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5 Questions With Atlanta's CRE Power Women, Part 2

Atlanta

Want to get a jump-start on upcoming deals? Meet the major Atlanta players at one of our upcoming events!

Some stumbled their way into commercial real estate. Others followed family members into the business. 

Then there is the legendary Ray Uttenhove, who became inspired by Atlanta's developing skyline and ditched a career as a teacher to become one of the city's top retail brokers. 

Regardless of how these women got into the business, they have proved themselves in a heavily male-dominated industry to be among the top performers in Atlanta, regardless of their gender. 

Bisnow asked five questions to this year's Power Women inductees, who will be honored Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead, about their thoughts on success, obstacles and how exactly to describe what they do to those outside the industry.

Indigo Collective Principal Sandi Parker

Sandi Parker
Principal, Creative Director
Indigo Collective
Indigo Collective principal Sandi Parker

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Sandi Parker: We make places people crave. From simple brand identity and websites to development consulting, we help developers and owners create an identity and sense of place for their urban projects. With nearly 20 years [of] experience from an ownership perspective, including work on Ponce City Market and White Provisions, our team understands the big picture of how urban mixed-use developments and all the various components — office, retail, condo, multifamily, amenities — work together. So we create brands for and consult with developers working on new construction and redevelopment projects.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Parker: As a small-business owner I’m constantly facing a string of challenges —juggling both management and creative responsibilities while maintaining a personal life. It’s critical to stay calm in front of your team. 

I try to buffer my team from challenges that aren’t related to their jobs. This can lead to unnecessary distractions, which can ultimately hurt the organization. I want my team to be their most confident and creative selves for the benefit of the overall organization.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Parker: That’s the million-dollar question. I believe that fair pay isn’t just right, it’s smart. When employees know they’re being fairly compensated, they’re more likely to work harder and help out when co-workers need it.

Consider a blind résumé screening. Simply remove names from résumés during this first step of the hiring process. This can help business owners focus primarily on qualifications. Ask yourself, “Are the women in my office making an equal amount to men in the same position?”

Encourage your female employees to negotiate and applaud them when they do.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry? 

Parker: Join a professional development program and ask as many questions as you can. I truly believe this is the fastest way to learn, network, grow and produce quality work. We were all young and inexperienced once; but there’s nothing more terrifying than watching an employee, who thinks he/she knows all the answers, fail simply because questions weren’t asked. It affects the health of a whole organization. There’s always more to learn.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Parker: I’m constantly in motion and am lucky to work in a field that I have a personal passion for. Most recently I’ve begun working on the master planning and zoning committees in my neighborhood after finishing a Road Fight exhibit that chronicled the 30-year fight to preserve Inman Park, Candler Park, Morningside, Virginia Highlands and Druid Hills from destruction by an interstate highway.

My alone time consists of yoga, gardening and more recently, painting. I also have a lake house that is a peaceful escape from the nonstop city life where my husband and I can escape with our dog, Austin. That escape allows me to take a few moments to focus on us instead of all the seemingly more demanding priorities that come at us every day in our commercial real estate lives.

Good Places co-founder and Principal Cherie Ong 

Cherie Ong
Co-founder and Principal 
Good Places
Good Places co-founder and principal Cherie Ong

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Cherie Ong: I tell people that we use real estate to bring people and organizations together to make a positive impact in their communities and achieve a specific mission or defined purpose. 

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Ong: One of the biggest problems I encounter almost on a daily basis is the tension between making money and doing good. Our business model revolves around helping protect the mission of organizations and creating affordable spaces where communities can thrive.

Most people think that doing this kind of good comes at the cost of making money because the two objectives are diabolically opposed. We solve it by showing them even though it is harder, more complex and requires a different approach to business, it is absolutely possible to achieve both. 

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Ong: One of the best things companies can do to address wage and gender inequality is to self-impose standards to measure performance in these areas and implement a culture of transparency. At the Ethical Property Group (our international federation), they report and benchmark everything from specific wage differential ratios (CEO vs. cleaners) to the diversity of tenants they work with. 

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Ong: I would tell them that the days of just turning a profit for profit's sake are coming to an end, and we need more thoughtful leadership when it comes to development and real estate.

I would say we need more people who understand the long-term, sustainable impact our developments are having on our communities and who are willing to think differently and innovatively about what purpose our capital serves.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Ong: I love being with close friends and family, so when I'm not working I unwind by having friends over for a meal, baking desserts, spending time with the kids or organizing fun getaways. Aside from that I’m a closet eBay addict and a compulsive shopper for random vintage stuff. 

DLA Piper Head Partner Maxine Hicks 

Maxine Hicks
Head Partner, Atlanta Real Estate Practice
DLA Piper
DLA Piper Head Partner Maxine Hicks

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? 

