2008 was a difficult year for architects who specialize in rollout retail projects. But for Dimple Manghani, that year also opened up a world of new opportunities.
Manghani was one of the key figures that pushed MBH Architects to diversify its portfolio to include luxury retail, medical, workspace, fitness, banks and shopping centers following the Great Recession.
In 2019, Manghani’s name was called again as MBH expanded into the Denver market. She opened the office with a team of three and has since expanded her team to 15 people. Manghani expects the team to continue growing as MBH expands its expertise in affordable housing and mixed-use development.
“I feel a deep sense of accomplishment at not only spearheading the launch of the MBH Denver office but also being able to pivot when needed, to obtain new clients as well as support teams to grow our existing client base into the region,” Manghani said.
Manghani said one thing that has helped MBH grow exponentially is that the team is willing to “check their egos at the door” for the greater benefit of the company and its clients.
“I strive to impress that philosophy through my actions and influence the next generation of leaders to lead not just with a strong mind but also with a whole lot of heart,” Manghani said.
When Nicole Laiho joined Peak Engineering more than two decades ago, she said it was just a job. But in the time since, Laiho said Peak Engineering has become a home away from home.
Laiho owns a 50% share of the company and said she is responsible for looking after the legacy of the company’s founders. Part of that legacy is to find better ways to build boxes through collaboration, she said. That means spending a lot of time with contractors going over plans and designs to figure out the best way forward for a project.
“It is a lot of fun to be able to drive down the road and point to all the buildings I've designed over the years, but it is the people I've worked with that make it really special,” Laiho said.
Laiho said she wants to continue to see Peak Engineering grow and thrive. She said she also wants to grow the relationships she has built within the engineering and construction community and help younger engineers realize the power of building relationships.
“So often, engineers just focus on the project and the end result,” Laiho said. “They forget to foster and nurture the relationships with their peers and clients. There is a lot to be learned by listening and being open to collaboration.”
Krista Sprenger says she has always embraced the chance to create transformative spaces that go beyond conventional expectations. That was true when she was an independent developer, an executive at Australia-based real estate firm Lendlease and now as an executive at McWhinney in Denver.
One aspect of her work that Sprenger said she is particularly proud of is her emphasis on creative placemaking and sustainable development practices.
“By focusing on designing spaces that foster community, inspire collaboration and prioritize environmental stewardship, I aim to create a lasting legacy that not only enhances the built environment but also improves the well-being of the people who inhabit those spaces,” Sprenger said.
She said real estate has the power to shape communities and impact lives. That is why she plans to spend the rest of her career creating great projects and developing great people. That effort includes creating diverse teams and pushing them to achieve ambitious goals, Sprenger said.
“By nurturing the talent of my teams and empowering them to think outside the box, it’s my hope that our collaborative efforts deliver some of the industry's most innovative and progressive projects,” Sprenger said.
Susan Chong has a long track record of success in Denver’s luxury real estate market. In 2019, she opened Iconique Real Estate, a firm dedicated to serving the city’s growing condominium and luxury leasing markets.
Before opening her own firm in the heart of River North, one of Denver’s trendiest places, Chong was the sales leader at two of Denver’s largest condominium projects: The Coloradan at 1750 Wewatta St. and Spire at 491 14th St. That experience showed Chong the importance of providing excellent service to her clients, a lesson that she carries with her today.
“I loved selling high-rise developments, as it creates a community,” Chong said.
Chong has also done her part to elevate more women to leadership roles in Denver’s real estate market. When she launched Iconique, she hired real estate veteran Stacey Zynen as Iconique’s operations director and Ashton White to be the firm’s lead broker.
Going forward, Chong said she wants to continue to grow and develop, both personally and professionally. She also wants to become more active in the real estate development space and offer housing as a long-term investment to her clients.
If Marsh McLennan Senior Director of Sustainability Shea Jameel’s career could be described as a color, that color would be green.
Jameel is passionate about pushing the real estate industry to be more environmentally conscious and promoting green technologies. But being considered a sustainability advocate hasn’t always been easy.
“When I started down this path, I heard a lot of 'nos' when advocating for sustainability,” Jameel said. “I persisted, and now the industry recognizes sustainability initiatives are a must-have to remain relevant.”
