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Denver Power Women: 5 Questions With Developer Susan Maxwell

This limited series profiles Power Women who have helped shape metro Denver's cities, neighborhoods, businesses and lifestyles. These women will be honored at Bisnow's Denver Power Women event on Dec. 5.

Zocalo Community Development principal and Chief Operating Officer Susan Maxwell is responsible for the day-to-day operation of Zocalo Community Development, a development company that focuses on green, mixed-use, mixed-income development and affordable housing. Maxwell leads interior design, common area uses, and branding and marketing for new developments. She is integral in the acquisition and development planning for Zocalo’s future developments, working directly with equity partners.

Zocalo Community Development principal and Chief Operating Officer Susan Maxwell, second from left, with her husband, Tom, daughter Lauren, grandson Marshall and son-in-law Justin

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

Maxwell: Zocalo Community Development is a boutique Denver-based development firm. We develop green, mixed-use and mixed-income multifamily, planet-friendly projects that support residents and communities in the pursuit of their aspirations. Zocalo is fully integrated between development, construction and operations. My role is to support and execute the vision of our CEO, David Zucker, while overseeing our corporate and property operations. During development, I approve the interior design, common area uses, marketing and branding of our communities.

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

Maxwell: Balancing resources during times of business growth can be very difficult. Moving from an entrepreneurial mindset to an enterprise model is additionally challenging. We worked with a strategic business growth specialist who coached us to understanding the likely growth strategies that we’ll encounter. Through this work we were able to understand transition zones between growth phases, the necessary changing focus of the CEO, [chief operating officer and chief development officer] and the action steps to make these transitions successful, all while being transparent about growth challenges and opportunities with our entire company. These efforts created leadership accountability. 

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

Maxwell: Have transparent goals with actionable strategies. Provide a road map to ensure all people have access to leadership connections, equal pay and consideration for open positions, and mentoring programs for junior women in the organization.

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

Maxwell: Stay curious. Ask a lot of questions and say YES! when called upon for special projects. Even if you are not completely comfortable, you will always learn something and executive leaders will recognize a collaborative spirit.

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

Maxwell: Family time is very important to me; being around those I love adds deposits into my emotional bank account. I also love to garden. Digging in the dirt, seeing the perennials come up in the spring and planting over 100 annuals each year is therapeutic for me. It may sound funny to some, but deadheading plants clears my head. 

Meet Zocalo Community Development Principal and Chief Operating Officer Susan Maxwell at Bisnow's Power Women event Dec. 5 in Denver.