Maxine Hicks: I help our clients create great places: walkable communities, entertainment districts and venues that bring people together. My role is to assist with negotiating the deal and to manage the legal team necessary for complex transactions which often require a wide range of expertise beyond real estate law, including public and private finance, corporate, tax, construction [and] insurance.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Hicks: Biggest business problem: Negotiating and drafting all the definitive agreements for the Braves' new ballpark and mixed-use development within a specified time frame to ensure the project could be completed on time to play baseball in 2017.

I created a team of talented lawyers in each area of law and delegated as much as I could. I set up a communication and meeting structure to ensure everyone was kept abreast of the constant changes and how each document had to fit together.    

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?  

Hicks: Give women and minorities an opportunity to be involved with high-profile projects.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Hicks: I always stress the importance of understanding the business and what an advantage it is to understand finance. Join a trade organization and take courses or have mentors explain how the deals are structured and walk you through the numbers. 

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you're not working?

Hicks: I have a lakehouse and love to be on our boat or WaveRunner. I also love sports and watch a lot of baseball and football. In the last year or so, I have started playing pickleball and love it, and it is a great stress relief. 

Columbia Property Trust Senior Vice President Linda Bolan 

Linda Bolan
Senior Vice President 
Columbia Property Trust
Columbia Property Trust Senior Vice President Linda Bolan

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in our industry?

Linda Bolan: I lead a national team that manages commercial multi-tenanted offices buildings primarily in New York City, Washington, D.C, and San Francisco. Commercial property management is a dynamic and ever-changing multifaceted business.

From janitorial management, financial analysis, team leading and operations, maximizing revenue, while limiting expenses, strategic planning and delivering best-in-class tenant service to emergency preparedness and disaster recovery, we do it all. With assets valued in the multimillions of dollars and some over half a billion, the responsibility our teams have is tremendous.

Bisnow: What is the biggest problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Bolan: Leaving my comfort zone. I was with the same firm for over 22 years and had recruited an incredible team that had achieved tremendous success together. I felt content in my regional role and was naively loyal. Then came an opportunity to run a national property management business. After a great deal of thought and reflection I took the call for the first time in my commercial real estate career.

When asked for a résumé, I had to google “How to Write a Résumé." My current résumé was created in 1993, and Google did not even exist! I never thought of looking outside the firm. When I did, it opened up tremendous opportunity and growth for my career and me, both personally and professionally. Today, I counsel others that is it perfectly OK to take the call, as you never know where it might lead.

Bisnow: What is the one thing you think that companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Bolan: It starts at the very top. Today women make up only 17.7% of corporate boards. Data has shown companies achieve higher financial performance with higher representation by women on their boards. With more women on boards, companies can better fight the gender pay gap by eliminating any culture of secrecy.

Strong leadership and transparency are necessary in evaluating pay gaps that currently exist and ensuring they are not part of the hiring process. Today women are paid 80 cents for every dollar men are paid.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others when entering the industry?

Bolan: When entering the CRE industry or any new position, I encourage others to be a sponge. In the first several months, it is important to listen to understand and not listen to reply. Learn as much as you can about your industry, your team, your position and your firm before you make any changes of significance.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you are not working?

Bolan: I love to travel to national parks and see firsthand the beauty our country has to offer. I also enjoy spending time with my family and friends at Lake Keowee in Seneca, South Carolina. Being on the water and having the opportunity to enjoy all that it has to offer is a true blessing.

SRS Real Estate Partners Executive Vice President Ray Uttenhove 

Ray Uttenhove
EVP
SRS Real Estate Partners
SRS Real Estate Partners Executive Vice President Ray Uttenhove

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Ray Uttenhove: I provide strategic planning for my retailer clients helping them analyze a market and decide how many stores they need to open to penetrate the market. We identify sites, assist with their internal approval process and then negotiate with the landlord on their behalf. Our charge is to open high-volume, profitable stores.  

We also provide insight on repositioning or closing underperforming stores and rightsizing existing stores. Our success is measured by how well we meet our clients’ needs.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Uttenhove: The biggest business problem that I ever faced was the Great Recession and getting through that disastrous time. I felt like I had been pushed off a cliff and was in freefall. I knew there were opportunities in every part of the business cycle and our clients needed support and a new focus as well.   

We made some bold moves starting with the hiring of new brokers and a marketing campaign promoting our new services. Our focus was on the disposition of underperforming stores for our retailer and landlord clients.  

