Berkadia’s Hilary Provinse Models Success for the Next Generation

How the veteran investment banker builds teams that are diverse, strategic—and deliver results.
Hilary Provinse Image courtesy of Berkadia

March was a busy month for Berkadia. Its affordable housing team announced a $33 million investment in Jordan Downs Phase S3, the 70-acre redevelopment effort led by Michaels, BRIDGE Housing and The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Berkadia’s Seniors Housing & Healthcare group announced $20.3 million of financing for a nursing home portfolio and an assisted living deal. The firm also secured nearly $117 million in combined financing for two multifamily properties in Cleveland.

READ THE DIGEST

There was no shortage of other comparable accomplishments at the diversified, New York City-based investment services firm. Yet clients might well agree that Berkadia’s biggest recent success was its ability to pivot quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Justin Wheeler, the firm’s CEO, implemented Berkadia’s work-from-home policy in mid-March, the transition occurred swiftly and without disruption to business as usual. Among the executives advising Wheeler on navigating today’s uncharted waters is Hilary Provinse, the firm’s executive vice president & head of mortgage banking.

A joint venture of Berkshire Hathaway and Jefferies Financial Group, Berkadia fields a nationwide team of nearly 2,000 professionals. “My job is to put people in the right seat so that they can leverage their strengths and execute,” said Provinse, who joined Berkadia in January 2018, and also serves on firm’s management committee.

From her office in Chevy Chase, Md., Provinse leads some 150 mortgage bankers and their teams in 40 offices. These professionals serve clients across all multifamily and commercial real estate asset categories. Specialized teams cover senior housing and health-care, student housing, affordable housing and manufactured housing.

“My role is to make sure our clients benefit from my team’s market expertise in commercial real estate and their relationships with diverse capital sources,” Provinse said. She oversees Berkadia’s lending relationships with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, life companies, CMBS, commercial banks, debt funds and the company’s proprietary balance sheet.

With $280 billion in volume, Berkadia was the largest non-bank servicer of commercial loans and the fourth largest overall, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s 2019 ranking.

Last year, Berkadia’s combined production volume of loan origination, investment sales and joint venture equity placements exceeded $36 billion, $27 billion of which was produced by the company’s mortgage banking division. That set a company record and earned Berkadia the No.1 spot as Freddie Mac’s conventional Optigo lender, a feat that Provinse characterizes as “a big accomplishment.”

Team building

Provinse arrived at her own pragmatic management style, in part, by emulating the strong leaders she has worked for. “What they’ve done is share a very clear and concise vision of the direction the organization is going in and set some high-level priorities for the team,” she said. “Then you make sure that your team has the autonomy and the ability. And you trust in them to execute on that vision themselves.”

Recognizing employees’ strengths is key, and so is maintaining open lines of communication. “I ask my people a lot of questions and I really listen to them. I also make sure they’re communicating well with each other, which I think we do really well here at Berkadia.”

Along with empowering her team to go the extra mile for their clients, she also encourages them to channel that instinct for service by providing mentorship to colleagues at the beginning of their CRE careers. “At Berkadia, we believe people matter, which is why I put a significant focus on not just hiring the right talent but investing in, and growing, our employees and teams,” Provinse said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from the mentorship of others throughout my career, so I am committed to serving as a voice for women in the commercial real estate industry.”

 Over the course of her career she has counted both men and women among her role models. “One of the challenges on Wall Street in the ’90s was that there weren’t as many female role models,” Provinse recalled. “I had some good male role models, and there were some female role models that I didn’t aspire to be like. I think you learn from poor managers, as well as from good ones.”

Provinse observed that it’s crucial to have more women in leadership roles, as Berkadia’s clients become more diverse and women assume a greater number of leadership roles. “These new woman leaders are looking for partners with broader perspectives, not just the same-old, same-old. To me, that’s why gender diversity is important. It’s not to say that we get a gold star for being women. It’s driven by the desire to build better companies.”

She also notes, diversity yields other rewards. “It’s just good for business. Statistically speaking, companies that have diverse boards of directors perform better on the S&P 500,” she says. “I’m encouraged to see that the market, companies and the business economy are now recognizing that diversity is essential. It brings better ideas to the table.”

Capital ideas

A fifth-generation Washingtonian, Provinse grew up in the nation’s capital. “There aren’t a lot of us,” she noted, as Washington, D.C.’s fluid political scene lends a sense of transience in many ways. Despite their long roots in the district, Provinse’s family has never been involved in politics. Though Provinse completed a college internship on Capitol Hill, she wasn’t drawn to a government career. Her father ran real estate private equity funds, but she never guessed that she’d wind up in the business herself.

In retrospect, she recognizes that her father’s work helped shape her own choice of career. “He owned a lot of properties around Washington, and while I was growing up, I would go look at deals with him,” Provinse says. She cites two of her father’s lessons as professional guideposts: “Always do the right thing, and never burn a bridge.”

In her school days, when she wasn’t busy playing sports—lacrosse and tennis—or doing homework, she and a classmate (still a good friend to this day) liked to ride their bikes to a public library in Bethesda, Md.

“We would go to the library on Saturday and make up research projects for each other: ‘You research plate tectonics and I’ll research the Berlin Wall and we’ll come back together in two hours and do a little report.’ This was obviously before the internet, and you had to go to card catalogues for that,” she recalls.

Provinse has two daughters, ages 9 and 11, and she jokes with them that she hopes they’re not as nerdy as she was. Her two favorite subjects in high school were math and English, and she graduated in 1993 from Dartmouth College with a degree in history and women’s studies.

Professional pedigree

Even though she hadn’t studied business, Provinse did well at her first job after college—an analyst position at Arthur Andersen’s real estate group in Washington—which she says her father helped her get. When she was ready for the next step, she started networking with college friends who were working in investment banking. In 1994, she landed a job at Bear Stearns in New York City, and, as she puts it, “spent three years there grinding away as a Wall Street analyst.”

By 1997, Provinse was fully enthused with the business side of financial analysis, and she decided to complement her hands-on experience with formal classroom training. She enrolled in the MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, earning her degree in 1999. The next stop was Goldman Sachs, where she worked as a fixed income associate until 2001. Soon after Sept. 11, she moved back to Washington.

I needed a different lifestyle and career path,” she recalled. “I also wanted to be closer to home.” Her next professional move was to Fannie Mae, where she spent 15 years, eventually rising to the position of senior vice president in multifamily customer engagement. In that role, she managed Fannie Mae’s multifamily debt lending activities and customer relationships, including Delegated Underwriting and Servicing, structured transactions, seniors housing, affordable housing, and small loans and borrower relationships.

While at Fannie Mae, Provinse had the opportunity to work with Grace Huebscher, whom she describes as a phenomenal leader. “Grace ended up leaving Fannie Mae to go start her own lending platform. I learned a lot from Grace and I consider her a mentor,” said Provinse. Another mentor at Fannie Mae was Jeff Hayward, who was Provinse’s manager and now heads the GSE’s multifamily division. “I’ve admired him throughout my career,” she said.

The relationships that she’s cultivated at every stage of her career continue to serve her well. “It’s kind of funny and ironic that I interact now with colleagues from both Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs,” Provinse noted. Acquaintances from both firms now work in the municipal finance group at Jefferies Financial Group, Berkadia’s co-owner.

And those colleagues are reminders that one never knows when professional relationships will come full circle. “These are people I hadn’t worked with in 20 years and now I’m working with them again, which is fabulous,” Provinse said. “Dad was right when he said, ‘Don’t burn any bridges.’”

Read the May 2020 issue of MHN.