Ashley Araño said she sees a downturn as an opportunity for the finance sector to shine by providing tools and expertise to help others weather the storm and emerge stronger than before.
Araño leads Prosperity Enterprise Funding, which offers creative solutions to financial challenges, including for foreign investors who might find it daunting to navigate the complexities of financing in a new country.
Araño said she is determined to continue her company’s growth, both its size and the scope of its services. Her overarching career aspiration is to be recognized for effecting positive, lasting change within the industry. Outside of work, Araño loves to spend quality time with her family traveling, exploring and creating memories.
Kristin Burton knew from an early age that she loved math, and she discovered her enjoyment of real estate finance while earning a master’s of real estate from Texas A&M University.
She began her career in banking with Washington Mutual and also worked as a real estate banker at JPMorgan Chase. There, she financed multiple corporate and project-level transactions for Greystar before moving over to work for Greystar directly. Burton credits her mentors and co-workers for teaching and inspiring her, and she said she hopes to do the same for the next generation of workers.
Having gone through the Global Financial Crisis, Burton said she knows that real estate is cyclical and the downturns can become a time to learn, better understand the industry and celebrate small wins.
Burton enjoys traveling, skiing, scuba diving, cooking and spending time with her husband and four children.
Marilynne Clark credits the start of her career in the commercial real estate industry to a female mentor.
After Clark graduated from Wake Forest University during a real estate slump, the Appraisal Institute guided her to a position at Bach Thoreen & Associates where Paula Thoreen trained her in real estate appraisal. Now at Colliers, Clark provides financial analysis to the company's leasing and investment sales teams for a wide array of asset types.
Clark takes pride in her proficiency at constructing financial models that empower clients to make well-informed decisions and have led to several major deals, including the refinancing of The Galleria in the 1990s.
Clark’s community involvement includes serving as a founding board member of CREW Houston and chair of university relations for CoreNet Houston where she works in collaboration with the University of Houston, Texas A&M University and Rice University.
Clark said she finds fulfillment in interacting with students and guiding them on their journeys within the real estate industry. When she’s not working, Clark enjoys watching live music, particularly blues, gardening, hiking and spending time with her standard poodle.
Cortney Cole said she is proud of the path that led her to become one of the only female senior managing directors in JLL’s capital market teams, though she credits pure luck for initially drawing her into the sector.
Needing a job after earning a psychology degree, she joined JLL’s predecessor company, HFF, as an administrative assistant and was afforded many opportunities to advance within the firm.
Cole said she feels a responsibility to leverage her position to support the advancement of other qualified women and to help them reach their potential. She never says no to a mentorship opportunity and is involved in a number of organizations, including CREW, ULI and CoreNet. During this downturn, she instills in younger staffers that it's important to use the time to connect with clients, prospects and peers in the industry.
Cole enjoys traveling. Galveston and Mexico are her favorite quick getaway destinations, but she also enjoys extended trips overseas.
Kristi Conway said she was drawn to the finance sector because it allows her to get out of the office, work with different people and build long-term relationships with clients, who she enjoys watching grow and succeed.
Despite a real estate downturn, Texas is growing in population and residents still need places to live and shop, Conway said. That means developers are still seeking loans for new projects, though Conway added they require more equity due to higher interest rates.
Moving forward in her career, Conway said she hopes to learn more about different real estate classes she has not historically handled, including build-to-rent housing.
Conway has a 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son who keep her busy outside of work. She enjoys watching sports of all kinds, including Little League baseball, girls soccer, the Houston Astros and University of Texas Longhorns.
Danielle Davis has been working in the banking industry since high school, beginning by securing an internship working in the retail branch of Bank One.
Twenty-two years later with JPMorgan Chase, Davis supports diverse-owned businesses, helping them access the resources needed to scale and grow today and over the long term. She said the opportunity to utilize finance resources to help people shape their futures is “deeply rewarding work,” and her connection with clients keeps her motivated.
Looking ahead, Davis said she hopes to have an impact on younger employees at her firm. After having people advocate for her throughout her career, she is aiming to return the favor.
Outside of the office, Davis enjoys visiting new restaurants and new countries. She has been to 18 countries so far.
As a child working as a cashier at her father’s store, Janie Franco discovered her passion for numbers and money. Now with Wan Bridge Group, Franco has grown her team threefold over the past year while continuing to get new loan deals approved despite a tough market.
