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Weekend Interview: Vigavi Realty Principal Christen Vestal

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.

Christen Vestal, a partner at Vigavi Realty and one of Houston's only female industrial leaders, is passionate about The Office, Texas, the commercial real estate industry and the importance of taking — not waiting for — leadership opportunities.

"The biggest mistake I made as a young professional was waiting on the sidelines, waiting for someone to come along and give me the power to lead," said Vestal, a 2021 Bisnow Houston Power Woman who hopes to complete 1M SF in transactions this year. "Do not wait for someone to tell you to lead, it will never happen. Start leading right where you are."

For Vestal, leadership is synonymous with consistency and being a person of her word. It's also, she said, about pulling others up and opening doors for other women in the industry.

 The following has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Christen Vestal with husband Reed and son Baron in Winter Park, Colorado.

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way. 

Vestal: There are two philosophies I live by, and these apply not just to business, but to any relationship. First is consistency; you have to be consistent. This is vitally important. If you are not consistent, people won't know if they can depend on you. Second is honoring your word. Your words are all you have. Your words shape everything in your life! If you do not like your life or your relationships, look at your words.

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now? 

Vestal: I used to think being a leader meant you had to have a big title where you managed lots of people under you, but that is not at all what a leader is. Anyone can be a leader in any position. I have been influenced by the CEO of companies I have worked for just as much as I have been influenced by the receptionist.

Being a leader is no longer just leading the direction/decisions a company is making. It is influencing the people around you and pulling people up: Help people with their careers and life just as others have helped me.

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Vestal: The role of a CEO is to take care of their employees and the fiduciary duties of the business, but never compromising either one. I'm a strong believer in making every project a team effort. Each person contributes and when the company wins, the employees should win. That is how you build a strong business.

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Vestal: I have always had the desire to lead a company. Even as a kid when I would watch movies, I always wanted to be the business person, the one running the company, the leader. I always connected with the characters who were strong business people. It is something I enjoy.

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Vestal: The biggest mistake I made as a young professional was waiting on the sidelines, waiting for someone to come along and give me the power to lead. No one gives you the right or the power to lead, it is something you have and take. Do not wait for someone to tell you to lead, it will never happen. Start leading right where you are. Take the initiative, take action and do what you can where you are! 

Christen Vestal at the Abilene Stock Show with Cheeseburger, a cow bred for showing.

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Vestal: Since the pandemic, I have contemplated a lot about how to work efficiently [and] if being in the office is the most productive solution. I have gone full circle, from believing working remote was just as efficient as being in the office to now believing it is not. I have experienced many co-workers and many of our consultants whose work quality has degraded.

At the beginning of the pandemic, working remotely was filling a need, but there is nothing like face-to-face communication. This pandemic has further strengthened my belief in face-to-face communication, and now I seek it out in all my interactions when possible.

Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?

Vestal: Being a woman in commercial real estate, specifically industrial real estate, I'm keenly aware that I'm the minority. However, I'm a strong believer in not letting that fact be a racket in my head or something that I bring with me to any interaction. By not bringing this into my interactions with the people I work with, and by leading in this way, I hope it opens the doors for other women into our industry.

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning? 

Vestal: Climate change is a global problem that we, as someone living on this planet, should make an effort to help change in any way we can. We have an annual "Green Day" in which we go to one of our current parks or developments and plant over 150 trees each year as our commitment to the planet.

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?

Vestal: We are not perfect here in Texas, but I really could not think of something we get wrong, I can, however, think of so many things we get right.

One thing I love about our industry is everyone's willingness to share information and help each other. Competition is fierce here; however, everyone is always supportive of each other and always willing to help! How fortunate we are to be in an industry like that!

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why? 

Vestal: CRE is a cyclical industry and each asset class has its time to shine. Industrial, by far, is the shining star and will be for the next five years. Pre-pandemic, industrial real estate was doing well due to e-commerce, but the pandemic accelerated this asset class. When e-commerce sales started soaring during the pandemic, this had a direct effect on warehouses. The demand for warehouse in Houston is higher than it has ever been. We have doubled the demand in one year, and e-commerce sales have not peaked. As long as e-commerce continues to grow, the demand for industrial warehouse will follow. 

Christen Vestal with son Baron in a carefree moment.

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Vestal: There are so many good books, articles and TedTalks. It is hard to pinpoint one, but there are a few that stand out.

The book Pitch Anything is one of my all-time favorites, I have read it three times and I always find something new. This is a great book for anyone looking to become better at their negotiating and pitching skills. It provides you with a true understanding of not just how to approach this topic, but why humans respond to certain types of interaction.

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Vestal: The Office, hands down. It is one of the only shows on television that has no violence, drugs [or] sex and still has great humor. I can watch it over and over and still laugh.

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Vestal: During the week, I work hard and focus my time on my career. So when the weekends come, I make it my job to spend quality time with my kids, focusing solely on them and being present.