Consultant Q&A

Cristina Castellano

With her BA from Harvard and MBA from Wharton, Cristina built upon a successful early career on Wall Street (including Deutsche Bank and UBS) to develop deep financial analysis skills before returning to her hometown of Miami, where she leverages her brokerage license as Director of Castle Capital Group, a developer of ultra high end homes in the Miami area.

In your early career you went to Wall Street, working at Deutsche Bank and UBS in Banking & Private Equity, but after business school you started a real estate investment firm developing luxury residential properties in Florida. What drew you to real estate?

When I took a year off from investment banking before attending the Wharton MBA program, I had an opportunity to focus on my personal investments and was drawn to real estate because of its strong fundamentals, and frankly, its familiarity. I also like the idea that anyone can invest in real estate and most people have an opinion on the matter. It always makes for interesting conversation. At Wharton, I majored in Real Estate and was lucky enough to pursue the practice thereafter from the ground up in Miami. Unlike investment banking, real estate development always allows you to see your investment from beginning to end and have something that you can actually touch at the end and which will hopefully be around for a long time. That is really satisfying. I also love the design side of the process. I’ve always enjoyed creativity and that part of my skillset was rarely utilized in the early part of my career. Today, I have to prioritize design ahead of any other variable in real estate development.

You’re skilled in underwriting, complex financial modeling, due diligence, construction, and you even have your real estate broker’s license. What part of real estate do you most enjoy, and why?

That’s a tough questions because I enjoy so many parts of the process, but if I have to pick I’d say modeling and sales. I enjoy the hard skills required to execute the financial analysis to clarify the risks and rewards of each project. Financial modeling is a language and I enjoy translating the financial goals of developers and investors into common sense logic. My years in investment banking definitely taught me to convert complex models into user-friendly analytics. I also enjoy using the soft skills required to find the right end-user and ultimately deliver their dream home. It takes reputation, time and finesse to get a buyer to trust you, but once they do, they are making a once in a lifetime purchase and they will never forget you. It’s neat to know that you play a part in making someone’s dreams come true.

When working to create a detailed cash-flow projection, what do you think small developers most often miss?

Number one is the time value of money. Small developers are the best at back of the envelope calculations, but they often overlook the importance of timing. And with real estate, timing is everything! It’s not just about the carry and opportunity cost; you have to take into account potential fluctuations in the market. It’s also important to make sure that developers aren’t analyzing deals in a vacuum. How does their potential investment compare to other real estate opportunities in the market? This analysis is often missed.

Why did you join StealthForce? What resonated with you?

For me the most interesting aspect of StealthForce is the quality of its clients. You get access to Fortune 500 companies and high energy startups alike. The spectrum is impressive. I also get to work on high profile projects alongside top talent that directly impacts the performance of their companies. Most projects are one on one and the feedback is immediate. The objectives are clear, the process is smooth and there are rarely any bottlenecks. Clients and consultants agree to a set timetable and after that the process is yours to control. Over time you develop long lasting relationships with real estate industry leaders who are relying on you to execute their vision. I also enjoy the variety of projects and the fact that I can use a different skill set every day. Much like the work I do in real estate development, working for StealthForce allows me to use my entire range. One week I’m modeling complex financial structures and the next week I’m working on a design project. I always have a say in what I want to work on and the opportunities are endless.

Tell us something we might not expect about being the Captain of the Harvard Cheerleading team, since you were…

Pushups. Doing the number of pushups that matched the score after every touchdown left me with incredible muscle memory. I can still crank them out today!