June 17, 2008

Closing the Deal

Rawle Howard ’96 transitioned from law to real estate at Lehman Brothers

By Kate Helm

When Rawle Howard ’96 arrived at Lafayette as a first-year student, he knew two things – he wanted to be a lawyer and he hated economics. But an economics class he took in his second semester opened a world of possibilities and laid the foundation for where he is today.

Thanks to his mentor, Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business, Howard discovered a love of economics that eventually would turn into a passion for real estate.

“Fluney changed my life in more ways than one,” says Howard, a government & law and economics & business graduate. “He was the guy who got me interested in economics, which is the basis for a lot of what I do now. In my second semester, my roommate signed up for an economics class and suggested I join him. I said, ‘I don’t like economics.’ He said Professor Hutchinson is really interesting and it’s not a far walk from the dorm. The day I walked in and he started with his analogies about opportunity costs that he broke down to fish and coconuts and two guys on an island, a light bulb went off. After that, it was all economics for me. Fluney was a mentor and still is a mentor. He was the guy who really changed my perspective on life and Lafayette.”

After earning his J.D. from Hofstra University, Howard joined the legal group at the Lehman Brothers global investment bank. Based in New York City, he was a corporate lawyer, a position he believed was the perfect blend of his interests in law and economics.

“I always thought I wanted to be a trial attorney,” he explains. “When I got to Lafayette and got interested in economics, there was this dichotomy. How am I going to bridge the gap? So I thought, ‘I’ll be a corporate attorney and manage deals. This makes a lot of sense.’ At that moment, I formulated in my head what a corporate attorney would do. I got to law school and got into practice, but only part of [being a corporate attorney] is deal driven. You’re just papering the deal; you’re not actually driving the bus. From my standpoint, I wanted to drive the bus; I wanted to be the one pushing the envelope, getting things to a place where I’m being as creative as possible for my client, which in this case is Lehman Brothers, without crossing the line and violating any rules.”

Although he worked in the legal group, Howard pursued outside real estate interests. When a friend asked why he wasn’t making a career of real estate, he decided it was time for a change. His friend introduced him to another friend who worked in Lehman’s real estate group and took Howard under his wing.

“A lot of what I’d done on the legal side I was able to transfer,” he says. “It was very easy.”

Now working in the origination side of real estate, Howard spends his days having conversations with those interested in buying commercial properties in the range of $50 million and over. Once he engages a client for a loan, he works with the lawyers to close the deal.

“The great thing is that the group I work in involves very complex transactions that take a lot of thinking and involve a whole lot of people,” he says. “It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush because you’re also dealing with all the other banks and teams of people across Wall Street. It’s exciting to know you came up with the best strategy to execute.”

Howard also enjoys serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations, where he provides input on real estate acquisitions. He also speaks at real estate seminars for first-time buyers and new home owners.

“It’s quite fulfilling that you can go there and see that for these people, it’s such a welcome knowledge,” he says.

Howard is active in the Lafayette community. He is a member of Lafayette Leadership Council and each year, he hosts a lunch for Lafayette interns at Lehman Brothers. He also has returned to campus for talks with Association of Black Collegians and legal career panels.

“I really appreciate my experience at Lafayette,” he says. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. I met some of my best and closest friends at Lafayette. Hopefully, when I have kids, if they’re smart enough, they’ll get in. Lafayette has been good to me, so I try to be as good to Lafayette as I can.”

As a middle linebacker on Lafayette’s Division I-AA football team, Howard learned about the power of teamwork and time management.

“Football helped me to focus because I didn’t have as much time as everyone else,” he says. “I always felt like I had to spend more time working because I had to balance my time. Also I had this embedded group of people I knew right off the bat, so my transition from home life to school life was easier. It was a built-in network. I always had someone who understood what I was going through. That’s one of the things that really enhanced my Lafayette experience.”

Now in the corporate world, Howard can see how Lafayette helped set him apart from the rest.

“One of the things about Lafayette is that it’s a liberal arts school, and it gave me the ability to be flexible and nimble,” he says. “It lent me the ability to think not just down one track but globally. I do know based on what I can see from other people that I’m leaps and bounds ahead in the way I think about things. I got both the quantitative and qualitative sides at Lafayette; you don’t get that too many places.”

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