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Chicago Power Women: 5 Questions With Avison Young's Nicole White

This limited series profiles Power Women who have helped shape cities, neighborhoods, businesses and lifestyles in the cities where they work. These women will be honored at Bisnow's Chicago Power Women event Dec. 4.

Nicole White did not plan on a real estate career when she graduated from law school, but joining Avison Young's legal department put her at the center of the firm's transformation from a small Canadian company into a global powerhouse with offices across the U.S., Mexico, the U.K. and many other European countries.

Nicole White

She started out as an employment lawyer in 2007 with Allstate Corp., but her work there never involved giving strategic advice.

"Given the size of that company, it is something I would have never touched," White said.

All that changed when White jumped aboard Avison Young in 2015. As the company continued buying up small firms in many cities, as well as recruiting sets of new senior executives, she set to work drafting the contracts that govern these new relationships. 

Now global counsel and principal, White also serves as secretary to Avison Young's board of directors, and she credits the company with finally giving her the opportunity to become a key player in a rapidly expanding business.    

"They allowed me to branch out and go into uncharted territory."

Bisnow: What drew you to a career in real estate?  

White: While there are some people who seek out careers in real estate, in my case, I think it is more apt to say that real estate found me. I was previously working in the legal department of a Fortune 100 company in an unrelated industry when the opportunity to join Avison Young’s legal department came across my radar. After learning more about the company and the state of the industry, I was thrilled at the opportunity to join a company with such a disruptive presence in an ever-changing business environment.

Bisnow: How has the treatment of women in the industry changed since your career began? 

White: I think there is more emphasis than ever on “inclusive diversity” in commercial real estate, which looks beyond achieving diversity by the numbers, to creating an environment where women and other underrepresented groups can actually thrive. Today, I see more pipeline programs, affinity groups and resources for women in commercial real estate than before. However, there is still much work to be done, especially as it relates to origination credit, promotion and organizational culture.

Bisnow: Who are your role models and why? 

White: I have many, but one who has had the greatest impact on my career is Michele Mayes, the general counsel of the New York Public Library. Michele is a mentor who has always challenged me to seek opportunities outside of my comfort zone. Michele often stressed that “if you are comfortable, you are not growing.” It was her example and wisdom that gave me the courage to leave my very first legal job after eight years in search of a more dynamic, growth opportunity.

Bisnow: What was your greatest professional mistake, and what did you learn from it?  

White: To be sure, I have made many professional mistakes, but one common thread among many of the mistakes I’ve made has been that I allowed others to influence certain business decisions that went against my better judgment. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but I have learned to trust myself more. I have also learned that my job is not to be liked, but to be effective and to be heard.  

Bisnow: What are the most important things women just starting careers need to know? 

White: Be kind to yourself. If there is one thing I’ve learned from all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, it is that I am often my harshest critic. There isn’t much that can’t be fixed, and we should all give ourselves the grace to fail, to learn from failure and to grow. 

See Nicole White and other women shaping real estate at Bisnow Chicago's Power Women event Dec. 4.