The Life Of CRE Moms In A Pandemic: A Mix Of Hope, Angst And Treasured Moments
Many people echo what President Abraham Lincoln said: "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."
Mothers in the commercial real estate industry might've had a harder time keeping their halos bright over the past 14 months as they juggled remote learning, drop-offs and pickups, kids listening to every word of that rough meeting, and the demands of keeping the wheels turning on real estate deals.
Bisnow spoke to a few of these multitasking women to learn what it was like to balance motherhood and working from home in the midst of a pandemic.
For most, it was rewarding and, at times, enlightening. At other times, the year was stressful and daunting, but like Lincoln's mother, what they've done this past year will always be remembered by those who matter most.
Weitzman's JoBeth Prochaska
When the pandemic forced Weitzman Senior Vice President of Development and Asset Management JoBeth Prochaska to stay home and work remotely, the world was falling apart for her retail clients, tenants and landlords alike.
While juggling two daughters, 3-year-old Molly and 5-year-old Kate, Prochaska had to assure her clients that the sky wasn't falling down.
It wasn't easy, and her oldest daughter noticed.
"I was on the phone constantly, so I would be on speaker phone a lot because you get tired of holding your phone. One morning my daughter told me she had a nightmare the night before and she said, 'Why did those men just yell at you all day, Mommy?' It really upset her, and I never thought about that because I was just trying to work."
The moment turned out to be a good learning experience for Kate as her mom explained to her what she does for a living and the struggles her clients had to face during the early days of the pandemic.
"I started to explain to them more what I was doing and why I was talking to these people and what they were wanting and why they were upset as opposed to just kind of working through it," Prochaska said. "It was something interesting that came out of it, it was something that they observed and that had to be explained."
Along with allowing her to cut down on commute time and be near her children, Prochaska's working from home gave her daughters a firsthand look at what working is like, something she said she believes could be a confidence builder for them later on.
"It's fun for me because we build and develop shopping centers, so my kids are very familiar with H-E-B and the retailers I work with," Prochaska said. "My kids go to shopping centers with me, and we go look at things that different shopping centers have and my daughter goes, 'My mommy builds shopping centers.' It's important that she understand what I am doing at work and that she is proud of it."
Gensler's Dana Hamdan
Gensler Design Manager Dana Hamdan did her best to keep it together early in the pandemic, raising two boys — one is now 5 and the other is 20 months — and working full time, sometimes from home and sometimes from the office or a worksite, while their father was in medical training in another state. But it was a challenge.
"I am a much more on the optimistic side and always see the glass half full, and I still was kind of pulling my hair out when back in April, we were sitting on this drive-by [a property check-in], and all of a sudden this thing pops up on my computer with the news saying the Dallas [County] judge announced we are going to go to the end of April working from home, and I literally burst into tears."
But Hamdan figured it out and ended up seeing many benefits from her time at home. Her sons get to see what mom does all day, giving her oldest son more perspective when she brings him to tour Gensler projects like the AT&T Discovery District.
Their peek into her work life doesn't always quite translate right.
"The funniest thing is we have our studio principal whose name is Barry, and my son loves The Flash and he heard me saying Barry one time and he said, 'You are talking to the Flash!'" Hamdan said.
Hamdan also gets to see what they're learning throughout the day.
"I do enjoy the visibility into their day to see what they are learning, how they are learning and how they interact with their teachers and all that kind of stuff," she said.
Though things were rough through the year, she said she took solace in knowing she wasn't alone in the struggle.
"I guess what made it easier is that everybody was in the same boat, so when you had to yell for your kid or tell your client or your teammate, 'just a second, I need to fix this on my kid's virtual learning,' they knew what I was talking about. That was kind of a saving grace."
Younger Partners' Traci Watson
Younger Partners property management team member Traci Watson has spent decades in commercial real estate, working on every side of the business. But in 2021 after the pandemic led to staffing cuts at her former company, Trammell Crow, she found herself juggling motherhood, a return to work when she obtained a new job in the property management side of Younger Partners and the numerous extracurricular activities her daughter, Katie Bible, participates in every week.
Twelve-year-old Katie participates in competitive dance, tumbling and gymnastics. She also attends a performing arts school and is a full-time job whether mom is working in the office or at home.
"She has the schedule of about three kids," Watson says. "I live my life on the road with this little girl."
