Philip Seagraves Had Great Professors, So He Decided to Become One

“I’m not sure if anyone has ever had the same professor at three different universities,” says Philip Seagraves. “That’s got to be a record.”

Seagraves first encountered former Georgia State real estate professor Roy Black as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, where Black was an instructor earning his Ph.D. When Seagraves went on to Emory for his M.B.A., he again found Black, who was by then a full-fledged professor on loan from Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business. It was there that Black gave Seagraves some of the most important advice he’s ever received.

“He counseled me and gave me some guidance that perhaps what I’d been looking for my entire career was in academia,” Seagraves remembers. “And his strong recommendation was if I was considering a Ph.D. program, and if I was going to consider getting a Ph.D. in real estate, he said there was really no better place than at Georgia State.”

When Seagraves got to Georgia State, he had Black as a professor there as well. Today Seagraves is on a college faculty himself — as an assistant professor of real estate at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — and he says academia is “everything I thought it would be and more.”

Inspiration from Professors and Classmates Alike

Seagraves’ interest in real estate started early thanks to his grandfathers, both of whom were real-estate investors in the Atlanta area. “I did a lot of the work that kept the rent coming in, fixing places and making repairs,” he recalls. “It always fascinated me to drive up to a place where somebody would walk out and hand my grandfather a few hundred bucks in rent. It just seemed like a neat, active way to invest. The stock market these days is numbers on a computer screen, but real estate, you can see it, touch it and walk on it — for a lot of people, it’s a much more exciting way to invest.”

Seagraves continued to make real estate a “side venture” as he progressed through the world of marketing and corporate training. Another of his interests was volunteering with inner-city youth, which made him realize he also had a passion for mentoring and counseling. Based on the advice of Roy Black and Tom Glenn, a family friend and community philanthropist, Seagraves realized “I could pursue all my passions in one career.”

Making the switch to an academic track wasn’t easy — Seagraves had to quit his existing job to pursue his master’s and doctorate degrees in real estate, yet still had four kids at home. Fortunately, he had a very supportive wife who was willing to get a full-time job, as well as a class schedule at Georgia State that allowed him to coordinate with his life responsibilities. “I was able to get my master’s degree in the evenings and some weekends,” he says, “and those kinds of flexible programs were a great aspect of Georgia State as well.”

Having the financial support of the Dr. Colquitt L. “Buck” Chandler Jr. Memorial Scholarship helped too — as did having great professors. Seagraves mentions Jonathan Wiley and Alan Ziobrowski as two in particular who motivated their students to set themselves apart. “The Ph.D. students really got a lot of hands-on counseling and coaching, and really a lot of care, from the faculty members — they weren’t just left to their own devices. They had to be independent and they had to work hard, but they also received a lot of good coaching and encouragement. In fact, when the Georgia State Ph.D. students would go to a conference, they would often be the only ones who were very well prepared, the only ones who as students were actively working to get their work published.

“When I think about Georgia State, I think about the quality of the people — both the professors that I had and the dedication of my fellow students. They were working really hard and it was a major commitment, an undertaking, to be there. So they took it really seriously.”

Research in the Classroom, Knowledge for the Real World

Seagraves entered the world of academia hoping he’d be able to combine his interests in business, research and molding young minds. So far, he says, it’s lived up to that promise.

“Being in academia allows me to stay connected to the business community, and to connect the industry with the students through internships, speaking opportunities and research. I’ve got true academic research projects underway that involve people in the industry, but I’ve involved students in some of those research projects as well. I have a student who worked all summer with me as a research assistant, and it really connects them with what it means to do research, gives students a true appreciation for the kind of value that we can produce. It’s not about writing papers nobody reads. You can actually help make a difference.”

The value of practical real-estate knowledge has only been magnified, Seagraves points out, by the collapse in housing prices and resulting worldwide economic downturn. “The biggest thing that people have learned, and I’m hoping that the memory doesn’t fade, is that real estate doesn’t always go up in value. That’s been the biggest shock,” he says. “People thought real estate could never go down — you’re supposed to be able to retire from selling your house. Now we’ve got a whole generation of people who may be unable to retire because of what’s happened to their home values. So I’m hoping that’s the lesson people will remember for more than just a couple years, that real estate’s not a sure thing. It’s not a bad investment, but with any investment, you have to expect risk both ways.”

Seagraves chuckles as he talks about how being a professor allows him to strike a nice balance between “research that nobody but professors reads” and “research that I can enjoy talking about at a cocktail party.” The downside, of course, is that everyone wants to ask him when the housing market’s going back up.

“My normal answer is, ‘If I knew, I’d be a billionaire,’” he says. “But it’s funny: There’s a whole bunch of research and articles about people who do make forecasts, and when you make a forecast and you’re right, you get in the news. When you make a forecast and you’re wrong, nobody pays attention because there were 10,000 other people who were wrong too.”