Jameel said one of her proudest accomplishments is helping Marsh McLennan earn its first WELL Building Standard certification, which measures the impact of the built environment on human health and wellness.
“This accomplishment really means a lot to me because we spend so much time indoors, and it shows that our spaces can help us be healthier and happier,” Jameel said.
Now, Jameel said she is mentoring future real estate leaders to chart their own path in the industry like she did. Jameel said she is also looking forward to continuing her efforts to achieve a net-zero built environment. She also wants to scale the use of building materials that have low embodied carbon.
“It has been amazing to witness the shift and be a part of it,” Jameel said.
Moving from project management to leadership in the real estate industry wasn’t as easy as CBRE’s Laura Kucharczyk hoped it would be.
Even after working on notable deals like Xcel Energy’s lease in the 1800 Larimer St. office building or CoBank’s 275K SF lease in a Greenwood Village office, Kucharczyk told Bisnow there were times that she had to step out of her comfort zone to get that next big promotion or pay raise.
Like a lot of other women in the industry, Kucharczyk also said she has had to make some tough career choices and changes. Sometimes that meant being confrontational or self-promoting, but in the end, it all paid off, she said.
“Now I get to advocate and promote others in our industry, which is so much easier, more fun and so much more rewarding,” Kucharczyk said.
While her ultimate goal is still total world domination, she said half-jokingly, Kucharczyk added that she is focused on bringing more women into the upper echelons of the real estate industry, which is still dominated by men. Those efforts include helping to grow her team at CBRE, fostering new relationships and helping people advance.
“As long as I'm having fun, feel like I'm adding value and doing something rewarding, I think growth will continue naturally,” Kucharczyk said.
Rebecca Stone became an architect when there were few women in the real estate businesses, much less in a profession that required advanced mathematics skills.
In the nearly three decades since, Stone has become a mainstay on OZ’s resort development team. At age 38, Stone was promoted to managing partner of the 150-person firm and has since participated in the master-planning process for nearly every resort community across the western U.S.
“I enjoy big, complex, innovative and collaborative projects that expand our outdoor industry,” Stone said.
Stone’s attachment to resort projects stems from her time in graduate school at Cornell University when Stone and one of her friends would work at Colorado’s Keystone resort during the winter. The two lived at the Timber Ridge Outpost Lodge and would routinely put down the first tracks on North Peak, she said. At night, the two worked as hostesses for night skiing at the Der Fondue Chessel. Stone added that this experience was why she moved to Colorado after finishing grad school.
Going forward, Stone said she is excited to continue mentoring young architects and interior designers about the rigors of the business. She also wants to see the Kindred Resort project at Keystone finished before she retires.
“I work a lot and am blessed to have found a career that is also a very creative hobby,” Stone said. “Often, the design process does not feel like work, but fun and fulfilling.”
Avison Young’s Dawn McCombs knows what it feels like to be the only woman in the room. Not only does she have a background in construction and engineering, traditionally male-dominated fields, but she is also one of just a handful of women who represent industrial properties in Denver.
“As a female, I've had to blaze my way and navigate the industry with dignity and grace,” McCombs said. “I made the decision to focus and become an expert in only one asset class, and over the years, I've earned the respect and, in some cases, the friendships of my male counterparts.”
Climbing her way to the top wasn’t an easy journey either. McCombs said her secret weapon was her “singular focus on the industrial brokerage service line” that separates her from other industrial real estate professionals. That focus is one reason she has been able to amass a client list that ranges from small local businesses and regional companies to national firms and large national investors.
In 2021, all of McCombs' hard work paid off when she was nominated by NAIOP as one of the top-producing industrial specialists in Denver. She said earning that nomination was a goal from when she entered the industry in 2005.
McCombs said she wants to eventually earn the title of being the top industrial producer in the Mile High City and is also looking to partner with developers for more personal investing opportunities. She also wants to mentor young women in commercial real estate and pass along some of the lessons she has learned over the years.
Mortenson Senior Vice President Maja Rosenquist has been at the forefront of the movement to get more women into commercial real estate over the last 15 years.