We had the greatest success with a program that concentrated on retailers who wanted to capitalize on the vacancies allowing them to add new stores often in markets that were too expensive before the recession. Getting through these challenging times made our company stronger, particularly as the business climate improved.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Uttenhove: Be sure that you have a diverse leadership team that includes women and minorities. If you look around and see that your most successful producers and the decision makers within the company are all white males, you have a problem.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Uttenhove: Be bold and fearless. To be successful, you have to live outside of your comfort zone from the day you start to the day you retire.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Uttenhove: Golf is a total escape for me. Playing 18 holes on a beautiful golf course is regular therapy. Traveling is my other passion. 

I am a total Francophile. For the last 20 years I have never missed a visit to Paris, but I love the adventure of new places all over the world. See my photo of a visit my husband and I made to an active volcano on White Island in New Zealand.

Franklin Street Real Estate Services Senior Vice President Monetha Cobb 

Monetha Cobb
SVP
Franklin Street Real Estate Services
Franklin Street Real Estate Services Senior Vice President Monetha Cobb

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Monetha Cobb: Because I’m in retail, I believe what we do resonates a bit more with non-real estate folks. Everybody shops or eats out, so it’s pretty simple to explain that my teams assist retail operators in locating the best real estate for their particular use. I think the harder part is explaining just what all tenant rep services entail, from creating a strategy for expansion, market analysis, site due diligence and negotiations.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Cobb: The biggest business problems aren’t typically a one-time fix in my world, although we are constantly working to improve them and have found successes along the way. One of the most important ongoing challenges we have is communication at all levels within the company. This issue is common in all companies, but especially so in companies like Franklin Street, where we have experienced exponential growth over the past 10 years, going from three guys in an apartment to over 350 employees in six offices.

I’ve found consistency with communication is key. When the teams know what is expected and understand when it needs to be done, we achieve much more engagement. Another way we’ve improved training communications is allowing team members to do it based on their own work schedules. Instead of having a one-time presentation or meeting, we’ve made recordings or videos of those events available to the employees to watch or listen to at a later date when they can do so.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality? 

Cobb: Having male corporate leadership discuss it more openly in public forums. So many people, men and women, hear “wage and gender inequality” and still dismiss the problem, especially when you hear about it from a woman who has been very successful in her career.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Cobb: Seek out a team or boss that appreciates your abilities. No matter your age or experience level, you need to bring a skill set to the group that nobody else on that team possesses. Make yourself invaluable and be prepared to work hard.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Cobb: Spend time with family and friends [and] enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. I have a first grader right now and trying to find more time to spend with him is my highest priority. I don’t want to miss a moment watching him grow up.

Ackerman & Co. Chief Financial Officer Vivian Barnes 

Vivian Barnes
CFO, EVP 
Ackerman & Co
Ackerman & Co. Chief Financial Officer Vivian Barnes

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? 

Vivian Barnes: I lead the departments that provide services to our sales and investment teams. This includes property management, accounting, information technology, human resources and office management. I assist our executive team with the planning and implementation of business initiatives.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Barnes: When the real estate market declined in 2008, we had to make significant reductions in expenses. We were honest with the employees and explained that taking salary reductions across the board would save everyone’s jobs. This was a tough decision that impacted everyone but we rode the storm and came through successfully.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality? 

Barnes: Ensure that all managers set salary ranges before the hiring or annual salary review process begins so it is not very likely that gender is a factor in determining salary.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry? 

Barnes: Be flexible and know that change is a constant occurrence.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working? 

Barnes: Spend as much time as possible with my family and friends making memories since tomorrow is never promised. 

IDEA|SPAN President Deirdre O'Sullivan

Deirdre O'Sullivan
President 
IDEA|SPAN
IDEA|SPAN President Deirdre O'Sullivan

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Deirdre O'Sullivan: I am a workplace designer. As a principal at IDEA|SPAN, I work in team with an idea-driven group of people to shape environments that speak to who our clients are, what they do and how they do it. We craft workplaces where people want to be, places that support their work, build their culture and help them succeed.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

O'Sullivan: Finding work-life balance. I wouldn’t say I’ve solved it. Personally, it’s been thinking about what’s most important to me, at that point in my life, and putting my energy where needed to support my priorities at that time.

As a firm, I’ve found we’re most successful when we acknowledge the challenge, give people flexibility and support their personal paths.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

O'Sullivan: Companies need to admit wage and gender inequality is still an issue. It won’t be solved until it becomes a priority within an organization. It requires a conscious, focused effort to develop and support women, to give them equitable opportunities to build their expertise, confidence and be recognized.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

O'Sullivan: Welcome every opportunity you’re given as a chance to learn and build your capabilities. Success over your career will come from a broad range of skills. You can take something from every experience that will help you grow. Deliver great work on whatever the task and you’ll find you can choose you own path.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

O'Sullivan: Spend time with my family and friends. Close to home I enjoy my garden, cooking and a glass of wine. My husband and I have two wonderful sons. We’re a national parks family. Getting away into remote and beautiful wild places is something I love.

