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Barbara Simmons,
Alumni Spotlight
Barbara Simmons: A Career Driven by Commercial Real Estate Finance

Barbara Simmons, B.S., ’89, is group vice president for the Baltimore and Chesapeake Commercial Real Estate Group at M&T Bank. In this role, she manages a department responsible for a $2.5 billion commercial real estate loan portfolio. Simmons recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange and shared some thoughts about her career, as well as some valuable advice for our students. 

Merrick Exchange: How did you decide on a career in commercial real estate finance? 

Simmons: I was working for a residential home builder during the summers between college semesters as a new homes sales associate. My favorite part of the job was to work with potential buyers in figuring out all of the closing cost calculations and how much cash they needed to close on the home.  I also was figuring out the various income/debt ratios the home buyer was facing on the new loan to purchase the home, to assess if they qualify.  Also, over time, I expanded my duties with the builder to include lot and home-inventory management. I really loved working the analysis side but wanted a greater challenge. So I decided to move into the commercial side of the real estate analysis business, and what better way than to analyze the homebuilders and commercial real estate developers and their projects?

Merrick Exchange: Where did you get your start? What led you to your current position?

Simmons: After graduation, I applied for a credit analyst position at a local Maryland-based bank and was hired into its commercial bank management training program. I was sponsored by the commercial real estate division of the bank, since I had some experience working for a residential home builder and specifically wanted to be placed into the commercial real estate department after credit training graduation. Once I was placed into the commercial real estate department, I embarked on a track of client management involving deal structuring and negotiating, and kept on growing and developing to where I was managing some of the most sophisticated clients in the region. Then I progressed into training and managing client managers. Today I am running the Maryland region of M&T Bank’s commercial real estate department.

Merrick Exchange: Please describe your current position as Sr. Group Manager/Group Vice President at M&T Bank in commercial real estate finance. 

Simmons: My current position involves leading a department of client relationship managers responsible for managing, structuring, negotiating, closing and growing a $2.5 billion commercial real estate loan portfolio. We finance all types of commercial real estate assets sponsored by a premier set of commercial and residential real estate owners, operators, developers, and managers all based in Maryland. We strive to be a partner and trusted adviser for our developer clients so as to constantly bring value, ideas, and execution to its business, which is not certain in the commercial real estate business.

Merrick Exchange: What are some challenges that you, your department or company are currently facing?

Simmons: The banking regulatory environment is by far the largest challenge I am facing today within the banking industry, and more specifically, the commercial real estate industry. During the last liquidity crises/cycle, the federal government tightly scrutinized the banking industry. This was in response to of the acts of a few companies who destabilized the industry. We are all now being scrutinized and monitored as if all community banks engage in intricate, complex, and high-risk trading and transactions when community banks are not. This left the generic commercial bank that trades within a community overly regulated, to where our cost structures are forcing more and more community banks out of business.

Merrick Exchange: What were your expectations in pursuing a career in commercial real estate finance?

Simmons: I did not have any at the time I made the career path change, other than I knew I loved the financial analysis aspect of the business. I loved analyzing markets, locations, project economics, etc. I just figured if I worked hard and I loved what I did, success would follow. I am a firm believer that good behaviors and working hard always pay off.

Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who might want to pursue a career in commercial real estate finance but are undecided?

Simmons: It is an exciting industry that is not for the faint of heart. The commercial real estate business cycles tend to be very high and low, and long in duration. You need to have a real love for in-depth, micro-level real estate project financial analysis, while being able to assess macro-level economic market conditions. It is an industry that requires patience due to its lead time with respect to municipal approvals, project design, and market feasibility. There are often changes during that process.

Merrick Exchange: What’s the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?

Simmons: I wish all students knew that communication, both verbal and written, is the key to any career success. It does not matter how smart you are—if you cannot convey yourself both verbally and in a written manner effectively, no one will ever be able to realize your potential and intellect.

Merrick Exchange:  Why did you choose to attend UB?

Simmons: I was coming out of a veterinary program at Virginia Tech as a result of a career path change decision. I looked around in Baltimore for a program to help me gain more commercial real estate analytical-specific coursework, and found UB to be the right choice.

Merrick Exchange: How has attending UB helped you in your career?

Simmons: UB gave me the coursework and real estate tools I needed to get my foot in the door to be accepted into a commercial bank training program, and ultimately placed in the commercial real estate department which was my goal.

Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself this year?

Simmons: Spend more one-on-one, in-person time with the managers who report to me. It helps us both to get to know each other better, it helps us learn how each other thinks, how we are feeling, and get more on the same page with each other daily. Feeling like you are connecting with someone is the greatest feeling of all when you work with people. 


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