James D. Kuhn

James D. Kuhn

Board Chairman, NYU School of Professional Studies Schack Institute of Real Estate

Real estate developer James D. Kuhn takes enormous pride in the role he played in creating the M.S. in Real Estate at the NYU School of Professional Studies Schack Institute of Real Estate—where he has taught since 1978.

Kuhn is chair of the NYU School of Professional Studies Schack Institute of Real Estate Advisory Board. During his illustrious career, he has served as advisor, broker or principal in transactions that are valued at more than $3 billion, and that represent 25 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate. During his early career, he was a partner with Bernard Mendik in the Mendik Company. Since 1992, he has served as president of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, one of the “big three” real estate service companies in New York City.

Schack’s Real Estate Roundtable, an influential group of practitioners and donors chaired by Kuhn, originally proposed the creation of the graduate program in real estate because “at the time, we felt that real estate should be taken more seriously, in the academic and financial worlds.” Though NYU School of Professional Studies already offered many well-regarded courses in the field, it lacked “the stature of an M.S. degree.” The new program was designed “to bring together real estate development with real estate finance and investment, to develop professionals who wanted to advance and to assume leadership roles in the industry.” Without Larry Silverstein’s help, it wouldn’t have happened.

Kuhn believes the program’s strength derives from its effective combination of rigorous academic preparation in finance and economics with practical, real-life experience—and also from its location in New York City, one of the world’s great real estate markets. “We have access to so many successful real estate entrepreneurs who, in any given term, are teaching Schack courses, lecturing, leading a seminar, or hosting networking opportunities. That advantage is unsurpassed.”

Asked about the advantages that Schack graduates bring to the industry, Kuhn says that Newmark hires so many of them simply because “they have the combination of attributes the industry demands: entrepreneurial instincts honed and sharpened by an education that imparts exceptional critical thinking and leadership skills—and we don't have to teach them the business of real estate. Since they’re from the Schack Institute of Real Estate, we know that they already understand the business—what a cap rate is, how to read a lease—and we avoid a huge learning curve.”

Kuhn explains that the program’s curriculum reflects and adapts to the dynamic nature of the business landscape:  “When securitization became a popular method of financing, our students needed to understand it, so we immediately incorporated it into the program’s learning objectives.” Looking to the future, Kuhn believes that students will need “a deeper background in finance,” and an understanding not just of investment but also of “construction, zoning, and other expertise critical for successful development.” He sees the program continuing to respond to the evolution of real estate into a global marketplace. "We will expand students opportunities to study, develop, and invest all over the world.”

For example, Schack’s latest international offerings include study of post-catastrophe reconstruction in Haiti, courses in Amsterdam and Berlin, and a presence at MIPIM in Cannes, France and Hong Kong. Kuhn’s wish list for the program includes initiatives to “penetrate the areas of public-private development and sustainability, bring back the real-estate journal, and increase our research capacity. We also need to increase fundraising.” Leading by example, Kuhn—long an advocate for diversifying the real estate industry—has endowed the Schack Institute’s James and Marjorie Kuhn Program to Foster Diversity in Real Estate.

Outside of his professional work, Kuhn sits on the boards of several charitable and educational institutions, many of which he helped endow, and has been honored with numerous awards, including the NYU Outstanding Service Award. Nevertheless, despite his enormous professional and charitable commitments, he still finds time to play keyboard in a classic rock cover band called Square Feeet.