Jill McCarthy framed the 2020 Kansas City Women in Commercial Real Estate Summit as a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit. And the event itself? It proved just how correct McCarthy was.
The Dec. 8 virtual event held by Midwest Real Estate News and REjournals showcased both up-and-coming and established female CRE pros in the Kansas City, Missouri, commercial real estate market. These women are inspirations: They have not only survived but thrived in a business still largely dominated by men
McCarthy, senior executive with the Kansas City Area Development Council and keynote speaker of the summit, said that the entrepreneurial spirit shown by these female CRE pros is far from unusual for the Kansas City region.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in our DNA,” McCarthy said. “Beyond that, we are doers. That creative spirit has pushed Kansas City to impact the world in many industries. Look at what we’ve accomplished in animal sciences, healthcare, navigation, marketing and design, and in real estate, too. Look at the level of professionalism that abounds when it comes to our real estate partners and professionals.”
McCarthy pointed to the panelists at the Dec. 8 summit as an example of this professionalism. She said that the young female CRE professionals rising through the ranks show drive and determination every day. They show fortitude, creativity and promise, she said.
McCarthy also praised the veteran female commercial real estate professionals speaking at the summit, too.
“They knocked down barriers and set the table for everyone coming behind them,” McCarthy said. “There is so much promise from both ends of the spectrum.”
The event’s first panel highlighted that promise. The Emerging Women in Real Estate panel featured some of the younger and most promising female commercial real estate professionals working in the Kansas City market. The panel, moderated by Jayme Miller, commercial broker with Beyond Brokerage, included Anné Erickson, senior associate with JLL; McKenzie Swank, director of sales with Multifamily Utility Company; and Molly Crawford Munninghoff, vice president of brokerage with Copaken Brooks.
Munninghoff said that anyone looking to build a career in commercial real estate – male or female – needs to be patient.
“It’s important to know that it takes time to build a career,” Munninghoff said. “You need to be patient. It takes time to build a relationship with clients and build your book of business. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s important for anyone to know. No matter how hard you work, success doesn’t happen overnight. You need hard work, drive and patience.”
Erickson agreed with that and added that those interested in commercial real estate shouldn’t use a struggling economy – like the one hitting the United States now – as an excuse to not enter the business. Hard workers can succeed in any economy, Erickson said.
Erickson points to the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. That would have been a good time for people to start their commercial real estate careers even with the struggles the U.S. economy was facing then.
“At the time, I thought 2009 would have been a terrible time to get into brokerage,” Erickson said. “Looking back, I think that was a flawed perspective. It takes time to build your career to where you want it to be in any economy. I think 2009 would have been a great time to learn how to hack it in commercial real estate. You’re not going to be making a ton of money at the beginning of your career no matter what the economy is doing. If you can learn to hack it in a down market, if you can learn how to be successful when the economy is struggling, that can you set you up for a strong career.”
Erickson’s advice for those interested in CRE today?
“This is not a bad time to get into commercial real estate,” she said.
Munningham said that no one enters the commercial real estate business as a fully formed professional. She compared it to entering college as a freshman and graduating as a senior: You know so much more as a senior than you do as a freshman. The same holds true for commercial real estate.
“You have to give it those four years,” Munningham said. “This business is all about experience, doing deals and working with clients. I always kept that advice in the back of my mind. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to allow yourself to grow and evolve in this business.”
Swank said that the multifamily business, the space in which she works, is different than other commercial sectors. It’s more difficult, she said, for newcomers to jump into this sector at the brokerage level. It helps first to have some experience managing multifamily assets. Otherwise, it’s difficult to understand the market from a sales perspective.
That’s because multifamily properties aren’t just buildings, Swank said. They are filled with people.
“You won’t be successful in the multifamily space unless you are nurturing that huge part of the puzzle,” Swank said.
Swank did say that women often do excel in the multifamily space because of one particular talent they have: the ability to multitask.
“We are able to multitask so easily. We do it without even thinking about it,” Swank said. “We can take the ROI and cap rate and crunch the numbers for our investors. But we don’t forget that real human beings live in these properties. We know that these people want to live in these buildings, have to enjoy living there. Word-of-mouth and positive online ratings are everything. They can sink a ship so fast. Sometimes, our male counterparts forget that part of it, that empathy we naturally have as women. That has a huge impact as far as multifamily goes.”
It’s impossible to talk about women in commercial real estate without acknowledging that the industry is still made up largely of men. The panelists, then, were asked whether they have faced any challenges when building their businesses in this male-dominated space.
Erickson said that she’s long worked in careers dominated by men. Before joining JLL, she worked in investment research in Egypt. That thrust her into both a business community and culture heavily dominated by men.
“Have I ever lost business because a CEO hired someone who looked more like him? Yes,” Erickson said. “But do I believe that companies are understanding and learning about and valuing diversity and inclusion? Yes. This is happening more every day. I look at being a woman as a benefit in this career today. If you look at the diversity coming through the pipeline, there is a big opportunity for those diverse brokers on the other side.”
Swank said that women trying to build careers in this business can benefit from the help of mentors.
“Diversity and inclusion are close to my heart,” Swank said. “We have to make sure that we are being that person who is welcoming to young brokers. Young brokers need to realize that they shouldn’t listen to people who doubt them. And we have to make sure all of us are doing our part to welcome women and people of different backgrounds. We need to become those people who embrace this.”