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Chicago Power Women: 5 Questions With Katie Kazas

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.

Like many that switch careers to join the world of real estate, Katie Kazas found she enjoys watching how her day-to-day work soon results in tangible assets. Such opportunities are plentiful at CA Ventures, the Chicago-based firm where the former commercial banker now serves as executive vice president of capital markets.    

Founded in 2004 by Tom Scott, the company began as a niche investor acquiring small, scattered apartments near major universities. Today it has branched out beyond student housing into multifamily, retail, hospitality, office, senior living and industrial, and Kazas plays a key role in all of its lending.

Katie Kazas

In the past five years, she executed more than $5B of total loan volume for CA Ventures. She credits a collection of role models for helping her achieve so much, and said the company is ready to keep giving women similar opportunities to reach leadership positions. 

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

Kazas: Starting out in banking, I was drawn to commercial real estate because real estate is tangible, relationship-driven and fast-paced. I also appreciated the entrepreneurial nature of the business — in order to be successful, you have to be engaged and committed to putting in the extra time and effort that’s required to climb the ladder. I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, and I took every opportunity to learn from colleagues and peers within the industry as I honed my skills and established relationships with capital partners. The more hours I put in, the more exposure to deals I had.

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

Kazas: I believe the treatment of women in the industry has improved, yet we still have work to do. I am grateful for the powerful women before me that paved the way for the heights I’ve been able to reach in my career thus far. I’m also keenly aware of how important my role is to further the cause for the next generation of women leaders in commercial real estate. I believe with industry-specific curriculums becoming more prevalent at universities, and important organizations like the Goldie Initiative, more young women are gaining exposure to real estate career possibilities.

In addition, a growing number of companies are introducing internship programs like the one offered by CA Ventures. This will further the opportunities for young women and men alike, and help increase the number of women joining the industry.

Bisnow: Who are your role models and why?

Kazas: Karen Case, president of commercial real estate at CIBC, is a role model, mentor and friend. She taught me the importance of building and maintaining relationships, which are central to the work we do day in and day out. I learned that women can have a voice, even if they are the only female in the room, and that they must be an advocate for their peers so there can be more gender equality in our industry. I’ve also enjoyed seeing how Karen manages her various roles and responsibilities — as a successful executive, devoted wife and mother and generous philanthropist — with the utmost poise; it’s a model I‘m determined to follow.

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

Kazas: Not believing that I was ready for the next thing. Early on in my career, I completed a credit training program through a prior employer. Near the end of the program, I was asked to rotate out of training early and I almost didn’t take advantage of the opportunity because I didn’t think I was ready. I ultimately accepted and thrived, making me realize the importance of believing in myself. This belief is what motivates me to continue to grow and make an impact.

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

Kazas: Take the time to understand your strengths and weaknesses. It will help hone your skills and, ultimately, build confidence — something every woman in our industry needs to have in order to continue making strides toward gender equality. Most importantly, look for opportunities to support other women! We need to work together if we are going to effect change.

See Katie Kazas and other women shaping real estate at Chicago's Power Women event Dec. 4.