“The construction industry has been lacking in female operational leadership for as long as it has been in existence,” Rosenquist said. “I've been able to pave a path for large commercial construction that I hope many women are able to follow in the future.”
She has already seen her company achieve a modicum of success toward this end, as Mortenson’s staff is made up of about 30% women, Rosenquist said. However, she added that the progress has been primarily driven by hiring white women, a trend she hopes to change.
“I'd like to see similar progress with women and all people of color being better represented within our industry,” Rosenquist said.
When she isn't working in commercial real estate, Rosenquist said she can be found traveling across Colorado, sampling local food and wine. She is still getting used to the mountains after growing up in Washington near Puget Sound. But she is falling more in love with the Rockies each day, she said.
When she isn't pedaling her bicycle around the city, you can find Studio K2’s Geneva Kowalski leading meetings of the Women in Design Denver group, a consortium of commercial real estate professionals working to expand job opportunities for women in the industry.
Women in Design, or WID, has a national membership base that gives members a chance to connect with women across different disciplines. Kowalski said this setup is important for fostering a team atmosphere, which she sees as a critical component of success in commercial real estate.
Outside of her work, Kowalski is also a new mother, a yoga teacher and an avid athlete.
“I’m fortunate to have the support of my partner in the firm, Kevin Koernig, and continue to work to show others in our firm and in the industry that collaboration, mutual respect and work flexibility can help women advance,” Kowalski said.
One of her main goals is to improve Denver’s alternative transit networks to make them safer and more interconnected. She is also passionate about lifting up women in commercial real estate and helping them find leadership positions.
“I hope to continue to encourage young people to learn more about the opportunities in architecture and urban design and be a voice for women pursuing leadership roles within their own respective firms,” Kowalski said.
Heather Boelens is passionate about helping women succeed in the commercial real estate industry.
As the first female partner in Bryan Cave’s history, Boelens says she solidified her position as a leader in the industry through diligent training and education in real estate acquisition, disposition, finance, development and leasing “of virtually every asset class.”
Boelens has also participated in multiple industry panels on expanding female representation and spearheaded a national mentorship program and first-year associate training program for women in real estate.
“I take pride in my journey of achieving self-made success, attaining the position of partner at my firm and becoming a leader in the real estate industry at my firm and on a national scale,” Boelens said.
When she’s not in the office, Boelens said she enjoys traveling “anywhere and everywhere and creating lasting memories along the way.” She also knows a thing or two about raising farm animals after growing up on a farm in rural Illinois. If asked nicely, she might even recite the 4-H pledge.
Meredeth Wenskoski took a huge risk in 2016. At the time, she was 35 years old and a principal and managing partner at one of the country’s largest architecture and landscape design firms. To some people, Wenskoski was at the apex of her career. But she wanted a bigger challenge addressing issues related to access to parks, improving health equity and addressing resiliency.
So Wenskoski founded Livable Cities Studio, an urban design, planning and landscape architecture studio that she said “discovers innovative ways communities can interact with their natural environment while addressing equity.”
Today, Wenskoski said Livable Cities Studio has “upended” the urban planning and landscape design process by centering its clients’ social and experiential goals on delivering projects that “resonate with the surrounding community and culture.” One example that Wenskoski pointed to was the Sun Valley Riverfront Park, which is part of the overall revitalization of Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood.
“The park celebrates the many cultures of the community and provides space for families to gather and children to play,” Wenskoski said.
Wenskoski said she wants to spend more time mentoring female architects and landscape designers. She said she hopes this effort will increase the number of leadership positions occupied by female designers, as the industry is still dominated by men. She also said she wants to apply Livable Cities Studio’s model to affordable and mixed-income housing projects to “provide a sense of belonging and opportunity for those who find the community home.”
“Design needs the perspectives of many, and women and people of color have a critical voice in shaping our cities and community spaces,” Wenskoski said.
Mina McCullom is on a mission to change the narrative about women of color in engineering.
As a Fortune 500-trained leader and former aerospace engineer, McCullom said she has learned a lot about problem-solving, inspiring her employees and employing quality control functions to achieve the best results possible. She said she takes the same approach to all facets of her career, whether she is coaching a new employee or working with a developer to design HVAC systems that lower energy consumption while meeting return on investment.
