• Thu. Sep 28th, 2023

Real Estate Finance Pro: Masha Sherman

A native of Belarus, Masha Sherman, CFO of industrial real estate firm Greek Development, moved to the U.S. when she was 19 years old to study accounting. After college, she joined Ernst & Young’s real estate group as an auditor. During her five years there, Sherman worked with high-profile clients that included Tishman Speyer and helped take Empire State Realty Trust public. 

Sherman later explored other aspects of the industry part-time while pursuing a master’s degree in real estate finance, eventually shifting to the private sector. Degree in hand, she joined a New York City metropolitan-area residential real estate developer as director of finance before assuming the same role later at a residential and commercial property management and development company. Sherman moved to Greek Development, a firm that designs, develops, constructs, and manages industrial buildings, in 2019 as senior finance manager. The company promoted her to director of finance within a year, then appointed her CFO in 2021. 

Masha Sherman 

CFO, Greek Development

  • First CFO position: 2021
  • Notable previous companies:
    • Adam America Real Estate
    • Gemini Real Estate Advisors
    • Ernst & Young

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

SANDRA BECKWITH: How did your professional background help you secure the chief financial officer position at Greek Development?

MASHA SHERMAN: While I was initially brought on as senior finance manager, the company was hiring with succession planning in mind, so demonstrating my senior leadership potential was important. I brought a combination of solid accounting experience and management skills to the firm. 

Having my master’s degree in real estate finance, being a CPA, and working for one of the Big Four accounting firms has given me incredible experience and knowledge. My exposure to the full range of accounting practices at EY not only allowed me to become well-rounded but having the opportunity to manage people early in my career has helped me develop the management skills that are critical for a CFO. 

You’ve stayed in real estate finance throughout your career. Why is that? 

SHERMAN: I fell in love with real estate early on when I joined the EY real estate audit practice. Even now, I like that I can walk down the street and point out buildings I worked on and know how I contributed. It’s also a niche market, which some say is a disadvantage, but I see it as a plus. Networking is important for career growth for anyone in finance and with real estate, you really get to know the people within your network. I love that. 

How does your background affect how you do the job?

SHERMAN: When I was working at EY, I saw how various clients used their systems and processes as a competitive advantage. This led me to become system-driven. I’m very focused on refining the processes and procedures you need to run a company efficiently and effectively. In every job I’ve had since EY, including here at Greek Development, I’ve implemented processes and systems that allow the company to scale up to a new level. 

How do you determine who you hire in finance?

SHERMAN: Having an accounting or finance degree is a must, which is why I always review resumes from the bottom up. When I get to the interview, I weigh knowledge and abilities against essential softer skills that include the ability to be an analytical, resourceful, and critical thinker. Many times, those character traits trump technical knowledge for me. 

Networking is important for career growth for anyone in finance and with real estate, you really get to know the people within your network.

I also make sure they understand debits and credits because I’ve noticed that many recent graduates don’t always have a grasp of this. Yes, the system does a lot of that for you, but what happens if there’s a mistake and you have to reconcile something? You must understand how it works to solve the problem. 

What part of the CFO’s job is more difficult for you, given your background?

SHERMAN: Managing people and leading my team is the hardest job. When you’re in management, no matter how small or large the company and regardless of how long you’ve been doing it, you still learn on the job every day because so much depends on specific circumstances and people. It keeps me on my toes constantly. 

What’s the easiest?

SHERMAN: Saying “thank you.” It costs nothing, but it makes people’s jobs that much more meaningful. It’s so easy to show that I care and give colleagues the recognition they deserve. 

Would you recommend the industry-focused path you followed to others in finance hoping to become CFOs?

SHERMAN: It depends on the individual and their job experiences. It worked for me because I connected with an industry I found fascinating early in my career. There’s also the networking advantage mentioned earlier. A passing conversation that might seem random at the time can turn into an opportunity that will have an impact on your career — it’s happened to me. Is it the only path to the C suite? Absolutely not. But it’s a solid option. 

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