Holder Construction Co. Vice President Greer Gallagher

Greer Gallagher
VP 
Holder Construction Company
Holder Construction Co. Vice President Greer Gallagher

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Greer Gallagher: Depends on who is asking, but my most simple answer is build buildings.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it? 

Gallagher: About seven years ago I took over the Interiors Department after a swift departure of the previous leader, who at the time was also my boss. His departure was unexpected, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to take on the role (and huge opportunity) that was suddenly right in front of me. I had to shift from being a peer to a direct supervisor of men who were more experienced and who believed they were more qualified. Of course, this all happened months after returning from maternity leave with my second child, and I was still trying to figure out how to excel both as a leader and as a mom (which, by the way, is still a daily work in progress).

My approach to leading a team/department is to be collaborative, transparent and willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever it takes to make the group or project successful. I earned a lot of respect with my associates by truly helping them and modeling what was expected in lieu of just telling them what needed to be done. They appreciate how transparent and collaborative I was in leading the staffing process for our projects.

They also appreciated how I took their input into consideration, which resulted in better outcomes and full buy-in. Today, I think we are an incredibly strong team nationwide, with over 50 full-time associates. We focus on interior projects across the country for our clients, averaging an annual revenue of $150M to $200M.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Gallagher: Operate as a performance-based company and be transparent with the compensation process. I have spent my entire career at Holder Construction Co. and can confidently say we do a great job ensuring our associates are compensated fairly.

Our ability to do so is in the process we go through twice a year to evaluate the performance of each associate in preparation for annual merit increases as well as year-end bonuses. In addition, our leadership group discusses associates being considered for promotion every other week in our company-wide staffing meeting.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry? 

Gallagher: You can learn valuable lessons from everyone, whether it’s the carpenter putting work in place, the subcontractor’s foreman, or your superintendent, just to name a few. There is a very high chance you will be dealing with men that have been in the industry for longer than you have been alive. If you show them respect and an eagerness to learn, chances are they will go out of their way to help you.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Gallagher: I’m either on a long run around Chastain Park or riding my Peloton. Most weekends are spent watching my kids play in their respective sporting events, which I love!

Pursley Friese Torgrimson Managing Partner Stephanie Friese Aron 

Stephanie Friese Aron
Managing Partner
Pursley Friese Torgrimson
Pursley Friese Torgrimson Managing Partner Stephanie Friese Aron

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Stephanie Friese Aron: I help people buy, sell and lease office buildings, shopping centers and apartment buildings.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Friese Aron: It’s hard to say what is the biggest, but one challenge in our work that we are constantly working to overcome is doing quality work at reasonable rates. The solution is to try to find the aspects of our work that are repeated and scale those aspects so that we can train junior associates on those aspects, thereby keeping lawyers focused on the unique and complex issues.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Friese Aron: Make sure the executive committee and/or C-suite, or whoever is making decisions on compensation, is comprised of diverse members so that gender bias has less of an impact on those decisions. 

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Friese Aron: Embrace professionalism, and try to help anyone who asks (and even sometimes those who don’t ask). It’s a small world. You never know who will be in the power seat tomorrow, making decisions that affect you, your team and your clients.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?   

Friese Aron: I have a robust social life, and I am lucky to be a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and wife in a close-knit family, as well as a mother of a 7-year-old boy who is really fun to hang out with, so I cherish time with people who are important to me and enjoy developing relationships.

TriStar founder Margaret Stagmeier

Margaret Stagmeier
Founder
TriStar
TriStar founder Margaret Stagmeier

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Margaret Stagmeier: I play Monopoly for a living.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Stagmeier: Biggest business problem I’ve faced probably is to be taken seriously. The solution is to focus on doing a great job, work with the people that are supportive and ignore people that are not supportive. If you are doing a great job, the non-supportive people will eventually come around and join the success.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Stagmeier: Addressing wage/gender equality, companies should develop a realistic understanding of the unique value perspective that women and minorities bring to the boardroom. Women and minorities tend to think out of the box, and to navigate traditional power structures, which is exactly what is needed in progressive and innovative leadership.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Stagmeier: Approach your career only from a position of strength. Even in the middle of crisis and conflict, understand your strengths and use this as your core basis to problem solving. Second, nurture success for the people around you. It helps build your fan club. Third, save your money because you never know when a great opportunity will present itself and you need to be financially ready.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?   

Stagmeier: Spend time with family and good friends laughing.