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

One instance of facing significant pushback for a disruptive idea was when we launched Investor Management Services (IMS) to assist commercial real estate syndicators in capitalizing on retail capital opportunities.

Initially, there was skepticism surrounding the viability and necessity of such a platform. However, by demonstrating the potential of this approach, we were able to overcome resistance and capitalize on the opportunity. My advice to others facing similar situations is to stay committed to your vision, communicate the benefits clearly, and be prepared to address concerns with data and evidence.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

1. AI, BI, & HI: Leveraging the combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Business Intelligence (BI), and Human Intelligence (HI) has been transformative for us. For instance, in developing Lobby CRE, we integrated AI and BI to analyze market trends and property data. But it was the addition of HI — understanding the unique nuances of each market and client need — that allowed us to identify patterns, predict dynamics, and find opportunities that a purely data-driven model might have missed.

OKRs: Embracing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has been pivotal in aligning our team’s efforts with our organizational goals and strategic vision. This approach shifts the focus from traditional, often vague goals to specific, measurable outcomes that enable transparency, accountability, and agility. This framework has ensured that every team member is not only aware of our goals but actively working towards them, thereby increasing efficiency and focus.

Forecasting Interest Rates: Instead of passively waiting for rates to drop during a period of economic uncertainty, we proactively analyzed forward rate trends. This foresight allowed us to make informed decisions on debt management and investment timing, staying ahead of market shifts.

Data-Driven Decision-Making: We’ve moved beyond traditional performance assessment methods by leveraging advanced data analytics and AI. This involves analyzing market trends, consumer behaviors, and economic indicators to make strategic investment and development decisions that align with long-term growth and sustainability. For example, we’ve incorporated benchmarking to ensure our decisions are based on comprehensive industry data.

Targeted Strategic Approach: Understanding and meeting customer needs is critical in CRE. We’ve adopted a targeted strategic approach that emphasizes the use of data and market research to understand and meet the specific needs of multifamily and commercial tenants. This involves tailoring our offerings and engagement strategies based on thorough market research and tenant feedback, resulting in enhanced satisfaction and occupancy rates.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

My career stands as a testament to the power of disruption in CRE, demonstrating how a willingness to embrace change, leverage technology, and rethink traditional models can lead to significant industry advancements. In reflection, several surprises have stood out, each shaping my journey in unique ways.

  • The Power of Technology: Early on, I recognized the transformative potential of technology in CRE. Embracing data analytics, despite initial skepticism from peers, revolutionized our understanding of markets, property management, and investment strategies.
  • Resilience and Adaptability: The resilience of the CRE market during economic downturns, including the 2008 financial crisis and the 2019 pandemic, was truly surprising. These challenges underscored the importance of adaptability and innovation in navigating uncertainties.
  • The Human Element: Despite technological advancements, I’ve been continually surprised by the enduring significance of personal relationships and human insight in a data-driven industry. Balancing technology with personalized client interactions remains crucial for sustained success.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

Embracing disruption has instilled in me a growth mindset, pushing me to continually learn and adapt not only professionally but also personally. It has bolstered my resilience, teaching me to view failures as opportunities for growth. This resilience has been invaluable in navigating life’s challenges with a balanced perspective. Professionally honed adaptability and open-mindedness have also permeated into my personal life, creating a willingness to welcome new experiences and perspectives.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

As a leader, cultural and organizational change are top concerns. Ensuring our company culture embraces innovation, adapts to new workflows, and maintains employee engagement is critical. Staying self-aware and adaptable to address challenges and meet evolving market needs guides my leadership decisions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My passion lies in microfarming — a movement to promote understanding and appreciation of our ecosystem’s diversity through small-scale agriculture. From backyard chickens to cultivating herbs, microfarming nurtures a deeper connection with nature and promotes sustainability. Empowering individuals to grow their own food fuels compassion and self-sufficiency, contributing to a more sustainable and harmonious world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow my work and insights into the CRE industry through several online channels:

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.