Alumni Spotlight – Andre White SVMP ’99

SVMP ’99 Alumnus, and current Harvard Graduate Student Andre White sat down for an interview with Alumni Beat to answer a few questions on his path to Harvard, and life a decade after SVMP.


1: Can you share your background: Where you grew up, your undergraduate experience, and your interests?


I grew up on Hilton Head Island, SC and was raised by my grandparents and great-grandparents. I did my undergraduate studies at South Carolina State University where I graduated with a B.S. in Marketing. Originally my interests were in investment banking, bond/stock trading, and entrepreneurship but they have evolved into large scale real estate development and investment and the redevelopment of underserved rural,


Association. This position required that I report on the state of Hilton Head’s Native Community and formulate strategies for its continued preservation and development. While interviewing landowners, attending property owner association meetings, and participating in municipality meetings, I observed a vast disconnect between the Native’s vision for Hilton Head’s future and the Town’s. I was informally introduced to the transforming power of real estate developers and public infrastructure projects. I ultimately hypothesized in order for the Native Community to protect and improve itself, it must understand how to develop itself. During this period I revised my career goals to focus on leading and assisting communities using development as the tool for its improvement.


With a new professional focus, I spent the next six years working as a developer, consultant, and project manager throughout South Carolina. As developer and consultant, I worked with Native families to negotiate land sales and leases, master planned parcels, prepared feasibility studies, obtained entitlements, secured bank financing, and managed the construction of vertical and horizontal site improvements. As project manager for public and private entities, I managed residential and mixed-use projects from pre-planning through construction completion. I also created and operated an affordable housing program for the Town of Bluffton and managed its partnership with Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity to build affordable “green” cottages.


About a year before enrolling at Harvard, I came to a point in my career where I feel the expansion into urban environments would give me the ability to navigate between rural, suburban, and urban settings. In September 2010, I left South Carolina for Boston, Massachusetts to work as Project Manager for The Community Builders. My work focused on the new construction and renovation of mixed-income, multi-family urban properties.


3: Since you’re just starting your Masters at Harvard, how have you viewed the experience thus far?


The experience has been phenomenal. I was nervous about being on an academic stage with Harvard’s reputation but I realized that I fit in intellectually and my thoughts and opinions are valued. This has been evidenced by my classmates and professors coming up to me after class to learn more about my experiences or just discuss a variety of real estate topics.


4: As an SVMP alum, what prompted you to pursue your Master’s degree in Real Estate rather than a traditional MBA?


The main reason I did not go the Harvard MBA route was that I really wanted to build an academic foundation more focused on real estate versus a general business education. Also, my program has a more flexible curriculum versus the HBS curriculum. As a first year student, I am currently taking a 2nd year Real Estate Investment Strategy class at HBS which is not possible for first year HBS students.


5: What Advice can you share with alumni who would like to follow a similar path as yours?


I would encourage alumni to follow your passion and not the money. At the beginning of my career, I was more impressed with the cache and earnings potential of being an investment banker or trader instead of aligning myself with my interests. If you are great at what you do, the money will come in time. Really focus on building the necessary skills and gaining experiences that will help you to evolve into the professional you see yourself becoming. This is really important in real estate development because at the top of the food chain of the world’s leading firms, there are virtually no minorities so you have to be ready for the rare opportunity to operate on that level.


6: How did your experience at SVMP serve you in your professional endeavors? Do you feel the overall experience really affected your path?


SVMP introduced me to the Harvard experience and the value of being at an institution with vast global resources. The accomplishments of students, professors, and alumni I met during the week were all impressive. I was also inspired by the SVMPers who were highly motivated and wanted to achieve a lot professionally. For me, it was the first time in my life that I was ever in that type of environment and I left SVMP knowing that I was going attend HBS at some point in life. Ultimately, the SVMP experience is why I chose to pursue my real estate studies at Harvard. I wanted to be a part of the culture and network and have the Harvard legacy to pass on to my two kids, other family members, friends, and the small Native Community back on Hilton Head.


7: Anything additional you would like to add?


I thank you for the opportunity to share my story and potentially inspire someone else.


Andre is currently pursuing his MDesS at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He was a 1999 SVMP participant.


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