In Broad-Ranging Panel Event, Outstanding Women in Real Estate Discuss What It Takes to Make It in the Industry

Published: 
May 2016
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real estate panel

What’s it like to work in real estate? How might an industry aspirant gain a foothold in the business—and what sorts of skills are required for success?

Seven outstanding women real estate professionals addressed these questions, among a host of related others, during an hour-long panel event held March 17, 2016, in McIntire’s Robertson Hall. The event, titled “The Road Ahead: Exploring Careers in Real Estate,” was hosted by the McIntire School of Commerce and the Women’s Business Forum at McIntire.

“‘The Road Ahead’ offered an absolutely fantastic opportunity for interested students to really get a feel for what it means to work in real estate, whether in asset management, acquisitions, development, or portfolio management,” says McIntire Professor George Overstreet, who leads the School’s Real Estate Program, and whose infectious passion for the industry was noted by the panelists. “On behalf of the School, I offer my tremendous appreciation to these outstanding professionals for taking the time to share the lessons of their career experience with the McIntire and UVA communities.”

Event panelists included Suzanne Boggs (McIntire ’07), Vice President, Development, The JBG Companies; Tiffany Butcher (McIntire ’01), Principal, The JBG Companies; Karen McJunkin (McIntire ’84), Regional Partner, Elm Street Development; Anne Raymond, Managing Director, Crow Holdings; and Kristi Smith (McIntire ’03), Senior Vice President, Development, The JBG Companies.

The panel was expertly moderated by Tracey Brownfield (McIntire ’79), Principal, Land Veritas, and Kate Murtagh (A&S ’13), Senior Development Analyst, The JBG Companies.

Many Hats
The panelists kicked off the discussion by stressing the broad range of career paths available within the industry. “There’s an enormous diversity of careers available within real estate,” Butcher said, noting that a variety of academic backgrounds—whether in finance, marketing, accounting, management, or even civil engineering—offered the necessary foundations for success. “If you’re really interested in working in the industry, you’ll be able to find the segment that appeals most to you.”

But the panelists also pointed out that dealings in real estate are characterized by a fundamental complexity and diversity, and that success in the industry requires an entrepreneurial mindset and an eagerness to learn about a broad range of subjects, including land acquisition, zoning and legal regulations, design, finance, asset and portfolio management, and strategy.

“You have to wear a lot of hats—and you have to enjoy wearing a lot of hats,” said Smith. “If you do, real estate is a great career for you.”

We Need to Talk
The panelists also stressed the “high touch” nature of the industry, noting the relatively small size of the real estate community, as well as the highly local nature of the business.

“Working in real estate involves a lot of reaching out—on the phone, and at dinners and lunches,” Raymond told listeners. “As you consider a career in real estate, think about your skills in communicating, building relationships, and collaborating.” Given the complexity of the industry, she said, successful professionals must also be experts in tracking down key sources of critical information. “You can’t know everything,” Raymond said. “You have to be able to find and build relationships with the right people, who can give the information you need.”

Along these lines, Butcher, said, integrity and reputation are paramount in the industry. “You have to be fair and reasonable—you have to have the trust and respect of your industry peers so that people want to work with you,” she told the audience.

Net Value
The panelists emphasized the industry’s tremendous reliance on networking at all career stages, stressing the critical importance for job seekers of reaching out to industry alumni and friends. “You have to be absolutely willing to utilize your network,” Boggs said, noting the strength and scope of the UVA alumni network. “People are almost always willing to help, but it’s up to you to do the work of reaching out with an email or phone call, meeting someone for lunch or coffee, and then following up, within a reasonable timeframe, with that person.”

More, the panelists said, given the less-than-regular hiring patterns characteristic of the industry, job seekers must learn to exercise patience, recognizing that a position may open up as market conditions improve. “Unlike banks or corporations, there’s no ‘season’ for hiring,” Smith said, noting the industry’s penchant for “just-in-time” hiring as the pace of business picks up. “You can’t think that things aren’t going to work out, just because they don’t work out immediately,” she cautioned. “Someone might not need you now, but they may later.”

Indeed, said industry veteran McJunkin, tenacity—fueled by an absolute passion for real estate—is critical to success in the industry. “In real estate, you’re constantly facing roadblocks,” she told the audience. “The most successful people I have working for me are the ones who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKXe0GG0Me4&feature=youtu.be to hear more from the event panelists and attendees.