Students & Faculty: Northwestern’s Charles Porter


During the course of a career, it sometimes becomes possible to support the next generation of leaders through teaching. Charles Porter, co-founder and Managing Principal of Development Management Associates (DMA) is one of those people. BuiltWorlds had the opportunity to sit down with Porter to discuss teaching as a member of the faculty of Northwestern University’s EMDC and MPM program.

Tell us about yourself, your background, and your current position.

I grew up in the Boston and Chicago areas, graduating high school on the east coast and earning a degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was clear to me even before I graduated that I was most interested in being a builder. As I finished school, I became a partner in a small restaurant development company, and we built and ran three restaurant in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

I followed that with a stint at an international construction company doing project management work, including cost management and scheduling. My performance on one particular project led to an offer to join Urban Investment and Development Company, where my first assignment was as an assistant on a 37-story high rise office building – the tallest in Connecticut to this day.

I went on to work for 27 years at Urban on larger and more complex projects. My employment there spanned six different ownerships. In 2007, I decided to leave and form Development Management Associates (DMA) with two other senior executives. DMA just celebrated our tenth year as a company, and I am happy to say the business has grown and succeeded beyond my expectations, despite the economic downturn of 2008.

What do you teach?

Within the Master of Project Management (MPM) program in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern, I teach an introductory course on commercial real estate development. In the MS in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program, I teach a graduate course in design management. This is my ninth year teaching for the MPM program and first year for EMDC.

Why do you teach? How does it relate to your professional career?

I teach because I am passionate about promoting high quality design and construction practices. I was asked to teach for the same reason. I value the opportunity to share these skills and interests with rising professionals, “paying it forward,” and in some small way, improving the built environment around us.

Why are the skills you teach important to professional practice?

The best leaders in architecture, construction, and engineering are not only good at what they do but also understand how consultants and real estate owners do their work. I prepare graduate students and working professionals for high-level positions in their industries by equipping them with insight and understanding into the organization and practices employed by real estate development firms.

Understanding the forces that impact their customers will allow professionals in construction and related fields to effectively pursue and maintain work with developers and other clients.

Why should someone attend the program?

My course within MPM was created to teach future leaders in architecture, engineering, and construction how to understand developer clients and interact more effectively with them. What we discovered in the first few years of my class was a great interest among some of the students to be developers themselves.

Real Estate Development is now one of five areas of specialization within MPM in addition to A/E/C Business Management, Construction Management, Sustainability and Transportation Management.

What sort of students do you look forward to teaching and who should apply to the program?

I have always found that the best architects, engineers, and contractors I have worked with are the ones that understand the business of the developer and how best to serve developers while protecting their companies’ interests.

My EMDC course, Design Management, is an elective course suitable for any of the specializations and is targeted at students working toward leadership positions in architecture, engineering, construction, and development firms.