What It Takes to Be in Real Estate

After eighteen years in the banking industry, Anthony Perez takes on enterprise-wide real estate leadership at Atrium Health

Anthony Perez, VP of Real Estate, Atrium Health (Photo Courtesy of Charolette Area Health Education Center)

Working at Bank of America for nearly two decades in a variety of roles provided Anthony Perez with opportunities he had never dreamed of. But the offer from Carolinas HealthCare System, now Atrium Health, a regional health system, was too good to pass up.

“I had been in the banking industry for eighteen years, so I was looking to learn something different,” Perez says. “At Bank of America, I was a regional leader, but not for the whole organization. This was an enterprise-level opportunity I wanted to take.”

Undertaking that role—initially assistant vice president of real estate—was no small feat. Atrium is a nonprofit network of hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, and medical practices. That translates to about 18.5 million square feet, more 500 buildings, and more than 1,600 leases. In fact, the company completed 731 deals just in 2017.

Perez’s first goal in taking over management of Atrium’s real estate department was to get the right people on his team. With a total of thirty-seven people working under him, it was a substantial goal.

Three Major Skill Sets

Anthony Perez shares the three skills he builds among his Atrium Health team members.

Business acumen: “We currently are a $9 billion revenue system, so that’s real adult money. You have to have good business acumen and understand the risk and the return on investment of our decisions.”

Analytical skills: “We’re a big system with a lot of chairs, a lot of parking spaces, and a lot of square footage. You have to be able to filter that down and make really good decisions based on a lot of data. Without analytical skills, you could get really overwhelmed.”

Communication skills: “These are probably the most important skills, regardless of your subject matter expertise. In real estate, you have to deal with so many people on so many different levels. One day, we could be meeting with the CEO, and the next day we can be working with janitors to make sure our spaces are clean. Being able to motivate and get your ideas across is really important.”

“It started with getting the right people on the bus and then getting them in the right seats,” says Perez, who is currently the vice president of real estate. “Then, we really focused on the processes that we were using to make sure they didn’t have any defects and they were very lean and efficient.”

The final step, which he and his team are currently working on, is to make sure they have the right systems in place and that they all work the way they should. “Technology is our big focus right now, as we’re toward the end of building our foundational platform for real estate,” Perez says.

With all of the areas of real estate that Perez’s team has to manage, the biggest responsibility by far is real estate transactions. This means negotiating both the acquisitions and dispositions of real property—land, buildings, and leases. On average, there are about 240 projects going at any one time.

In addition to his primary estate team, Perez oversees four other teams. He manages the planning team, which helps Atrium’s internal clients decide how much space they need, where they need it, and when they need it.

The development team makes sure all land purchases are executed properly. “There are a lot of governmental aspects involved in making sure it’s done correctly: easements, permits, codes we have to meet, and also getting the land ready to build on,” Perez says.

There’s also a team devoted to managing the organization’s leases. “That all has to be tracked and monitored very carefully for a couple of reasons,” Perez says. “One, we have to pay rent, we have to receive rent, and it has to be done accurately. Two, there are a lot of critical dates that have to be monitored, like when the leases expire and when we have the option to renew. This team monitors and tracks all that.”

Last, but not least, is the space and information management team. “Eighteen million square feet has to be tracked somewhere, so we have a team that is accountable for tracking all that space: how much we have, what type it is, where it is, who’s managing it, and who’s in it,” Perez says. “It’s a tremendous amount of data that’s really foundational in planning and lease administration, so we have a team that just manages that and makes sure we’re tracking and monitoring all of our data.”

Perez adds that keeping track of all those numbers is also a compliance issue. Because Atrium is a health system, the organization has to abide by many governmental laws and provide information to various governmental agencies.

All of these responsibilities are par for the course for Perez, who has dealt with every aspect of real estate at some point in his career. For example, until recently, his job included security before it was moved to another department. “Security was unexpected, but that was a great experience, and I learned a lot,” Perez says. “Parking is always an interesting role, and I had that for a while. Facilities management of all of our medical and general office buildings was also a role I’ve managed here at Atrium.”

Considering Perez initially made the move to from banking to healthcare out of a desire to challenge himself to do something different, his roles at Atrium Health have certainly fulfilled that desire. Perez stays ahead of his competition by constantly challenging himself to work on a wide variety of projects and educating himself by avidly reading books.

“‘Health. Hope. Healing. For all.’ is Atrium’s mission. Tony Perez is a gifted individual who personifies, and as VP of Real Estate, plays a key role in physically expanding this noble cause. Congratulations and many thanks to Tony for tirelessly contributing his exceptional talents to great effect.” —Smoky Bissell, founder and Chairman of The Bissell Companies