McCullom said one of the biggest accomplishments of her career was when she was highlighted as the engineer of record for the Denver International Airport Great Hall Project, one of the largest vertical construction projects in the county. She said the spotlight was a “historical moment for a marketing campaign to focus on a Black woman in engineering.”
“Many younger women and people of color contacted me and told me that they were proud to see there are diverse engineers working on high-profile projects,” McCullom said.
McCullom isn’t done lifting her voice yet either. She still wants to join a corporate board of directors and make other organizations more competitive through “diversity of thought,” she said.
Laci Knowles is a trailblazer because she is unapologetically herself and strives to create an environment where people around her feel comfortable being themselves.
Knowles also works in finance, a male-dominated field even within the broader real estate development context. She describes herself as an expert in debt obligations secured by complex revenue streams, including tax increment financing and revenue-sharing arrangements between special districts and local governments.
But Knowles said she wouldn’t have been able to become a trailblazer without the help she received from colleagues and friends along the way. That is one reason she still takes time to have pep talks with new associates in her office or explain deals in “excruciating detail” to her clients to help them think more like a banker, she said.
“My greatest source of pride is when someone in our industry calls for advice on a tough decision, whether personal or professional, because they know that I genuinely care about them and a decision that affects a life,” Knowles said.
Knowles said she wants to continue forging new relationships and stay true to herself by challenging societal expectations and charging bravely toward her goals.
“It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, but I can’t think of a greater accomplishment in my career, as a human on the Earth, as a wife, as a mother or in any other space I fill over the course of a day,” Knowles said.
Karen Landers Zeile has three keys to success: kindness, integrity and staying true to yourself.
She said those principles have been instrumental to her more than 25 years of success in commercial real estate and helped her become a key part of Kentwood’s expansion into the commercial sector in 2017.
Before Kentwood’s expansion, Landers Zeile was the firm’s only agent in Denver. That experience helped her develop expertise with multifamily, industrial, office and retail assets. She also has a deep background in financial analysis reporting, market research and development, all of which she said have helped her navigate the various market cycles that she has encountered over her career.
“It's been a wild ride for sure,” Landers Zeile said.
Now that Landers Zeile has reached the pinnacle of Denver’s commercial market, she said she wants to continue mentoring young professionals, especially women in commercial real estate. She also wants to continue her world travels with her friends and family.
“I love hearing about other people's dreams of the future, and I want to help them achieve those dreams,” Landers Zeile said.
Angela Fletcher’s real estate career spans more than three decades and has taken her from a real estate broker all the way to the upper echelons of Denver’s government.
This wide-ranging experience has helped Fletcher develop a deep understanding of affordable housing development. She holds professional certifications as a tax credit specialist, a public housing manager, a housing development finance professional and more.
Now, Fletcher is the director of housing management at the Denver Housing Authority, where she is responsible for managing the city’s affordable housing complexes and ensuring that the properties meet the needs of their residents.
“I have a passion for housing, and I care about the people who need housing,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher has also spent considerable time leading professional boards such as the Apartment Association of Metro Denver and the Affordable Housing Management Association – Rocky/AHMA. She is also involved with the Institute of Real Estate Management.
When Fletcher isn’t in the office, you can usually find her spending time with her family or reading a good book. She is also an avid sports fan and watches boxing matches, track and field meets, and basketball games.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance has always been a key to Becky Callan Gamble’s success.
Callan Gamble has led Dean Callan & Co. for more than 30 years, using her knowledge of the Boulder market to establish long-term relationships with commercial clients ranging from pension funds to national tenants and local companies.
Callan Gamble is also a mother of two who enjoys riding her bicycle up to Flagstaff with her husband whenever possible. She also has two grandpuppies that need attention, and she is an avid fan of the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
Callan Gamble hopes to continue leading her company’s growth and eventually transition leadership responsibilities to Callan’s third generation.
“I’m proud of helping pave the way for younger women to see commercial real estate as an option, but also for working moms to see that work-life balance is possible,” Callan Gamble said.