When the economic downturn began in 2008, much of the real estate industry panicked. But Werner Kratovil (MBA ’10) saw an opportunity to advance his career.
A quintessential New Yorker, Kratovil grew up on the Upper East Side. After he graduated from The University of the South: Sewanee, he landed a job as an associate at real estate consulting firm Robert Charles Lesser & Company (RCLCO) in the Washington, D.C. area.
But Kratovil was eager to find an opportunity back home in New York. With the economic realities of the recession, he decided the time was right to pursue an MBA to help him stand out in the increasingly competitive job market.
As he researched MBA programs, his colleague and mentor Jonathan Bartlett (MBA ’03), then vice president of RCLCO, encouraged Kratovil to look into UNC Kenan-Flagler – a sentiment echoed by many real estate colleagues. “I was really looking for a school with a strong real estate curriculum and smaller class sizes where I would have more personal attention and the ability to know my professors,” he says. “And UNC Kenan-Flagler is regarded as having one of the preeminent MBA real estate programs in the country.”
Kratovil met Steve Cumbie (MBA ’73), then executive director of The Wood Center for Real Estate Studies, at an event for prospective MBA students. His interest was piqued when Cumbie mentioned the program’s student-managed UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Foundation (KFBSF) Real Estate Fund, which provides hands-on learning experience in selecting and managing investments and returns.
“Some schools had investment funds, but they were public equity focused,” he says. “UNC Kenan-Flagler is the only school that has a private equity real estate investment platform using closed end funds with real investor money, giving students hands-on investing experience. This was a huge differentiating factor.”
Ultimately, Kratovil narrowed his options to UNC Kenan-Flagler and Yale. A visit to Chapel Hill sealed the deal.
“The experiences were totally different,” he says. “It became a very easy decision to attend UNC Kenan-Flagler. I felt like the students were much more engaging and interested, and it seemed like a much friendlier community. People stop to say hello and have a conversation. That’s basically unheard of up north.”
As a student, he found that UNC Kenan-Flagler offered a rigorous curriculum with an abundance of opportunities for real-life learning. After studying the economic challenges of Dubai and Greece, Kratovil got to see the situation firsthand on a Global Immersion Elective with real estate professor Dave Hartzell (PhD ‘85).
“It was amazing to see how Dubai had evolved from practically nothing into a modern city. Dubai was at a major inflection point in 2009 when we were there, having grown too far too fast,” he says. “Through Dave Hartzell’s connections, we were given amazing access.”
The Real Estate Program also offered many opportunities to learn from and network with prominent alumni and business leaders from the real estate and finance industries.
UNC Kenan-Flagler’s tight-knit alumni community was especially helpful when he decided to make a career pivot shortly after beginning his MBA journey. Kratovil had planned to return to the real estate industry after graduation but realized that he would be wise to broaden his horizons. He explored investment banking, an industry that was consistently hiring during the recession. And thanks to the power of the UNC Kenan-Flagler network, he landed an internship at Morgan Stanley in New York City.
At Morgan Stanley, Kratovil came to truly understand the value of the UNC alumni network. Many senior associates at the firm were constantly inundated with calls, emails and networking requests from their alma mater, making it hard for them to champion current students for openings in the firm, he says. In contrast, UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni were always very responsive and willing to connect with students.
“The strength of our alumni network really sets UNC Kenan-Flagler apart,” he says. “Every single alumnus I reached out to was happy to pick up the phone and talk to me. It’s truly a testament to the strength of UNC’s finance and real estate programs and community. I always felt like the alumni were willing to go the extra step to help me in my career."
Kratovil greatly values the lifelong relationships he’s built within the UNC Kenan-Flagler community. “People love their time in Chapel Hill and it stays with them for the rest of their life. Your classmates become contacts and business associates. I’m able to pick up the phone and reach out to so many people within the real estate industry who are UNC alums. There’s a willingness to help fellow Tar Heels,” he says.
Back home in New York City, Kratovil now works in acquisitions at DRA Advisors, a real estate investment firm. He credits the UNC Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Program for helping advance his career and looks back on his time in Chapel Hill with fondness.
“Chapel Hill is an amazing place to spend two years.”