Mike Masterson ’61 reflects on his Gilmour years with fondness. His memories reel as if he were watching one of his favorite old films; he says his speech class was like something out of “Dead Poet’s Society.” He remembers Brother Ivo asked students to stand up on the table and recite what they had written, or other times, to make something up on the spot. Though he remembers this as an intimidating task, the public speaking skills were among many Masterson learned at Gilmour that helped shape his life and prepare him for his future success as a commercial real estate developer.
Masterson believes that his public speaking skills have propelled his career. His ability to speak well to potential investors empowered him in striking business deals. “Public speaking becomes a staple of any area you want to achieve in,” Masterson says. “Gilmour was focusing on it when other places weren’t. The Brothers were creating a skill, along with writing and analytical ability, that became important for me later in life. You have to talk on your feet.”
Today, Masterson is the owner of Thunderdome, L.L.C. He is a longtime commercial real estate investor who invests in properties with potential. “We buy, sell and trade properties that we can add value to, such as offices we can improve – then we improve the tenants,” he says.
Thunderdome, L.L.C. owns land leases for Walgreens, Rite Aids and Wendys all over the country, as well as for-rent residential units. Masterson’s focus always is on making the properties better than they were when Thunderdome acquired them. “It’s always doing the impossible things with the properties that excites me,” Masterson says.
Masterson’s own educational roots lie in the University of Notre Dame and Stanford University, where he earned his M.B.A. in 1969. After Stanford, Masterson joined Economic Research Associates, and it determined his path. “It was a very broad-based introduction to real estate,” recalls Masterson. “Real estate and oil were the places I thought money was to be made then, so I chose real estate.”
Masterson went on to manage nearly a billion dollars in foreclosed real estate for a major bank. He immersed himself in San Francisco’s real estate scene, ultimately becoming president of Drever Partners there. He was able to attract university endowment funds as Drever Partners’ main investors, including Duke, Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton.
“We were buying apartment properties in the Southwest,” Masterson says. “We tried to identify markets that were about to come out of a recession. Industrial space would fill up and then about a year later, housing demand would blow up.”
Drever Partners later merged with a NYSE-listed REIT and Masterson became executive chairman of the board in a reverse merger.
Charged with strategy, oversight and communicating with Wall Street, Masterson was responsible for crafting the company’s message. While he felt the weight of that responsibility, he also knew he was well equipped to sustain it.
“It’s a long way from Brother Ivo’s table to talking to Wall Street analysts on a quarterly call,” Masterson says. “But I gotta say, standing on the table helped.”
How do you spend your free time?
I live in Maui part-time and San Francisco part-time, because I feel at home in both places. Right now I am in Maui, looking out the window watching the paddlers go by. I like to be on the water, I like to play golf, and I like to read. I’m just finishing a book called "Sky Gods."
You’ve been married to your wife, Becky, since 1973. What can you say about her?
Fabulous luck that I met her.
Where’s your favorite place to unwind?
What have you observed about others in your business dealings?
I’ve always been amazed by the talent of young people. There are still people who want to work and learn. If you give people free reign for a while, it can be very surprising how they develop.
What skills have helped you the most in your career?
Public speaking and writing. Those are two critical skills, and when you’re running a company, you also have to be able to identify talent.