|NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson is an admirer of the work and wisdom of George Washington Carver. When discussing why he’s dedicated so much of his time, efforts, and money into helping to develop and educate today’s youth, particularly those who weren’t given the opportunities that many other children get, he quickly reverts back to the words of the great American scientist, botanist, and educator.
“It is simply your service that will measure your success,” he quotes in an interview with Lodging at the Hilton Garden Inn Houston-Energy Corridor, which he owns via his Admiral Capital Real Estate Fund with USAA Real Estate Company. He goes on to say, “It doesn’t matter how tall you are, what type of clothes you wear, or what kind of car you drive.”
Robinson knows he’s a man who had a lot of opportunities. “We go to those games where people are supporting us and allowing us to live the lifestyle that we are living, they’re wonderful people,” he says of NBA fans and the public as a whole. “It’s got to be a love affair that is a two-way street. I feel at the very least, we have been blessed and we need to be investing back into our communities.”
And that’s why Admiral Capital Group, the company co-founded by Robinson and Dan Bassichis, and its partner in the Admiral Real Estate Fund, USAA Real Estate Company, have decided to make giving back to the communities they invest in a basis of the business. “When we sat down and started this business, I said Dan, I don’t care how you look at it, we are going to start by taking 10 percent off the top and putting it back into the community,” Robinson says. “It may put a little strain on us early on but the returns are far more than monetary. You’re changing people’s lives. The things that are happening are well worth the investment. If we don’t do it at the beginning we are certainly not going to do it when the numbers grow. It’s a mentality. Everything we do, I want us always to be thinking about reinvesting back to the communities.”
“Some people may see that and automatically assume that when we come into a room all we are interested in is ‘charity.’ But our primary goal is building a successful, long term business and delivering returns to our investors. We’re investing on behalf of teachers, university endowments and others whose fiduciary responsibility is to maximize returns for their constituents.” Bassichis says. “The charitable component comes exclusively from us [Robinson and Bassichis] and does not negatively impact the investor. We believe, and what we are going to prove through the life of this Fund, is that those commitments that we make into a community are what opens the door with companies like Hilton or the companies that are staying at our hotels. We believe that approaching real estate investing in a ‘socially conscious’ manner and integrating David’s community goals into our business will make us a very differentiated source of capital, allow us to continue to build a pipeline of unique investment opportunities and generate attractive returns for our investors and grow our business.”
Robinson compares this business venture to his career in the NBA. “We first need to be successful and build a sustainable business, and then we we will have a platform to make a positive impact on others.” Robinson said. “When you win a couple of championships, people start to pay attention to you and you can have some influence, and that’s what we plan to do here.”
Robinson’s and Bassichis’ involvement with communities began well before Admiral Capital Group was started. During his playing days, Robinson and his wife, Valerie, began Carver Academy, a charter school in East San Antonio, in which the majority underprivileged students attend on scholarship. Bassichis, who worked with Robinson on keeping the school running while he maintained a successful career at Goldman Sachs in New York City, says the school takes $2.5 million a year to run. Keeping the school running was one of the reasons the pair founded Admiral Capital Group. (More on Carver Academy and the beginnings of the company can be found in the cover story of the May issue of Lodging, available here, as well as via the Lodging Magazine mobile app available in the Apple App Store.)
Robinson and Bassichis are also interested in opening doors for diverse investors and owners to the hotel industry. They believe Robinson’s high profile can help inspire younger generation minorities to find hotels as a viable business venture and career choice. “I hope so,” Robinson says simply.
“There are a lot of barriers to getting into this business,” he continues. “Hopefully I can be an example for people who get the right partners and get the right deals. It makes a lot sense for everyone. Obviously, having diversity is a good thing. It makes companies such as Hilton stronger as an organization and makes us stronger as a country. To see women owning hotels, to see African-Americans owning hotels, that’s a good thing for all of us.
“If I can try to be an example that we can think through the partnership and grow and learn we’ll all be better off,” he continues. “I’m a basketball player. If I can grow and learn how to do it, you can too.”
For all of its investments in areas such as commercial real estate as well as hotels, Bassichis believes hotels are an area in which Robinson brings the most to the table with his high profile and knowledge. And they are set to invest in more hotels down the line.