Military stint provides surprisingly good training for Opus’ new senior manager

November 01, 2013  |  Dan Rafter  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article

Phil Cattanach points to his time in the U.S. Army as making him a better CRE professional.

Phil Cattanach points to his time in the U.S. Army as making him a better CRE professional.

The typical path to a career in commercial real estate usually doesn’t include a nearly seven-year stop in the U.S. Army. But that’s the path that Phil Cattanach took before eventually becoming senior manager for real estate development earlier this year in the Minneapolis office of Opus Development Company.

And, as Cattanach will tell you, his years in the military have made him a better commercial real estate professional.

“The Army was a fantastic environment to develop as a professional when it comes to management and leadership skills,” said Cattanach, who retired from the Army after reaching the rank of captain. “It helped me with my own personal maturity, too. I learned about the values of working as a team and creating the conditions necessary for success. I use all of those skills in commercial real estate.”

Then there’s risk management. Cattanach says that he was trained to reduce risk as much as possible while in the military, a skill that has served him well in commercial real estate.

“There are different risks, to be sure,” Cattanach said. “But it does come down to identifying what might become a problem or an issue and how we can best mitigate those issues, whether it’s entitlements in commercial real estate or the enemy in the military.”

Cattanach points, too, to flexibility. While in the Army, Cattanach learned how important it is to be able to adapt to complex and always-changing environments.

And there are plenty of times during his military career in which Cattanach and his fellow soldiers had to change their plans even when they didn’t have all the information they might have wanted. This can happen, too, in commercial real estate.

“Sometimes you have to make decisions with imperfect information,” Cattanach said. “But you have to be able to make sound judgments even when you don’t have all the information you need to achieve that successful outcome.”

Cattanach has now spent eight years in commercial real estate, a career path that has returned him to Minnesota where he grew up. And while he enjoyed the weather at Fort Benning in Cusseta, Ga., where he learned his craft as a young second lieutenant, he’s glad to be back in his home state.

He’s also learned more about the Columbus, Ga., area surrounding Fort Benning. When Cattanach was stationed at the base as a second lieutenant learning military skills, he always thought that the area around the base needed the military to survive.

It’s true, of course, that Fort Benning does play an important role in the community. But Cattanach learned as he returned to the area on real estate jobs that Columbus and its surroundings are in the middle of a major development boom.

Today, the Columbus, Ga., area relies on not just the military but on new housing, office and retail developments, Cattanach said.

“I didn’t realize when I was first here what a sustainable city Columbus was,” Cattanach said. “I was amazed at how many businesses were there. Undoubtedly, the military is an influence. But the town is growing at a dramatic pace.”

Of course, Cattanach’s fellow soldiers had their own incorrect thoughts about Minneapolis and St. Paul, the city in which Cattanach grew up.

“We’d be out wet and running in the woods and everyone would be surprised whenever I’d mention that I was cold,” he said. “They’d say, ‘How can you be cold? You lived in Minnesota.’ I’d tell them that we’d still put jackets on in Minnesota. We didn’t just run around wet in the woods in just t-shirts and camo.”

Today, Cattanach doesn’t spend as much time running in the woods, though he does enjoy the outdoor life when he’s not at work. He’s found new thrills, though, while navigating the commercial real estate industry.

There’s seeing his efforts result in a new office building or retail store, for example. Cattanach even enjoys seeing the installation of the mostly hidden infrastructure of a project.

Phil Cattanach, in his office at Opus, has traded in his camo for business-casual.

Phil Cattanach, in his office at Opus, has traded in his camo for business-casual.

“That’s exciting to me,” he said. “It keeps me coming into work. You are constantly learning. You are constantly being exposed to new things.”

Cattanach is especially excited by the work he’s done for retail client Gander Mountain. Many of the new Gander Mountain stores that Opus is developing are located in Alabama and Georgia. This has given Cattanach the chance revisit the Columbus, Ga., area.

When he’s not at work, Cattanach spends most of his time with his wife and four kids, all of whom are under the age of 8.

“When I get off work, I’m a dad 100 percent of the time,” Cattanach said.

He and his family enjoy the outdoors, which is something of a prerequisite when you live in Minnesota. And while Cattanach enjoys hunting and fishing, it’s spending time with his family that he most relishes, he says.

“I am blessed with a wonderful wife and kids,” Cattanach said. “My kids are so much fun. They keep you young.”

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