In his role as CEO of YAKS Holding, Sultan Shaker must be knowledgeable in a broad range of industries. YAKS is a family owned finance and investment firm, but Shaker was looking to expand his knowledge and skills in real estate. He applied to the Real Estate Management Programme at Harvard Business School (HBS) Executive Education, which opened his eyes to a world of insights and practices. He discusses some of the highlights of his experience.

Why did you choose to apply to this programme?

I lead a family office that engages mainly in global private equity investments. We're quite diversified across industries—among them technology, food, hospitality, and real estate. I decided to look for a programme that would provide insights regarding how the real estate industry works in terms of finance and investment. When I earned my Master’s degree at IMD in Switzerland, all of the cases I studied were from HBS. When I wanted to further my education, I naturally thought of HBS. The description of this programme seemed ideal because it covered so many aspects of the industry.

Did the programme meet your expectations?

It actually exceeded my expectations. I attended with the intention of focusing only on real estate investment and finance—I never thought I'd be interested in real estate from the point of view of a developer or an architect. But after attending this programme, I now know how to consider situations with a different perspective. To me, that was the most valuable part—to be able to explore how a developer or an architect looks at a deal. This programme went beyond what I had imagined.

What did you think of the living group experience?

The living group helped me see things from different perspectives. I already knew how my market functioned, because that’s my world. But when I spoke with someone from a different country about how real estate works in that country, I gained ideas for changing the real estate game back at home. I learned how the industry functions in the U.S, Mexico, and elsewhere around the world. Additionally, the living group provided me with a network. If I want to do business in a place such as the U.S., I now know a developer, an architect, and an investment firm located there. That makes it easier to enter the market.

Was there an insight that strongly resonated with you?

Absolutely! I learned a golden rule—that real estate is a local business. No matter how sophisticated executives are, no matter how good they are at their jobs, you can't take them to another market and expect them to outperform. It is nearly impossible because one has to know the market. It goes beyond the numbers. It's about knowing the history and the demographics of the place. And it's about keeping up with future trends.

What was most surprising about your experience in the programme?

I was surprised by how advanced the real estate industry is in the United States. The industry is still in the early stages in Saudi Arabia, so I didn’t expect so many stakeholders. Real estate involves more than just acquiring a property, collecting rent, and making money as an owner. It's far more advanced than that.

How would you describe the programme's value?

This programme would benefit anyone who wants to examine the real estate industry from the various perspectives of all the players. It's important to look at different situations from another vantage point because that's how various parties understand each other, trust each other, and work together to make deals.