New York, NY -- Just as it is for men, ask four women how they chose careers in commercial real estate and you will get four different answers.
Andie Edmonds was a stockbroker in the 1990s before moving to a small city in Central Oregon where she wanted to reboot her career after her kids were all in school. In Bend, she got hired by the first company she interviewed with but only after the principal of the firm encouraged her to interview with all the other brokerage shops in town. She is now a principal of a firm she started in 2013.
Terry Martin-Denning grew up in western Montana where she received her degree in accounting. After graduating, she joined an accounting firm and then was hired by a client as the general manager of their business. When her husband – a masonry contractor, went to Phoenix to work for the winter, she moved with him and responded to an employment advertisement in the newspaper (when newspapers still did that). She was hired by an international investment firm with ties in Belgium and Europe, to work on their accounting team handling acquisitions, dispositions and asset management.
Dorit Makovsky Fischer grew up in a family in which everyone was expected to get their real estate license about the same time they got their driver’s license, so one might think she had no choice but to be in the real estate business. Not so. She interned one summer while studying Premed at the University of Pennsylvania and after college worked as a human resources recruiter before taking up the family enterprise in 2002.
After college, Karah Jennings landing a plush investment banking job in Atlanta with JP Morgan on the Institutional Equity Sales team covering the Southeast and Texas, where her analytic skills fueled her rapid rise toward the top of a male-dominated industry. It was looking like New York could be her next stop, but she wanted to go home to Raleigh where her family was and shifted her career to commercial real estate. She has not looked back.
Martin-Denning’s path to commercial real estate is probably the most unique among this group of women. The international company she worked with had done a lot of business with a brokerage firm in Phoenix that was part of the NAI network. In the downturn of 1992, that firm was struggling financially. The international company acquired their stock and added the third party brokerage and property management firm to their investment portfolio. That firm is now the NAI Phoenix office. Terry was involved in the acquisition and served in multiple capacities over the years helping with operations and strategy. Twelve years ago she transitioned into working full-time with NAI Horizon as the firm’s COO until 2015 when she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer of the firm.
During a recent webinar hosted by Whitney Little in the corporate office of NAI Global, Edmonds, Makovsky Fischer, Jennings and Martin-Denning took stock of their successful careers in commercial real estate, what it is like to be a woman in a traditionally male business and offered advice for other women considering careers in the industry.
When Little asked what advice you would give young women studying commercial real estate with plans for a career in the business, Jennings recommended an internship, which allows for an up-close look at how the business works, and it also enables an intern to start forming connections and building a network, as well as a foundation for the business. Having a mentor certainly helps accelerate a career in commercial real estate, she added. “If you can find someone that invests in you -- it makes all the difference in the world,” she said. Jennings was mentored by one of NAI Carolantic’s top producing and senior brokers, Moss Withers.
Martin-Denning said she always had a mentor throughout her career as she moved up the ranks, saying that it is important for both one’s personal as well as professional lives. Having mentors teaches better decision making, she said. And now that her career has spanned three decades, she is participating in reverse mentoring where she and younger people mentor each other. “I find that the better I understand what makes them tick, what motivates them, the better manager I can become,” she said. “The young people I interact with have unique knowledge and insight that I find invaluable.”
Makovsky Fischer offered that she did not take any formal classes in commercial real estate and would do so in a do-over, if she had the opportunity. She also said she would take more coursework on technology – mostly to be comfortable with it as it evolved and became such an integrated part of her business. Edmonds, on the other hand, would encourage young women to not only study the brokerage business before getting into it, but to consider work in ancillary fields, such as appraisal or architecture, to get a broader perspective on the industry.
After a brief discussion on why so few women hold executive-level jobs in commercial real estate (Little cited the CREW network’s benchmark study in 2015, with only 9% of women occupying C-Suites), Edmonds said that is it often a fine line for women to take on management roles and still have a family life (she has three children). “Some women prefer to stay in production because it can be easier, emotionally, than supervising other people. I know my income has declined somewhat since taking over the Managing Director role of NAI Cascade but I was ready to expand my experience in management. I’ve known Terry (Martin-Denning) a long time but didn’t know, until today, how she became the CEO of NAI Horizon. She’s a great example of making the shift – or I should say earning the opportunity, to become chief executive of her firm,” she said.
Edmonds added that one of the challenges the commercial real estate industry faces is that too few women recognize that there are careers in real estate and that the industry has plenty to offer young women, especially women that choose to have families. She also has a strong opinion on why women do succeed in this business, even stating: “I truly believe we are genetically engineered to be great brokers,” citing women’s ability to listen, multi-task, manage conflict, nurture and sometimes provide a level of service that some men can perceive as beneath them, but in actuality is just exceptional service.
Makovsky Fischer, a mother of four, agreed with Edmonds.
“I’m not saying that men can’t, don’t or won’t act as consensus builders, but the fact is that women are excellent consensus builders.” She added that sometimes during a difficult part of a negotiation over a deal, her male partner will sometime say to her, “Dorit, it’s time for you to go Mom them up a bit,” to smooth things over.
Concluding the webinar, the panelists were asked what their thoughts were for the future of women in commercial real estate, and to a woman, they were all upbeat.
“I hope to see great success for every woman that enters the business. Being a commercial real estate broker offers women the opportunity to have a better work-life balance than a lot of other careers do,” said Terry Martin-Denning.
Karah Jennings echoed her, saying “you have to work hard in this field to become successful yet you truly have the ability to structure your life and work to make what you want out of a career.”
Andie Edmonds volunteered that some of her best brokerage skills came from being a mother, and that she would like to see more women pursue commercial real estate brokerage for careers, adding that the men in the industry could become stronger advocates for women to choose careers in real estate and that they should also take on more active roles mentoring the women that do get into the industry.
About NAI Global
NAI Global is a leading global commercial real estate brokerage firm. NAI Global offices are leaders in their local markets and work in unison to provide clients with exceptional solutions to their commercial real estate needs. NAI Global has more than 400 offices strategically located throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific, with over 7,000 local market professionals, managing in excess of over 425 million square feet of property. Annually, NAI Global completes in excess of $20 billion in commercial real estate transactions throughout the world.
NAI Global provides a complete range of corporate and institutional real estate services, including brokerage and leasing, property and facilities management, real estate investment and capital market services, due diligence, global supply chain and logistics consulting and related advisory services. To learn more, visit www.naiglobal.com or www.naiglobalnewslink.com.