Most people spend a Saturday afternoon strolling through a mall thinking about where the best sales are and whether there’s a good place to stop for lunch. But not Elena. “When I go into a shopping center, I usually look at the tenant mix, and I try to ask myself, ‘Is it a good mix? Or could you maybe have a higher return with another mix of tenants? How could you improve value?’”
As a Private Equity Real Estate Associate at Morgan Stanley Frankfurt, Elena makes investments for institutional clients like pension funds and insurance companies in private equity funds that specialize in real estate. It’s a job that allows her to be analytical and to ask the imaginative questions that constantly come to her mind. The role she says, is “the perfect mix and the perfect match” for her.
I grew up in the Black Forest region of Germany. I first became interested in real estate as a child when my dad, who’s an architect, brought me to visit his projects’ construction sites. Later, when I was a student at the University of Stuttgart, my economics classes were so much fun that I decided to combine everything I loved studying into my degree, a bachelor’s in civil engineering, real estate engineering, and management.
You had an internship with Morgan Stanley before joining the firm full time. What was your experience with the interview process like?
I learned about the internship and applied through LinkedIn. When I was invited to Frankfurt for interviews, I was a bit nervous, but I didn’t need to be. The people were so nice. Of course, they asked technical questions, but in a very friendly way. It was more like a conversation than an interview. I wound up getting the internship, which was both a lot of work and a lot of fun.
To be honest, every day is different. As an Associate, I spend a lot of time evaluating different opportunities. I create financial models, analyze the cash flows of real estate investments, prepare presentations and attend meetings. I collaborate on projects with all members of my team, including with my Managing Director, who is the most senior member of the team. You really get as much responsibility here as you can handle.
One of the reasons I like to go to work in the morning is because my team gets along so well. I can go to anyone in our group and ask questions or for advice. We work very hard together on complex projects, and I’ve learned an enormous amount from them.
It feels great. I have several people I would call mentors, and one of them is a woman more senior than I am. She always tries to support me, and if I have questions, she has advice.
My mentor is also a mom with two kids, so she’s been a great example of how you can handle kids and career at the same time. She’s an amazing role model for me.
Every year, Morgan Stanley has a Global Volunteer Month with different opportunities to volunteer. I had the chance to help organize a race for a charity that supports doctors serving homeless people in Hamburg, Germany. The race was a team relay that covered almost 60 miles, and nine of us each ran a portion of it. It was quite successful—together we raised €10,000 [about $12,000] from more than 70 donors. I found it incredibly rewarding to help our community as a team.
I studied abroad at the National University of Singapore, which definitely prepared me for my career at the firm. It was a big challenge for me because I went to Singapore on my own and didn’t know anyone there. The semester ended up being such a cool opportunity. I met and studied with very smart people from so many different backgrounds, so the experience was very similar in some ways to working at the firm.
I would say “team” because we are always working together; “trust” because not only can I really depend on my team, but I also think of them like family; and “fun.”
During my time in Singapore, I fell in love with traveling in Southeast Asia and visited 10 different countries. Recently, I went on a fantastic trip to Cambodia and backpacked for three weeks.
In my free time, I also like to dance. When I was growing up, I competed on a hip-hop team. Today, I’m more into salsa, but I still love hip hop.