CEO on Leadership: Andrew VanHorn

Fall 2023 Issue
By: Ron Derven

The new president and chief development officer for Dweck Properties in Washington, D.C., talks about leadership, culture and growing a new commercial real estate company focused on multifamily.


Andrew VanHorn

Development: What attracted you to a career in commercial real estate?

Andrew VanHorn: As a child, I enjoyed building with Legos, blocks, hammers, nails and wood. But now I understand real estate is more than building things; it’s about having a lasting generational impact on people and places. It involves creating thoughtful and artfully delivered communities that enhance people’s lives.

Development: Was your family involved in commercial real estate as well?

VanHorn: My father and grandfather were in the trucking business in northern New Jersey where I grew up. The business started out with dairy farming and moved into orange juice and water and other products that were delivered up and down the East Coast. We owned garages and large real estate facilities where all the work happened. The entrepreneurial attitude of running a company, of taking care of people and of building something, was instilled in me at a young age.

Development: What compelled you to join Dweck Properties?

VanHorn: Dweck created a brand-new company in 2021, which grew from 50 years of family real estate investing, and their culture inspired me because it is built on the thesis that extraordinary care of our employees translates into extraordinary care of our residents — creating higher value and profits. This focus has begun to shape a highly engaged team that is already outperforming and producing powerful results. This new culture, combined with the entrepreneurial family investment attitude, created a perfect opportunity for me. Together with the Dweck family, we are building something pretty extraordinary here.

Development: What does leadership mean to you?

VanHorn: Leadership is about cultivating leaders at every level who embody qualities such as courage, humility, integrity, kindness and creativity. That is the magic of our company — leadership is not about title or hierarchy at Dweck. It’s about an ethos that lies with everyone. It’s my responsibility to foster this leadership mentality in our teams, their properties, their projects and their relationships. This applies to not only our senior team, but also to property managers, leasing teams, our engineers, concierges — everyone. To me, leadership means understanding the strengths of your team, creating a vision for the organization and then providing the necessary support and guidance to make that vision a reality. I believe in the servant leadership model, which involves uniting people around a shared vision and then empowering them to carry it out.

Development: What is your primary role as president and chief development officer at Dweck Properties?

VanHorn: My primary role is to inspire the entire team in every area of the business. As a company, we have enormous potential. Our assets are in great, thriving submarkets, and our team is energized and primed for growth. My role is to realize our potential — by setting short-term and long-term strategies — and then coaching, inspiring and supporting at every level of the company to get us there. I devote time to engaging with individuals throughout the company. My aim is to ensure that all our people feel seen as valued business partners with a seat at the table. Aligning the business potential with the team’s capabilities paves the way for growth and value generation.

Development: What qualities do you look for when hiring senior people?

VanHorn: The key qualities I look for in senior leaders are curiosity, kindness, passion and a lack of defensiveness. If a person is interested in learning, partnering with others and owning their mistakes, I can build anything with them. We truly encourage input from everywhere, and focus on empowering others. That means there’s no room for ego. Joy is also important here. I look for positivity, and people who will be active contributors to our culture.

Development: Are you looking for the team player or the star who can hit the big home run?

VanHorn: I look for the team player who will fit in with our culture and add that additional building block. I don’t want someone who will try to hold up the entire tower alone. I want someone who will hold up the tower with 10 other people. Doing it that way creates so much more resiliency and capacity within the organization than having a unique star.

Development: What has been your greatest leadership challenge at Dweck Properties?

VanHorn: Because the company was recently established in 2021, there was an enormous amount of work required to achieve its potential. Fusing those assets together under a new vision required considerable work in creating the necessary infrastructure, such as our development and construction-management teams, establishing channels for reporting and communication, and refining our operations while keeping the key cultural pillars intact. One of the major leadership challenges that commercial real estate companies face is ensuring that their organizational culture is effectively communicated to their property teams. It is crucial that the individuals “on the ground” who play a pivotal role in the company’s success feel a strong sense of connection to the company’s overall mission and culture.

Development: How do you resolve internal conflicts or mistakes at the company?

VanHorn: Our culture is all about personal and professional growth — as humans and as a business. Clarity and candor are key. We seek to address conflicts and mistakes head on as quickly as possible once we understand the root issue. Addressing the underlying issue instead of the immediate problem typically allows everyone to grow. Once you’ve been through a conflict or a mistake, you’ve learned more at that moment than you can learn in a year of things going right. My goal is to ensure that people see it as a chance to learn while taking responsibility.

Development: Has your involvement in NAIOP at the chapter level and as a national board member and a member of the National Forums helped build your leadership skills?

VanHorn: Indeed it has. The network I have developed at NAIOP and the resources available to me are unparalleled. On the National Forums, the relationships and the depth of guidance and insights that are shared are amazing. Because of NAIOP and the people I have met, I have probably avoided making 100 mistakes. My local NAIOP chapter and the two NAIOP conferences I attend each year have given me a priceless amount of guidance and support throughout my career.

Development: What advice would you give a person coming into commercial real estate who wants to have a long career and achieve a top position at a company?

VanHorn: Ask questions. Always be learning and make sure you are valued for what you are bringing to the business. A great career typically involves the right mix of the person and the company culture — some people thrive in certain conditions and wither in others, so being intentional about where you work is critical. If you are passionate and aligned with your company, you have found a great opportunity. Look for companies that invest in their people as much as they invest in their assets.

Development: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

VanHorn: My father, who was mayor of my small hometown as well as the owner of a trucking company, taught me through his actions and words that you need to be honest, fair and kind when it comes to your reputation and actions. I’ve always striven to treat people well and make every outcome a win-win. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the real estate industry is a small world. Those same people will be back in your future business life. I’ve seen the benefits of my behavior time and time again over my 20-plus years in the business.

Development: What crucial lessons have you learned during your time in the business?

VanHorn: Remember the phrase “This too shall pass.” While it may seem that every decision is consequential in the moment, having a broader perspective on your real estate, business and personal goals will help you to make the right decision more often than not. I’ve had to remind myself of this lesson many times in the past two years as the industry has gone through a financial sea change. Focusing on the long-term goals for our company has allowed us to maintain our direction and vision despite the market turbulence.

Development: How do you like to relax during your time away from work?

VanHorn: There are three things that bring me great joy outside of my employment: my wife, my children and running. Watching my children mature into amazing young adults while spending time with them is wonderful. Traveling with my family is a gift that I enjoy — we were lucky enough to travel to Portugal and Spain last summer and will be in France this summer. Also, I find that running allows me to clear my brain and work through problems in the back of my mind, which brings me peace and steadiness. I like to run everywhere I go on my work and personal travels. It allows me to experience places in a more intimate and connected way.

Ron Derven is a contributing editor for Development magazine.