MRED grad hopes to ‘reshape cities and communities’ by focusing skills on infill development

July 28, 2018

By Matthew Kredell

Walker Wood MRED ’18 serves as land acquisition associate at The Olson Company, focusing on infill development in L.A. and Orange County.

Walker Wood landed a nice job in real estate finance after completing his bachelor’s degree, but always knew he wanted to be in development. The challenge he faced, however, was the difficulty in jumping from the finance side of real estate into development — he didn’t quite have all of the tools to make it.

Despite working in the industry, Wood felt that he needed a stronger grasp of each key aspect involving development. With that in mind, he decided to enroll in the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development program to help him make the transition.

“I was comfortable running financial pro formas but not with the construction management process or designing a site layout,” Wood said. “Having a specialized education focused on every aspect of development from A to Z allowed me to hit the ground running in my career. I was confident to make the move into development, and the MRED program, professors and classes all made that happen.”

A month after completing his degree, Wood started a job as land acquisition associate at The Olson Company, where his role will be to identify overlooked sites within Los Angeles and Orange County for infill development — the process of redeveloping land that is currently vacant or under-used. His focus is on finding potential opportunities in well-located, walkable areas.

“The Olson Company is one of the earliest to try out an infill development model exclusively,” Wood said. “I feel like I have an opportunity here to learn how to reshape cities and communities that already exist, reducing car dependence and providing for mixed uses where there previously has been single-use development. The MRED program helped give me tools so I can contribute my part in creating communities where I want to live.”

Walker Wood raises the Silver Shovel Award after winning the 20th NAIOP Real Estate Challenge with fellow teammates and Price real estate students Leah Mogabgab, Lindsey Mills, Cutter MacLeod and Christopher Kovel, along with Professor Christian Redfearn. (Photo by Tony Kawashima)

Trojan family network

Wood got exposure to The Olson Company, and vice versa, through the MRED program. Wood was paired with Olson president and CEO Scott Laurie, a USC Price graduate, as a mentor. He later connected with 2013 MRED alumnus Aaron Hirschi, who helped bring him into the company for an internship and is now his direct supervisor.

“I came into the MRED program with my eyes set on residential development but more so master planned communities,” Wood said. “Through the program, my direction changed to really understanding what’s going on with the infill model and knowing that, as our cities are built out, a lot of development going forward is going to be improving upon areas already developed.”

His favorite experience in the MRED program was helping USC top UCLA in the annual NAIOP Real Estate Challenge, a head-to-head case competition to determine the best use for a piece of land in El Segundo. Associate Professor Christian Redfearn, the Borstein Family Endowed Professor of Real Estate at USC Price, noted how Wood really opened up at the competition, talking confidently about his ideas in front of a large group of professionals judging the event.

Problem solver for significant community challenge

At commencement, Wood was given the D.J. Moore Award as the MRED graduate with the greatest professional potential.

Price Professor Richard Green presents Wood with the D.J. Moore Award. (Photo by Tom Queally)

“Amongst a group of really good students, he stood out,” Redfearn said. “Getting infill built is incredibly important and hard to do well because of so many competing interests. It’s a significant challenge in finding ways to get neighbors to say yes, cities to say yes, general contractors to say yes — a lot of people need to say yes. Building infill development is an art that takes a special skill set, for which someone like Walker is well suited. He’s a guy who can be a problem solver.”

Redfearn taught Wood in two classes, including an early summer course that Wood felt set the tone for the program.

“Chris was always willing to engage and help us think outside the box, while also pushing the skill set we’re learning,” Wood said. “He talked often about giving us tools that can be adapted in the workplace. Hearing him talk about what he views as big factors affecting real estate and how they filter all the way down through every aspect of the economy gave me a little bit of heartache but also a lot of exhilaration. I attribute much of the progress I made in the program to his influence.”

To cap off his MRED experience, Wood had the opportunity to travel to Europe with 20 of his MRED colleagues in an elective course taught by Price Professor Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. Wood spent a week in London followed by a few days in Berlin and Frankfurt, Germany, meeting with developers, investors and elected officials to understand the similarities and differences in international real estate.

“To get this perspective of real estate from an international lens was unique for me,” Wood said. “Being able to meet with real estate professionals I never would have been able to on my own was rewarding. Spending two weeks traveling with classmates after having spent a year together really strengthened the bonds we made in the MRED program.”