I Know Enough to be Dangerous, but I Don’t Know Enough

Eugene Gershman in GIS hatI liked computers. I was okay in math but hated “busy work.” I was pretty good in algebra and geometry but not very proficient in math analysis and calculus. In college, I decided that I would major in computer science. Luckily for me, the University of Washington had a pretty competitive CS program that had a long list of prerequisites. They included three levels of calculus and three levels of computer science. I did well during the first quarter, taking the first levels of Calc and CSE classes. It got much more complex towards the end of the quarter. Then I took the next level during the winter quarter. We had to write some code in C++. I remember one night I stood up all night because the silly program I wrote would not compile. At 7 am, I discovered a missing comma in the code. That’s when I decided computer science was not for me. 

I never really wanted to be in construction. My grandfather was a builder, starting by building railroads. My father followed in his father’s footsteps and was involved in constructing natural gas pipelines and infrastructure during his early career, then started his own business in 1992. He was always stressed and overworked. I wanted to be independent and thought that construction was too dirty of a business. 

I ended up majoring in economics. I did not think much of it then, but now I feel like that was the best route I could have taken. Not only does economics offer a vast educational base, which can be applied in different disciplines, but it also forms a good understanding of how money works. 

During my last year of college, I interned at a boutique investment firm in Bellevue, WA. I worked for an independent financial advisor offering free retirement planning services in exchange for selling investments to folks. I stayed with this firm for a few years, learned the trade, and obtained my general securities license – Series 7. That was an incredible milestone,and I thought I would stay in financial services. 

After three or so years there, I decided to go back to school and enrolled in an evening MBA program at the University of Washington. I thought that my interest was in finance, and that was where I would end up. Funny how things work out in life. 

While going to school and working full-time as a financial consultant, I continued geeking out. I networked all the computers at our office, set up a central database server where we hosted our CRM and accounting, customized the database,and set up Wi-Fi (don’t judge – that was new back then). 

During my last year in the MBA program, my father called me and said he had an opportunity to invest into a new mix-use project. He was strongly considering it but wanted me to review the documents and see if they made sense. I looked at the underwriting. The financial model they used was one of the most complicated models I had seen. I was reasonably proficient with Excel, but that was another level. We reviewed the numbers, read through all the narratives, and thought the deal was attractive enough to take the next step. My father asked if I would go with him to meet with the sponsors. I went. 

One meeting after another, the deal looked more and more real. My father’s goal was to use this opportunity to expand his construction operations and be able to control the costs by being a general contractor. When the day came, the partners shook hands; my dad looked at me and said we needed to set up a new office. “If only I had someone I could trust…” That’s how I joined the family business in 2004. 

Since then, I have run underwriting, fundraising, cash flow management, accounting, tech support and IT deployment, financial forecasting, project management, construction management, procurement, design, recruiting, and everything in between. I still maintain our IT and help set up employee computers.