Price alumnus David Dollinger encourages Master of Real Estate Development students

October 23, 2018
David Dollinger with MRED students

By Matthew Kredell

When David Dollinger was an eager student in the inaugural graduating class of the Master of Real Estate Development program at the USC Price School of Public Policy some 30 years ago, he appreciated having industry leaders, such as John Lusk and Ronald Tutor, take time to speak to his cohort. His appreciation for the program influenced him to take time to continue this valuable tradition of educating the current USC students with real industry knowledge. Dollinger also endowed the program in 2012, which then became the Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development. He continues to speak to the students every academic year, adding insight to the program that gave him his start.

Dollinger returned to USC on Oct. 4 to once again pass on his own advice to current MRED students as part of the Lusk Speaker Series.

“Lusk and Tutor imparted little nuggets of wisdom, that came to be quite helpful to me in my career,” Dollinger said. “I’m trying to do that with these students so that they can get out there in real estate, avoid some common mistakes, figure things out quickly and not waste a lot of time. I think its fun talking to them. The questions they ask show they are interested and eager to learn.”

He visits from the Bay Area, where he is principal of Dollinger Properties, the largest landlord of multi-tenant space in the Silicon Valley. Dollinger Properties owns and manages more than 70 premier properties in California representing more than six million square feet.

Starting With Small Deals

Dollinger encouraged real estate students that there is room for them to come into the industry and be entrepreneurs, putting together their own deals.

“I’m trying to give them the ability to be entrepreneurs and do it themselves,” Dollinger said. “Real estate is very institutionalized with big companies. I try to encourage them that they can do it their own way and how to get started.”

Dollinger made his first real estate purchase while a student at USC, getting fraternity brothers also interested in real estate to invest. He advised the students to concentrate on small deals early in their careers and take their time, because it’s particularly important to make sure that first deal – often done with money from friends and family – is successful.

David Dollinger with Price students“Having him come in just energizes the whole group,” said Robert Miller, a duel MBA/MRED candidate. “I think a lot of us are trying to figure out how we can crack the code going forward in a very competitive industry. The way that he’s been successful — not just as an institutional guy, but out there entrepreneurially figuring out his own recipe for success — is really inspirational.”

Real estate has changed a lot over Dollinger’s three decades in the industry. When he first came into the business, the focus was developing single-story buildings and retail. Now his business is more involved with buying existing properties.

“Rents don’t justify new buildings, so you have to acquire existing buildings,” Dollinger said. “We’re not doing any more retail buildings. Now we’re looking at tearing down buildings and going up in the air to do an office building or apartments. We’re morphing to where the market is going.”

A prime example of this philosophy is the Lincoln Landing development in the City of Hayward in Alameda County, where Dollinger Properties razed the former headquarters of Mervyn’s department store and is building two mixed-use residential towers and a commercial retail center on the long-vacant, 11.5-acre property.

Patience and the Long-Term Hold

While many developers like to buy and sell, Dollinger has always focused on long-term ownership. He likes to say that he considers “sell” a four-letter word.

“He’s very candid and he takes a different approach, with a focus on long-term holds, where he looks to hold everything for life, when a lot of people are trying to get in and out of deals,” said Jacob Lorson, an MBA/MRED student. “It was interesting to hear him talk about having patience with everything, do one deal at a time and not rush things. The strategy obviously worked out quite well for him.”

Leadership for the Future of Real Estate

Outside of the office, Dollinger has geared his philanthropic efforts toward athletics and education. He is on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, the primary fundraising arm for the United States Olympic Committee. He has also taken an advisory role at the university on the USC President’s Leadership Council.

Dollinger was pleased to see USC Price add the Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development degree in 2015.

“I think a lot of undergraduate students have an interest in real estate but don’t know how to explore it, so I think having the Bachelor of Real Estate Development degree is a great advancement for real estate education,” Dollinger said. “If they had that program when I was a student, I would have enrolled.”

He is also proud that both degrees are in the Price School of Public Policy.

“Everyone thinks of real estate in a business school, because there’s a business side of it, but there is also the land-use planning side of it. Knowing what fits in a community, what neighbors want, what cities want,” Dollinger said “that all fits within the Price School.”