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VOL. 6 | NO. 9 | Saturday, February 23, 2013

Breaking the Mold

Number of women entering commercial real estate industry growing

By Sarah Baker

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When Rosemarie Fair was named Broker of the Year in investment sales at last year’s Pinnacle Awards, she became the first woman ever to do so.

Gail Ayers, CEO of CREW Network, speaks at a delegate orientation at The Peabody hotel. CREW, a national organization of women in commercial real estate, convened in Memphis this year to network. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Before Fair founded One Source Commercial Inc. in 1993, she worked with Carlisle Corp. in the early 1980s on Beale Street Landing Downtown. She remembers often what her mentor Gene Carlisle taught her – “Somebody will take care of the big stuff, it’s the nickels and dimes that make the difference.”

Fair perfected that “attention to detail” mentality when she used property management as a gateway to the historically male-dominated brokerage side of the business. She didn’t stay in property management, but yet that’s where many women in the commercial real estate industry remain.

“It’s hard when the perception out there automatically is, ‘Oh gosh, you’re a woman? And you’re in commercial real estate?’” Fair said. “It may have been that bad in the past, but it’s not so bad now. But you do have to do your homework, you cannot be unprepared when you take a call or make a call.”

Fair said commercial deals are undoubtedly made through networking. When the decision maker is the male and the commercial practitioner is another male, those deals may be readily available because of the network that men evolve in.

“Men – and I find that even in not-for-profits as well as in the profit world – it’s easier for them to make ‘the ask,’” Fair said. “It comes more naturally.”

Mary Sharp, chief operating officer of CB Richard Ellis Memphis, learned more about the ask during a speed networking session at the Commercial Real Estate Women national delegate conference held at The Peabody hotel on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

Sharp is also president of the local CREW chapter – a group of 20 women in the commercial brokerage and related businesses that pass on deals to each other – and plans on replicating what she learned at the conference at CREW Memphis’ February meeting.

“For the trend to continue, those of us already in the industry must educate young women about the variety of roles they could play in real estate industry and make sure they are given an opportunity to develop their potential.”

–Mary Sharp
CFO, CB Richard Ellis Memphis

“You are supposed to come with your elevator speech to talk about what you do, what you want from other people and how you can benefit them,” Sharp said. “There was a woman at my table who was involved in environmental work. She talked about how many states she did work in and what kind of work she could do for us. We don’t normally have that in female conversations.”

In 2011, CREW Network formulated a whitepaper called “Success and Satisfaction of Women in Commercial Real Estate.” That study found that while gender disparity is prevalent, more women are entering commercial real estate as a career – 43 percent of women in the industry entered in 2010 versus 36 percent joining the industry in 2005.

Sharp said if young people coming out of school, both male and female, really understood the variety of careers available in commercial real estate, there would be more women involved in various aspects of the business.

“For the trend to continue, those of us already in the industry must educate young women about the variety of roles they could play in real estate industry and make sure they are given an opportunity to develop their potential,” Sharp said. “This can happen through internships, targeted recruitment and mentorship through the stages of their careers.”

Sharp, who has been with CBRE for 18 years, got into real estate after going back to school once her kids were older. She worked her way up the ranks by taking on more and more corporate responsibility through the years.

But while more women are now entering brokerage roles nationwide, Sharp said the pace in Memphis is slower than other markets.

“Memphis is a traditional town and more traditional in its roles,” Sharp said. “In Memphis, a lot of it has been passed down from fathers to sons. Finding (female) candidates, frankly, for us has been hard because women don’t put it at the top of their list as a career.”

Mary Singer started her commercial real estate career out of necessity, managing and leasing multifamily units. With a small child at home, she went to the University of Memphis part time for her real estate degree.

Her first job was managing and leasing a 200,000-square-foot shopping mall, and she would go on to found Commercial Realty Group in the late 1980s, pioneering tenant representation in the Memphis market. Singer said women are a lot more focused on the whole picture – children, community and the things that involve collaboration.

“It’s very puzzling through the years to not see a lot more women leading commercial real estate companies, but certainly the numbers have accelerated and will continue,” Singer said. “We’re not seeing such a difference other than still in the ownership. I think women are proving in many industry sectors that their skills and their style are very much needed in running and be a part of great businesses.”

Patty Lycan of Gill Properties has been a licensed broker for more than 30 years. She started off in New York working for developer M.D. Carlisle Realty Corp.

When she moved to Memphis 15 years ago, Lycan called every mover and shaker that she could possibly find – all of whom were men.

“They were all very, very accommodating to spend time to talk with me,” Lycan said. “I remember David Peck talking on the phone with me one night for two hours about the business, about Memphis. It took a long time, though, to actually get hired.”

Lycan has two pieces of advice for women trying to break into the business in Memphis: look for a mentor and forget the notion that you can’t break into a “good ol’ boy club.”

“Memphis is great being a second- or third-tier market,” Lycan said. “When I first moved here, I looked for the Barnes and Noble, the Border’s bookstore, the Starbucks – it wasn’t here for many, many years to come. So you can go into these other markets, see what the trends are and see what’s applicable to our market. It makes it easier. You just have to be astute.”

PROPERTY SALES 91 293 13,051
MORTGAGES 58 168 8,171
BUILDING PERMITS 99 744 30,678
BANKRUPTCIES 34 156 6,220