Jim Marinello got the real estate bug during his college years, as the US rebounded from a period of economic decline. His interest solidified while in law school, and he has followed it ever since, including in his current role at Gateway Merchant Banking.
Gateway, a real estate investment company owned by two African American principals, primarily focuses on investing in and developing large-scale rental housing across the US. Part of its competitive advantage includes sourcing off-market joint ventures with owners with excess land. The company’s first big success came through a complicated land assemblage that included Howard University and the Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood.
As Gateway’s chief legal officer, Marinello advises the organization on not only its current ventures, but also the paths open to it moving forward. Meanwhile, in his time outside the office, he leverages his experience in the field to uplift other small businesses and inspire the next generation of change-making entrepreneurs.
After graduating from New York University School of Law, Marinello spent four years in private practice before moving in-house. He got his start in the financial services industry as an assistant corporate counsel at TIAA, where he led the first real estate insurance company separate account. He then went on to do the same thing as vice president and corporate counsel at Prudential Financial.
“My career was all leading up to what I wanted to do for Gateway,” Marinello relects. “I was looking for a smaller shop, where I could focus solely on developing a system for the delivery of legal advice that would be a combination of in-house and outside counsel, as well as consistent, efficient, and responsive to the business needs of the team.”
The team at Gateway, Marinello emphasizes, is as dynamic as it gets. His job adapts the experience he acquired advising large companies to suit the trajectory of a smaller business. “I try to make sure that their structures are crystal clear, not just to the involved parties, but to any third parties that are going to be looking at them,” he says. “Gateway wants to grow into a full-service real estate merchant banking company, so I also dedicate some time toward advising them on what their opportunities are and what the company will look like five years from now.”
In the short-term, Gateway will be moving ahead on a project Marinello nurtured from its inception. “It’s a project in Maryland not too far from a transit station,” he clarifies. “To date, it couldn’t have gone more smoothly in terms of identifying the sources of capital and getting everything ready for the next phase, which will be construction.”
Marinello keeps busy with external projects, as well. He volunteers with SCORE Mentors Northwest New Jersey, an organization offering guidance to small businesses. “As a certified mentor, I have multiple small businesses assigned to me that I meet with on either a weekly or a monthly basis. I listen without judgment, get a good understanding of their goals, and try to develop with them a roadmap for achieving those goals,” he elaborates.
Marinello’s involvement with SCORE also includes serving as a subject matter expert, presenting to small business owners and fellow mentors on educational topics and best practices, and mentoring high school students to compete in business and entrepreneurship competitions.
When it comes to other real estate attorneys, Marinello urges them to consider their career options carefully. “For anybody thinking about making the jump from a law firm to the financial services world in-house, I would recommend they do their diligence,” he says. “Going in-house is a great way to continue to practice law in a meaningful manner, yet stretch into being a contributor to a corporate environment.”
Marinello embraces the challenges of in-house practice along with its rewards. His path to Gateway may have been decades in the making, but he wouldn’t change a thing.
“Both TIAA and Prudential had a strong commitment to social justice and supporting minority-owned businesses. To get the opportunity, after thirty years in-house, to be chief legal officer of an African American-owned merchant banking firm––it’s almost like I wrote the script myself,” Marinello says. “This role is everything I’ve wanted it to be.”