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Chicago Power Women: 5 Questions With Heather Morrison

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 on Dec. 4.

Heather Morrison's career trajectory proves that for some people, following your passion is the best path forward. Morrison struggled for years trying to be a design architect, and only later found her highest talent. 

In 2014, she founded MAP Strategies, a firm that helps developers navigate the sometimes-bewildering thicket of regulations, permits, licenses and laws that govern the development process in Chicago. 

Heather Morrison and her MAP Strategies team

Since then, Morrison and her team have guided to completion some of the city's most notable new developments, including Related Midwest's One Bennett Park, Ann & Robert Lurie Children's Hospital, New City development and the Virgin Hotel Chicago. 

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

Morrison: On Oct. 15, 2014, MAPS became a company. With an 18-month old, I was taking a risk, but Charlotte, my daughter, is my inspiration. For many years I struggled to find my way in the field of architecture, and it took 18 years to find my niche in architecture and real estate fields. In my early days, I was learning the ropes from well-known firms like VOA and Tigerman McCurry in hopes to become a design architect. It wasn’t totally clicking until I started listening and observing what my calling is. We all have a unique calling; mine is being a self-defined “compliance partner.” Having a calling as a compliance partner doesn't seem like I won the cosmic lottery, and working through the red tape of permits is not necessarily thrilling to most people. However, it is for me and my team at MAPS! So, win-win. 

What I observed was that permitting is a main driver of design and schedule on any given real estate project. Whether it is a single-family home or a mega high-rise building, the same universal rules apply: 1) the design must be vetted through the lens of the zoning and building codes and 2) when the design is “washed” through the regulatory code process and those things don’t align, the design becomes diluted and the construction schedule is delayed.

Therefore, MAPS was born to reverse engineer the above universal rules and take the control back for our clients to ensure the design is compliant and matches their set goals prior to the regulatory vetting process. This results in better design and streamlines the construction schedule.

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

Morrison: Women are supporting each other more openly in business, and that has been impactful in my life and career. Men have always had each other as mentors, and it is great to experience men and women crossing over and learning from each other. Embracing different perspectives only makes us stronger as professionals and people. 

One Bennett Park in Streeterville

Bisnow: Who are your role models and why?

Morrison: My mother, Kate Singletary, is an extremely driven career professional and I admire her strength of character. At one point, she was teaching high school and going to law school at night. My mom's passion and perseverance as a teacher in English and theater at Lyons Township High School not only inspired me, but many teenage girls to dream big. She and my father divorced when I was young and she put her law degree on hold to raise me and my brother while teaching full time. At 50, she decided to continue her goal of getting a law degree. This led to her becoming a Massachusetts delegate for Deval Patrick under the Obama administration, and currently, she is on the legal team for Deval in this presidential election. 

[I observed] her path and [learned that at the edge of fear, you go into one of two modes: control or trust. If you fall into trusting, life will give you good things, it will provide the right path for you and even give you great things!

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

Morrison: Not listening to my specific calling earlier and not surrendering the old idea of myself being a design architect. It took many years of not listening to my experiences and failures until I started realizing that my calling was strategic planning and compliance architecture. Once I released the old story of myself and wrote a new one, I found abundant joy. 

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

Morrison: Start your path by dreaming. Then the hard part: do, fail, learn, listen and repeat as long as it takes to get specific about who you are and what you were born to do. Once you know your unique calling by doing and listening, execute your passion and own it!