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Thinking Inside the Box

Picture of Greg Zimmerman at Ball State Football Game

by Tony Moore

"In a lot of ways, I look at my decision to go to Dickinson as the best I've ever made," says Greg Zimmerman '83, citing his broad liberal-arts education as the secret to his success. Today he is senior vice president of Big Box Development at Simon Property Group, the world's largest real estate company, a position he finds both challenging and enjoyable.

Working with large-format retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods and theatres such as AMC and Regal, Zimmerman shepherds retail development every step of the way—from finding the tenants, negotiating the deals, helping to design the space and working with Simon's construction department to making sure the market knows the retailers are coming. "We take the deals from cradle to grave," he says.

Doing a little of everything

Zimmerman's path began far beyond the confines of the shopping mall, at Dickinson. "I'm a real believer in a liberal-arts education and the environment in which Dickinson provides it," he says. "And I took advantage of everything the college offers: the small size, so I got to know my professors; I was in student government, in a fraternity, I studied abroad, played varsity baseball. I got to do a little of everything."

Doing a little of everything has carried over extensively to his professional career. "No two days are ever the same," he says of his day-to-day duties, which involve Simon's 170 regional malls throughout the United States. "You need to think on your feet, and you need to anticipate and solve problems. You need to understand finance, retail, construction and law, and you need to have great interpersonal skills. It's a challenge, because you're always dealing with millions of dollars."

Clinging to broadness

After graduating from Dickinson with a history degree, Zimmerman went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania and landed a job with a big law firm. By 1994, he was looking for a new challenge, and he soon joined The Rouse Company, a national real estate developer. In 1999, after Rouse purchased The Howard Hughes Corporation (the developer for what remained of the estate of Howard Hughes), Zimmerman moved to Las Vegas, where he merged the two companies' legal departments. Once the merger was complete, Rouse asked Zimmerman to move to the business side and build shopping centers.

When Zimmerman, a Harrisburg native and lifelong Penn State fan, isn't looking at a new commercial space to develop, he and his wife, Mira, who works for the NCAA, like to travel and attend Big Ten football games.

Penn State fan or not, he remains a loyal Dickinson supporter. Asked how often he finds that his education influences his career, he is quick to answer: "I don't want to be trite about it, but the answer is every day. I learned a lot in law school, but I put 80 to 90 percent of my skill set down to Dickinson. What I like to tell people is that in college they trained me to think broadly, and then in law school they trained me to think narrowly again. I try to cling to the broadness."

Published January 24, 2013