TITLE: Senior Vice President
COMPANY: Hillwood Investment Properties
CAREER EXPERIENCE: Magness was a member of the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Nightstalkers. He worked overseas as an aviation consultant for the United Arab Emirates for two years before he was hired at Hillwood in 1998.
EDUCATION: B.S. in mechanical engineering from United States Military Academy at West Point and an M.S. in business from Boston University
ASSOCIATIONS: Legislative co-chair for NAIOP Inland Empire
In his book “Pilot Vision,” John Magness bridges his experiences as a U.S. Army special operations pilot commander to his present experiences in real estate development where he runs Hillwood Investment Properties’ West Coast operations. Based in the company’s San Bernardino office, the location keeps him close to Hillwood’s 2,000-acre master-planned AllianceCalifornia industrial project and the InterChange Business Center.
Following his time in the military, Magness worked as an independent contractor for the United Arab Emirates as an aviation consultant. He made so many business contacts he could not wait to come back to the United States to put those newfound relationships to work. After three years as vice president in Hillwood’s Dallas office, Magness relocated to San Bernardino in 2001. Since that time, he has helped bring about significant change in San Bernardino’s industrial landscape while also adding to Rancho Cucamonga’s office market and partnering with Lewis Community Developers on the future Renaissance Rialto project.
How did you get into real estate development?
My Bachelor’s was in mechanical engineering at West Point. I used that degree and the concentration in aerospace engineering to fly with the military for nine years after I graduated, but real estate came much later in my career.
After I left the military, I went to work overseas and came back to the U.S. to work for Ross Perot Jr. What attracted me to real estate was the ability to perfect large-scale change. Our projects tend to be associated with redevelopment and taking a previous land use that may have been from 30, 40 or 50 years ago and changing that into a job generator that’s also aesthetically pleasing.
What was that transition to real estate development like?
Some aspects were relatively easy such as the travel and critical learning skills. It was a steep learning curve coming out of the military, out of flying, and learning the ins and outs of real estate. With real estate being local, I learned all the local players. But I feel like I’ve gotten the best experience that money can buy and provide.
What was the transformation process like in converting a brownfield to the InterChange Business Park?
It took several years of testing and going through regulatory agencies at the federal and state level. If you have the patience and the money, getting through those hurdles is not impossible. It’s now a major job center.
What do you find to the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think it’s in keeping up with the ever-changing regulatory environment in California as it relates to real estate and logistics. In California, especially, you have regulations that are three and four deep and agencies and commissions that have power over how you build a building and when you build it. That’s very uncommon in the rest of the country. And trying to find that balance between building a project that creates jobs in a city and the desires of a city to control its land use and to have open space and to have clean air and clean water is challenging.
What do you like most about working with industrial and office product?
I like the job-creation aspect of it when you walk into the mayor’s office and say, “We’re going to create 500 jobs by building this building.” Politicians get elected by changing their community for the better. Establishing that relationship with electeds is my favorite part and then also seeing the changing of the landscape – seeing the change to a piece of land that had a different use at one time.
Looking at industrial, are there any major, long-term trends or shifts you are noting right now in the marketplace?
Green building was a trend that started a couple years ago. Looking at the InterChange project, that was our first foray into the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED certification process and learning that trend is here to stay. If anything, it’s going to become more of a part of the industrial real estate industry. I think the next wave or next trend to build on that will be utilizing rooftops to create renewable energy. That’s taking the next logical step in terms of energy efficiency for these buildings.
Is there anything from your experience as a special operations pilot that you apply to your current work?
I definitely think there are similarities between flying and leading a company in real estate when you’re looking at a piece of property or looking at an existing building that you’re going to rehab. You have to have a vision. Getting from the conceptual sketch or idea all the way to the realization takes a unique set of skills. Some are good at coming up with a vision. Some are good with execution. In leading real estate companies, you get to do a little bit of both.
Tell us about the book you wrote.
I pitched it to publishing companies back in 1998/1999 and Adams-Hall Publishing out of Los Angeles published it. I was living overseas at the time when I found them and they saw the direction the book was going and helped edit it.
It wasn’t until I got into business that I saw the similarities between flying and business leadership and started doing research, reading and interviewing different CEOs like Ross Perot Jr. and seeing the similarities between flying and leading a company.
Where were you were working?
I was working for one of our great allies, the United Arab Emirates, specifically for Abu Dhabi.
What was that like?
It was great. It really opened my eyes to the international business side and to see how different cultures approach business. But I was very anxious to get back to the U.S. only because I made so many great business contacts oversees and was anxious to apply that here in the U.S.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I’m an avid scuba diver. I spend a lot of time playing catch with my son. He’s 12. I spend time coaching baseball, scuba diving, traveling and writing.
Can we expect to see another book from you?
I’m working on several book ideas right now. Once a writer, always a writer.
Where do you like traveling?
We love California – San Diego, Catalina Island. Since my wife is from the Gulf Coast, we try to get back to Alabama and Florida beaches every couple of years. And since we’re halfway to Hawaii, we love going to Kaui.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
For sure I’d be back in the military.
Would you be a pilot or something else?
A pilot. The last four years of my career I worked in special operations. That aspect of flying in the military was the most fun and the most rewarding thing that I’d done in the military. I keep in close contact with friends and have relationships with many of those in the military because a lot are still in.