C-Suite Spotlight: CHA Partners Managing Partner Bill Colgan

Bill Colgan is managing partner of CHA Partners, a mixed-use developer particularly known for its work acquiring and repurposing acute care hospitals in New Jersey and bringing various forms of healthcare real estate to underserved communities. The firm also launched LIVIA, a new senior housing brand, in September, and does other residential and commercial development.

By: Catie Dixon | Bisnow

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.

Bill Colgan is managing partner of CHA Partners, a mixed-use developer particularly known for its work acquiring and repurposing acute care hospitals in New Jersey and bringing various forms of healthcare real estate to underserved communities. The firm also launched LIVIA, a new senior housing brand, in September, and does other residential and commercial development.

Three decades of leadership have taught him the value in not being rigid and of not just managing, but inspiring. The following has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.

Colgan: I truly believe there are four main philosophies that every good leader should adopt: Lead by example, don’t expect 100% if you are not willing to give 110%, respect is earned, not entitled, and finally, understanding that personal problems and life situations come with the territory. 

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now? 

Colgan: I have always been entrepreneurial and have built several companies over the past three decades. Whether managing two employees, as I did early in my career, or several thousand, 20 years later, my role as CEO really didn’t change all that much, but over time, I acquired skills that made me better at my job. I’m a firm believer that life experiences teach us valuable lessons and help us grow. 

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Colgan: The same fundamentals that were relevant for decades will still ring true for our next era of leadership. However, rapid changes resulting from the pandemic will surely reshape the work environment over the next 10 years. CEOs will need to be more thoughtful on how they are leading and remain focused on inspiring and mentoring their workforce as remote working becomes the new mindset. CEOs and top executives will also need to be more visionary to position their companies properly in this rapidly changing environment. 

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Colgan: Yes, definitely — for me, it’s really about the impact you’re able to have. As a CEO or business leader, you have the ability to affect many people’s lives and to me, that’s really significant. The people who work for a company trust you with their family’s livelihood and that carries great meaning for me every day in my role as a leader.

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Colgan: Early on in my career, I struggled with being too rigid and this was a limiting factor. It’s great to have confidence and conviction in your strategy/approach, but what I’ve learned over time is that it’s also crucial to listen to and trust others and be more receptive to new ideas. There’s a certain wisdom that comes with experience and I’ve learned throughout the years that it’s extremely worthwhile to consider fresh perspectives.  

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Colgan: While there’s no denying that the pandemic has had a huge impact on the world and the way we work today, I do still feel strongly that there needs to be a balance between remote and in-person work. Work-from-home was already beginning to take shape before the pandemic and it has only accelerated this concept on a larger scale. But there are certain factors that just don’t come through as strongly if we’re relying only on video-based communication. For example, it is much easier to read a person’s body language when you are in the same room or forge a relationship with a new business contact if you are face-to-face. 

There are also certain aspects of the workplace — collaboration, culture, and the mentorship and training of new employees — that tend to work best in an office setting. I think the hybrid model is likely here to stay but what will be most important in the future is striking the right balance between remote and in-person work. 

Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?

Colgan: There have always been inequalities in the workplace but there is a much stronger awareness now around this issue and people are working much harder to balance those injustices. It is important that companies and people today are cognizant of the roadblocks that are preventing the advancement of women and people of color and strive to make changes not just on an individual company level but for the industry as a whole.

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?

Colgan: I do think it’s incumbent upon all of us to be mindful of our impact on the ecological system and think critically about ways that we can all do our part. In real estate, we are developing projects that change people’s lives — communities where people live, work and play, but these developments must make business sense. In order for real change to happen, I believe the government needs to be the primary driver and should provide the necessary financial incentives that reward sustainable development.

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?

Colgan: Everything in commercial real estate tends to self-correct and we’ve seen this time and time again throughout our history. The beauty about our industry is that we have many smart people who are constantly learning and growing, which leads to tough competition and forces us to perform at a very high level. If there’s one area that I think we could improve, [it] is in working with our elected officials to make substantive changes on some very archaic laws that limit growth and competition.

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?

Colgan: Looking ahead, I think industrial and warehousing will remain strong, especially with the shift of buyer preferences and an increase in online shopping among a wide range of demographics. I also think that healthcare real estate will continue to have upside and it’s an area we focus on very closely at CHA Partners — finding ways to repurpose healthcare facilities in a way that benefits the communities they serve. We continue to see increased consolidation of health systems and their desire to make outpatient services easier to navigate by locating these multi-specialty practices under one roof. I think this trend will only continue as consumers today demand convenience. 

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Colgan: Good to Great by Jim Collins. As with most things in life, timing plays an important factor. I was a young CEO starting a new risky venture and needed a real-world perspective on what made certain companies perform at much higher levels than their competitors. I found the book to be very informative and it altered my thinking for the better as I embarked on my new venture.

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Colgan: I’m not much of a TV person, but when I do flip it on, I usually seek out some sporting event. I admire the discipline and commitment athletes make to perform at their highest level.

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Colgan: Saturdays and Sundays were always big family days in my household. Raising my family and supporting them during their sporting events or participating in any activities has always been a huge focus for me. As my children have gotten older and they are now raising their own families, it’s great to be able to spend time with my grandchildren and see them grow. 

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