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Taking Chances, Being A Mentor, Embracing Difference: Insights From Denver's Top Female CRE Execs

Some of the most prominent and pioneering women in Denver’s real estate sector say they happened into the industry, rather than originally pursuing it as a career.

“I didn’t want to go into real estate. I had no interest and didn’t know anything about it,” Marilee Utter, president of Citiventure Associates, told attendees at Bisnow’s second annual Denver Women Leading Real Estate awards on Wednesday at the Galleria at Cherry Creek.

Curate Workplace’s Morgan Hoddes-Flores, Iconique Real Estate’s Susan Chong, Citiventure Associate’s Marilee Utter, Rockefeller Group’s Kerry Joannides, RSM US’ Lauren Geddes, Cushman & Wakefield’s Elizabeth Osborne

Utter, who started out as a high school math teacher, summarized her professional journey as being more of a “career jungle gym” than a career path.

She went back to school, got an MBA, became a banker, decided she “didn’t really want to be a banker” and was told that the city of Denver was looking for someone to work in real estate.

That referral ended up with her working for the city and county as a mayoral appointee and commissioner of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority. In that role, she helped to resolve some of the city’s bigger real estate and development issues.

“It was an amazing experience,” Utter said. “Real estate became a mechanism to change the world. I decided I would never again work without a mission of building a better community.”

Other panelists had similar stories about falling into real estate. They also talked about the importance of having mentors in the industry and eventually becoming mentors themselves to the next generation of both men and women in the CRE sector.

Having an experienced mentor early on in her career “really showed me … that you can be a female developer and you can really make an impact right here in Denver,” said Susan Chong, principal broker at Iconique Real Estate.

Kerry Joannides, director for the Rockefeller Group’s Rocky Mountain Region, said she was fortunate to have several mentors in her career. She described an “aha” moment she had with one of them while working on a particularly intimidating project where she was doubting herself.

“He said, ‘That is exactly why I brought you into this project. I handpicked you to have a contrarian thought,’” she remembered. “That was so pivotal for me. That advice really carried me all the way through to today. And I try to give that same advice. Just embrace your strength, embrace your difference.”

Bisnow's 2024 Denver Women Leading Real Estate honorees

The event celebrated 12 women for their exceptional mentorship and 12 extraordinary young professionals in Denver CRE. Click here to see profiles of some of the honorees.

Lauren Fry, sales manager for Denver Commercial Properties Services, was among those named a Rising Star of the Year.

Fry also began on a different career path, working in finance in Chicago. She moved to Denver six years ago and joined CRE, and she said women are a growing and important part of the sector.

“There are so many female leaders here,” she told Bisnow. “There are women that have been a part of this industry and have had major positive impacts on our Denver communities. That being said, there’s always more room.”

Fry’s advice to young women looking to enter the industry is to connect with other women.

“Find other female peers in your network who do what you’re doing or are trying to do what you’re doing, and saddle up to them,” she said. “It’s not ‘misery loves company,’ but if you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, how do you know if you’re doing things right or wrong?”

Fry said she is inspired by stories of female leaders in Denver fighting for their success.

“As I’m sitting there listening to the other women speak on the panel, something that kept popping in my head was, ‘these women have no fear,’” she said. “Or they might have fear, but they don’t let it stop them. Make mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen no matter what, but go for what you want.”