Within a few months, Watson had to adapt to working from home while also watching her daughter convert all of her school and competitive dance training to an at-home environment.
"She did her dance classes online. She did her tumbling classes online, which means I bought and now have pretty much enough equipment in my house to create a home gym," Watson added.
Watson kept Katie home most of the year until the tween decided she had enough of at-home schooling.
"It wasn't until the fourth quarter when she said to me, 'You know what mom? We are going into STARR testing, and I really need to be in front of the teachers."
Watson said the benefit of working from home was that it gave her the ability to learn more about her growing daughter.
"Being at home with her allowed me to pick her brain a little bit, so every now and then, I would say wellness check: What do you think about school online? What do you think about your teachers? Do you feel like you are getting enough? Do you need some outdoor time?"
Even watching TV with her daughter at the same time brought mother and daughter closer.
"She has always been an open book ... [but] to give her the remote and say pick what you want and let's watch together, I learned a lot about her personality."
ESRP's Angelica Cofoid
Angelica Cofoid, vice president of marketing and communications at brokerage ESRP, is required to be an expert communicator in her field.
It's apparently a talent her daughter, Ellie, picked up from her mom — the 3-year-old learned all kinds of new words while mom dealt with the demands of working with technology at home.
"She learned a lot of new phrases," Cofoid said. "'Just a minute' and 'email.' There were other funny words that my husband and I would recognize and say 'maybe we say those too often to her' and then she started telling them to us."
Mom recorded all sorts of funny videos of Ellie during the pandemic. At times, Ellie was telling everyone she works so hard. Then Ellie was caught playing on her iPad, telling her mom her computer was not working.
"I know that was me [she learned that from] when my computer was not working, and I was stressing out and yelling at my computer. Then, she did that with her iPad."
When the pandemic hit and Angelica started working from home, Ellie was still in her terrible twos and decided in this new at-home environment, she was the boss.
"With toddlers, they don't sit still," Cofoid said. "They don't know how to do anything for themselves. They rely on us. During the pandemic, working from home definitely spotlighted the struggle that working parents go through, and then we felt the pains that educators and stay-at-home parents feel, too."
Cofoid's advice for other moms is to appreciate the moms who went before you and who have created the supportive environments sometimes needed to survive when taking care of growing children, particularly in a pandemic.
"I think I wouldn't feel as supported or understood in my role as a mom without our amazing company," Cofoid added. "We have two amazing female leaders, Sharon Morrison, our CEO, and Karra Guess, our CFO. They have been in my shoes, and they get it and they bring so much empathy and understanding to our company as a whole."
Younger Partners' Micah Ashford
During a pandemic is a hectic time to purchase retail properties, but Ashford started launching new deals right away while working from home near her two daughters: Addie and Anna Lee.
"As long as the WiFi held, it was good," Ashford said of working from home. "I definitely spent more time with my children this year than I have ever spent with them. It was very eye-opening. I think sometimes you get caught up in your job, and you don't pay as much attention to what's going on with them."
But this year changed everything, and the girls were able to squeeze in more quality time with mom.
"I know the way they communicate and share with me [now] is a lot more real time, and I am more relevant in their world because I pick them up at school every day and I take them to school every day because I work remotely a chunk of the time."
The teens are 14 and 15 and spending time with mom gave them a realistic picture of the world they'll be entering within the next decade. Both are now old enough to siphon real estate knowledge off mom if they choose the same field.
"I think they are beginning to understand how long things take," Ashford said. "Because I can say we have a deal under contract, and for the next 60 days, they are going to say to me every day or every other day, 'Did you get the deal closed?' I think it's opening their eyes to the fact that things take time — a lot of time."
Transwestern's Angela Heidman
Transwestern's Angela Heidman was a little bit thrilled when she learned she'd be working from home with her three grown and college-aged children: Katelyn, Hannah and Emily.
"2020 was one for the book! At first, I thought I would love working from home, all our grown and college-age children stuck at home with us because school and work were canceled," she said. "It was exciting to have all of us under one roof for longer than a weekend! Then reality set in."
Heidman said they found the house was too small for them to all comfortably be home together for more than 48 hours, and the WiFi wasn't sufficient to handle everyone at home and online at once, doing video calls, shopping online, or streaming television or workout programs.
"I mean when has anyone ever had to explain to a client or their boss that there is an Orangetheory class going on in the room next to you (happened daily in my house for the first month)," Heidman said.
