On Monday morning, retired Equity Residential CEO David Neithercut ‘82 spoke about his career and offered advice to current CBS students and recent alumni. David began his career selling books for Prentice Hall after graduating from St. Lawrence University. While he quickly realized the job was not for the long term, David said that the sales experience paid dividend later.
After graduating from Columbia, David joined the real estate department at Continental International Bank in Chicago. At the time, Continental International was one of the largest real estate lenders in the country, and David was drawn to the wide range of experience that the position offered—he lent directly, worked on syndications and looked at all asset types—and it was in this role that he began working with Sam Zell and Equity Group.
As the real estate recession deepened in the early 1990s and traditional sources of financing dried up, David joined Equity Group to help refinance its portfolio. This process culminated in a series of IPOs in 1993 and ultimately saw David transition to being Equity Residential’s CFO in February 1995. David became EQR’s CEO in 2005, a position which he held until his retirement in September 2018. During his time at EQR, the business grew from an $800MM enterprise owning 22,000 apartments to one that owned 230,000 and was worth $45B at its peak.
Looking back on his experience, David highlighted Sam Zell’s foresight and focus on cultural as keys to EQR’s success. He also credited EQR’s board with pushing him to grow as a leader so that he could ultimately become a successful CEO. A weeklong session at the Center for Creative Leadership was particularly formative for emphasizing that strengths could become weaknesses as he rose in the organization and that a CEO has to make sure to keep his or her headlights up—if you have to dig too deep into a particular area of the business, you probably have the wrong person in the role.
Written By: John Millet ‘21