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Jon talks with Matthew Lester, President, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Dennis Bernard, President, United Jewish Fund. They talk about leadership, mentorship and the power of giving back. They also discuss how Matthew and Dennis balance their community responsibility with family responsibility and running their own businesses.

Matthew B. Lester
Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Princeton Enterprises, L.L.C.

In 1994, Matthew B. Lester founded Princeton Enterprises, L.L.C., a privately held real estate acquisition, development, and property management company based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. To date, Princeton’s portfolio consists of over 150 properties with an aggregate value in excess of $1 billion and operates nearly 25,000 apartment units, office, industrial, storage, and other commercial facilities located in fifteen states and Canada.

Over the years, Mr. Lester has been personally involved in numerous community service programs by devoting his time and financial assistance to countless organizations that support the health, education, and economic wellbeing of those experiencing hardships. Mr. Lester is the current President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Co-Chair of the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign. He is a Board Member for the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC); a member of the Collections Committee for the Detroit Institute of Arts; and a member of the Greater Detroit Campaign Leadership Council for the University of Michigan.

Mr. Lester is a former President of the Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit and has formerly served as a Board Member for Kadima; BBYO; the Detroit Maccabi Committee; the Jewish Fund; Forgotten Harvest; and the Jewish News Foundation. In addition to holding those positions, Mr. Lester has also served as a Board Member and Chairman for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; a Chairman of the Financial Oversight Committee for the Jewish Community Center of Detroit; a past Advisor to the Executive Director for YAD EZRA; and a past member of the Sherman Campaign and Blumenstein Leadership Groups. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Lester has led numerous mission trips to Israel, Ethiopia, Hungary, Poland, and Cuba.

Mr. Lester graduated from the University of Michigan in 1987 with a bachelor degree in history and from the University of Southern California in 1990 with a law degree. After graduation, Mr. Lester joined the law firm of Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C. and developed a prominent litigation and real estate practice. While engaged in the practice of law, Mr. Lester initiated his real estate investment career and made his first successful acquisition. He has lectured on real estate finance at the University of Michigan; has appeared as a real estate valuation witness; and has served as a court appointed receiver for numerous lenders. Mr. Lester is the former past President of the Apartment Association of Michigan.

Mr. Lester was a past recipient of the Frank A. Wetsman Young Leadership Award; the Jewish Senior Life Award of Excellence; and a former Honoree of the Year for YAD EZRA. He has been nationally recognized in Multifamily Executive; Apartment Finance Today; National Real Estate Investor; NPR – All Things Considered; and Crain’s Business Detroit; as well as receiving recognition for the American Board of Trial Advocates Award and the Midwest Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame. Mr. Lester has been a guest speaker or panel member for Apartment Finance Today; Multifamily Executive; Detroit Commercial Real Estate Summit; Marcus & Millichap Southeast Multifamily Forum; and many other speaking events.

In his personal time, Mr. Lester enjoys a variety of activities with his wife and children; particularly spending time at the family farm located in Northern Michigan.

Dennis S. Bernard

Founder and President of Bernard Financial Group and Bernard Financial Servicing Group

Dennis Bernard is the founder and President of Bernard Financial Group (“BFG”) and Bernard Financial Servicing Group (“BFSG”). Founded in 1991, BFG has grown into the largest commercial mortgage banking firm in Michigan financing on average over $1 billion each year of Michigan Commercial Real Estate. BFG became a member of the Strategic Alliance Mortgage (SAM) network in 2003 ( SAM is a national network of the largest independently owned commercial mortgage banking firm and the third largest lending platform in the country. Bernard is a past national president.

Over the last 33 years, Mr. Bernard has specialized in both debt and equity placement with commercial lenders and institutional joint venture participants. Bernard Financial Group has also been involved in commercial mortgage servicing on construction and permanent loan portfolios. Mr. Bernard has been involved with over 1,000 commercial real estate financial transactions totaling over $24,000,000,000. Mr. Bernard has been engaged as both a consultant and a correspondent by over twenty five national lenders. Bernard Financial Group’s client list reads like Michigan’s Who’s Who of owners and developers. These transactions have included multi and single tenant office, industrial, hi-tech, retail, multi-family, manufactured housing communities, self-storage, hotel and senior housing.

Bernard Financial Group has closed over $22,000,000,000 in financing since its inception. These included forward commitments and immediate fundings on multi-family, retail, industrial and high-tech properties. The lenders were Life Companies, pension funds, structured lenders, securitized lenders and quasi-government agencies. Bernard Financial Servicing Group currently provides full cashiering servicing for over $4,400,000,000 for Life Companies and CMBS Lenders. Bernard Financial Servicing Group is now actively sub Special Servicing for many national firms.

Mr. Bernard’s educational background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from Miami University along with a MBA specializing in Finance and Strategic Planning from Case Western Reserve University. Mr. Bernard has been a lecturer on real estate finance at the University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Business. Mr. Bernard has also appeared as an expert witness on real estate interest rates and financings in Michigan, New York and Texas. Mr. Bernard has been an editorial contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Commercial, Inc., Crain’s Detroit Business, Michigan Real Estate Journal, Midwest Real Estate News, National Real Estate Investors, Heartland Properties, Real Estate Forum, among others.

Mr. Bernard has received numerous awards for his community and business involvements. Annually named to Metropolitan Detroit Top 100 Business Leaders. Most recently, he was elected to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) CRE Board of Governors. Additionally, he has been recognized by Crain’s Detroit Business as a “40 under 40”, by Midwest Real Estate News as a “40 over 40” Most Influential Real Estate Professional and Midwest Hall of Fame, and by Commercial Inc. as an Elite Eight winner. He has been bestowed the honor of the 2006 Governors Service Award for Volunteering and Community Leadership. He has also received Crain’s Detroit Business, University of Michigan and ULI’s “Real Estate Excellence” award. Mr. Bernard was recently honored by being awarded the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services Greenberg Leadership Award. He has also received the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Young Leadership Award, the Jewish Community Council Activist of the Year Award, the American Jewish Committee “Outstanding Humanitarian Award”, and was deemed “Home Town Hero” for Oakland County for his activities and involvements on behalf of local charities. Mr. Bernard currently sits on nine different charitable organizations Board of Trustees. Mr. Bernard has been the Vice Chair of Michigan’s Venture Michigan Fund and currently serves as gubernatorial appointments to two other State of Michigan Boards or Task Forces. Mr. Bernard enjoys his mentoring in the Detroit Public Schools.

Most importantly, Mr. Bernard goes home for dinner every night and spends the weekends with his family.


*E – explicit language may be used in this podcast.