Even though Heidman learned she is a people person and looks forward to being in the office again, she loved spending large doses of time with her daughters, especially since this amount of time together may never be repeated again, given their passages into adulthood.
"All in all, the pandemic turned into a blessing for our family. We were able to mourn the loss of a family member together, we found out we do enjoy just hanging out together and we all saw how boring life would be without WORK!"
As for what her daughters learned about her workday: "I guess they might have learned that I really do work and I don’t just sit at a desk and online shop all day!" Heidman said.
Dowdle Real Estate's Lynn Dowdle
Dowdle Real Estate President Lynn Dowdle is not yet the matriarch of her family. That honor still belongs to her 92-year-old mother.
"She is just motivated to be here, and she is the matriarch of our family, and she just kind of keeps everybody corraled if you will," Dowdle said. "She is a very strong and independent woman. My dad passed away almost three years ago, and she is just carrying on."
But, the hospitality site selection expert is a doting mother of two grown adult children and an adoring grandmother with another grandbaby on the way.
She loves them dearly, but just don't call her 'Grandma.' It's Lolly for short.
"They say the greatest reward is when you have grandbabies, and my goal with Griffin is to help him find the value in nature because I love nature," Dowdle said. "So whenever we can we go out, we listen to the birds and we do things that mom and dad don't have time to do right now. That is the payback for raising two kids. Now, I get to have quality time with my grandbabies."
Griffin is the son of Lynn's son, Joe Dowdle, an executive in Austin working within JLL's Capital Markets Group. She also has a daughter, Kelly, and a daughter-in-law (whom she considers a daughter) in Jaclyn.
Grandmothering during the pandemic brought Dowdle joy and opportunities to make countless memories in a short period of time.
"It was a huge reset for all of us," Dowdle said. "At the beginning of the pandemic, I was able to spend a lot of time with all of my kids ... just quality time I wouldn't have ever had with them prior to [the pandemic]. We all commented that we were really grateful for the time we had together. It was a couple of weeks at a time sometimes, and we would have never done that before."
With Dowdle's favorite pastime being with family, the pandemic brought her many helpful reminders.
"I think [working in CRE] is about priorities," she said. "And, I always think of that saying, 'when you are on your death bed nobody talks about how many hours they spent at the office.' It's really just about family and friends and quality time [with them]."
M2G Ventures Co-Founder Susan Miller Gruppi
Susan Miller Gruppi keeps busy developing mixed-use office projects and revitalizing Fort Worth neighborhoods as co-founder of M2G Ventures. She also is a mom to a 3-year-old girl, Elliott, and a seven-week-old baby boy named Benjamin.
"I am fresh off the press coming back from maternity leave," Gruppi told Bisnow.
Gruppi spent the past year working at home with her toddler in tow and preparing to have a new baby while M2G Ventures maintained its speedy development schedule opening and signing tenants to the Bogart on Ross mixed-use office project in Dallas and moving ahead with other CRE projects.
"Shockingly, in a worldwide pandemic, we have been blessed with a lot of growth for our company, and so really I spent a lot of time working," Gruppi said. "But once I had the baby, I had the opportunity to spend some time home with my 3-year-old too and that's a blessing."
Gruppi and her sister and co-developer Jessica Miller Essl maintain an office that is always full-speed ahead, but also family-focused.
"We have an interesting dynamic in that we are co-presidents, and she took on the 100% CEO hat so I could go and spend time with my family and do maternity leave," Gruppi said.
Gruppi has no horror stories from working through the pandemic, but she did realize working from home with a baby is more difficult than dealing with a 3-year-old.
"I made the joke to all of my male colleagues that are dads, too, 'Do you follow your wife around with the baby?' We are on the phone. We are working. Don't follow us around with the baby," Gruppi said. "It's much harder to work with a newborn at home than it is a 3-year-old because newborns need mom or want mom, so that was much harder."
Her advice on juggling motherhood, CRE and a pandemic? Be willing to gracefully give up something and don't beat yourself up over it.
"If you are a working mom, something has to give and at any point in time, you are not going to be giving your best to something and you have to be OK with that," she said. "You just have to decide what your priorities are in that given moment and those priorities can shift hourly."
CORRECTION, MAY 7, 9:15 A.M. CT: A previous version of the story incorrectly spelled Dana Hamdan's last name. The story has been updated.