When times get tough, Northland’s Beth Kinsley digs deep
Vanguard Law Magazine
Winter 2021 Edition
By Mary Raitt Jordan
“Do you give up when things get hard?” Beth Kinsley distinctly remembers the question posed by her Colby College advisor sophomore year when she was about to drop her microeconomics course due to an illness.
As it turns out, she didn’t drop that course. In fact, she embraced economics as her minor. And her advisor’s question? That became her source of inspiration over the years—whether competing as captain of the Colby women’s cross-country team, serving as editor-in-chief of the Law Review at Dickinson School of Law, closing complex transactions in private practice, or in her current position as general counsel at Northland Investment Corporation.
“I enjoy being presented with a challenge and thinking of ways to solve problems,” Kinsley says. “It’s a great motivator for me.”
Celebrating 50 years
Kinsley brought that drive to Northland, a Boston-based national real estate private equity firm, in 2008 just ahead of the economic downturn.
Weathering the 2008 recession and adapting to the recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northland’s trademark resiliency has translated into unprecedented growth—from 13,000 to 25,000 units in the 12 years since Kinsley arrived.
Northland, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, owns and operates a portfolio of multifamily properties across the United States with concentrations in New England, Austin, Florida, the Southeast and the Southwest, as well as 2.1 million square feet of commercial space and a $3 billion development pipeline. The firm additionally has $6 billion in assets under management and is supported by a team of more than 600 employees.
“We’ve been particularly successful in developing strategies that enable smart growth,” Kinsley says. “Gaining insight on the best ways to buy properties and turn them around has been our key differentiator.”
A bold entrance
Working as senior counsel at Goodwin Procter LLP, she got to know Northland through a large transaction back in 2008. Enjoying her work with the Northland team, she was excited when she was offered a job—enticing her to tap into the growing multifamily real estate market. Northland’s employee oriented culture and positive working environment for women was enough to nudge her to leave her big firm career.
Assessing her new situation and thrilled to become part of the team, she was impressed that a small core group of three executives—one being a lawyer—was able to handle so many transactions and build such a powerful portfolio.
“I really wanted to make an immediate impact on their transactional processes to increase efficiency and ensure the timing was on our own
terms,” she says. “I knew we could improve schedules and procedures for performing the legal work for our acquisitions and financings to make the transactions more seamless.”
In her first few months at Northland, she led the simultaneous closings of a nine-property acquisition in Texas, making Northland the largest apartment owner in Austin at the time. In the following months, using her big firm background and experience in large-scale real estate transactions, she helped to assess all aspects of the legal department’s transactional operations and reduce the reliance on outside counsel. “With the efficiencies we gained, we could still handle considerable volume with a small but capable staff,” she says.
That tactic has played out during the pandemic, as the Northland legal team made productive use of the unusual times by improving core functions. The first order of business was implementing software for electronic signatures, deemed a necessity for completing transactions during the COVID-19 crisis.
Northland continued with changes to other core processes, including privacy policies, document retention, and contract management, where Kinsley took the lead. Turning to more strategic initiatives, the team also commenced a software project designed to enhance the resident experience, particularly focused on the needs of prospective clients. “We started with many of these projects before the pandemic, but really pushed them ahead during the quarantine. We capitalized on the time to make improvements to our systems,” she says.
Exploring the finer points of real estate has been a passion of Kinsley’s since childhood. With her father a mason and her mother an interior designer, she and two siblings grew up appreciating architecture, art history and construction. They were so drawn to it in fact, that both Kinsley and her older brother Jeff went into real estate law.
“It always appealed to me to be able to see a project concretely,” she says. “In real estate, you can buy something tangible and see it develop.”
Graduating from Colby College with a degree in government in 1993, Kinsley earned her JD at the Dickinson School of Law in 1996.
She joined Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC after law school and was asked to become a member of the litigation practice. There, she was thrust into a misappropriation of trade secrets case against a prominent company—and won. “I learned a great deal about litigation strategy from that experience. I had a tremendous mentor who allowed me to be heavily involved in all facets of the case,” she says.
In 1997 she moved to Boston to work as a real estate associate for Palmer & Dodge. For the next two years, she accepted an assignment commuting weekly to Puerto Rico, as one of three attorneys responsible for all contractual aspects of the design, construction and procurement for its only rail transit system, Tren Urbano.
The system was a groundbreaking development for Puerto Rico and a unique and valuable experience for Kinsley. She followed that up by joining Goodwin Procter in 2001 and was involved in numerous complex transactions, including the redevelopment of the Necco Wafers factory in Boston, transforming it into a major pharmaceutical company’s U.S. headquarters.
“I think the diversity of those experiences—that presented challenges and opportunities for problem-solving— contributed to my ability to effectively lead the legal department,” Kinsley says, noting she is responsible for all legal issues at Northland, including litigation strategy, corporate structuring, acquisitions, dispositions, financing and employee matters. Last year, she led the effort to merge and extend three of Northland’s investment funds.
So when the economic downturn hit Northland shortly after her arrival in 2008, she didn’t lose faith. “I remember working on a number of refinancings, as rates were very favorable, and that certainly helped our portfolio. We also seized opportunities to make strategic acquisitions,” Kinsley notes.
A similar, time-is-ripe mentality persists at Northland during this unprecedented year. “Needless to say, the last six months has presented new challenges for everyone and Northland has been successful in gleaning important lessons from them. It cannot be overstated that successful companies are the ones who pivot with change and then are smart at executing on it,” Kinsley says. “I look forward to Northland continuing to embrace change and the ensuing challenges. It’s who we are.” •