Business school real estate chair 'pioneers new thinking'

(Edmonton) It is said that in real estate, the value of a property is determined by three factors:  location, location, location. Now prospective business students seeking knowledge of the real estate industry have a new location to consider with the creation of the Melton Chair in Real Estate in the School of Retailing at the University Of Alberta’s Alberta School of Business.

The chair, funded principally by the Melton family and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, will work to develop leadership in real estate within the business school. The position was created and funded in two years, the fastest time for the development of any chair within the business school, said Paul McElhone, executive director of the School of Retailing, noting that industry buy-in from the major partners and a dozens of other donors was tremendous.

Adding the Melton name to the chair establishes a local connection with a “respected and iconic” real estate developer. “They were a perfect choice to kick off the chair,” he said.

However, the partnership with the foundation, which was the crux of the eventual creation of this position, started a decade ago with the development of real estate certificate program and the expansion to the development of a commercial real estate course three years ago. The popularity of that inaugural class worked into the plan to expand the real estate curriculum, a decision that precipitated establishing the chair—and the search for an occupant.

“We ultimately wanted to find some who could teach commercial real estate who had a PhD background,” said McElhone. “We found David Dale-Johnson, who was originally involved in the real estate program at Berkeley.”

Dale-Johnson, previously the director of the real estate program at the University of Southern California, Berkeley, and a real estate industry scholar at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, will expand the course offering to a second class this fall, and potentially adding others in the coming years, including a real estate law course. “That will allow our students to end up with a bachelor of commerce degree with a minor in real estate,” he said.

McElhone sees this new chair and the expanding real estate program as a “win-win-win” for industry, the university and for the students. “We’ve now become sort of the feeder system for the entire industry for talent,” he said. “Commercial realtors such as Avison, Cushman (and Wakefield), Colliers, even some of the investment and development groups look to us for our students when they graduate.”

For the school of business in general, and the School of Retailing in particular, the idea of housing this new chair in an area where, as McElhone says, it is inextricably linked, is novel among Canadian universities, and one McElhone hopes will draw business and MBA students to the school.

“When I meet with companies like ICSC (the International Council of Shopping Centers) in New York and talk to the president of the company, he says, ‘we don’t need any more schools of real estate in North America, what we need are schools of retailing that understand real estate,’” he said. “With this chair, we’re pioneering some new thinking out there.”