Franco said she is not one to shy away from a challenge, and she views today's market landscape as one more opportunity to find new ways to navigate financing needs and keep business moving forward. Regular communication and team-building is important to Franco and her team, as is taking breaks to enjoy each other’s company with monthly lunches, weekly happy hours and a recent Halloween costume contest, in which her team won first place.
Franco said she is excited to continue educating herself on all aspects of finance and accounting within the real estate industry while building a team that supports one another and the business. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and outings to watch University of Texas football.
The first residential mortgage company that Marion Green worked for went bankrupt, but that didn’t slow her down.
Green moved to the commercial side, found it more rewarding and went on to help CBRE build its Freddie Mac seller servicer platform. She has helped build her department from four people and $750M in closings 23 years ago to more than 30 people and $21B in its best year by hiring and retaining a diverse, multifaceted, strong talent base. Green has also helped implement a team structure in which everyone takes ownership in the deal.
During trying times, Green encourages personal and professional development. Her team is providing additional training on various aspects of capital markets and leadership. Staff is also taking external classes to enhance their knowledge of real estate outside the realm of their usual responsibilities.
Green said she finds it hard to sit still for long, which has brought her to the top of Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, Machu Picchu, Patagonia and the Walker’s Haute Route. As she plans her 2024 treks, she can be found in the gym starting at 4:30 a.m. She enjoys gardening and skiing in her time off.
A chance encounter with a Banc One recruiter on the Washington and Lee University campus led Ashley Grigsby to her career in capital markets, and she still carries the knowledge she gained at Banc One from co-workers who grew up in Houston CRE in the late 1980s.
Grisby went on to be the second woman president of NAIOP’s Houston chapter, but she admits she still faces learning curves and challenges.
Every downturn in CRE is different, and distress today is very different from the Global Financial Crisis, she said, adding that this time around, the underlying performance of all real estate assets, apart from office, is generally strong. Each cycle requires creativity, though, which keeps Grigsby inspired.
Grigsby said she hopes to bring more women into CRE finance roles. Outside of the office, she makes the most of her time with family and friends, traveling and playing tennis, pickleball and mahjong.
The combination of being analytical and numbers-driven while also having a creative side makes Miranda Hadamik’s position at Caldwell Cos. a perfect match. Putting pieces of a puzzle together to make a deal pencil, especially in a more challenging environment, gets her up in the morning.
Hadamik said she enjoys seeing how her position impacts the community. One deal that stands out is The Boardwalk at Towne Lake, a mixed-use project Hadamik described as a labor of blood, sweat and tears. But today, watching families boat to dinner, children playing on the green area and diners enjoying meals on patios of lakefront restaurants, it's effort she said she doesn't regret. She said she is also proud of starting Caldwell’s coworking brand, The Work Well.
Outside of the office, Hadamik can usually be found traveling or spending time with her husband, Brad, and their three children, especially in Colorado. She also enjoys photography and golf.
Providing capital for businesses to offer services, produce goods and pay their employees is what drew Ifeoma Harper to a sector that helps keep the economy humming.
In addition to serving the business world, Harper spends time after hours serving the rest of the community. She chairs the board for the Today's Youth nonprofit organization, serves in a key role for the Black Executive Leadership Team at Bank of America and frequently participates in speaking engagements designed to motivate at-risk youth, students, women and disadvantaged populations.
As she progresses in her career, Harper said she plans to leverage her experience to continue introducing cutting-edge organizational initiatives, fostering a work environment that values diversity and inclusion, empowering team members to reach their full potential and making a positive impact on her community.
Harper loves traveling with her family, trying new restaurants and relaxing at the spa.
Coming from a family that specialized in residential farms and ranches, Chace Henke grew up immersed in the real estate industry. When she discovered that the University of Texas business school had a real estate program for finance majors, she found her calling, blending analytical assessment with tangible assets.
Henke went on to become the youngest partner at Edge, which she said expanded her perspective and sharpened her skills as a broker, colleague and leader.
Henke said she is inspired by the work ethic of her mentor, Micha van Marcke, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Following van Marcke’s example, Henke said she never overreacted about “the low-interest-rate/low-cap-rate/crazy buyer market” and other challenging recent conditions. Consistent and humble hard work proves fruitful in any market, she said, as does being quick to listen and committing to persistence.
Henke is involved in her church, where she spends time in youth ministry, teaches women’s Bible studies and aids in mission efforts. She also loves to travel.
The way money flows, how investments work and the impact of economic policies on financial systems have interested Aura Malpica from a young age. That knowledge was put to use when Malpica moved from Venezuela to the U.S. with just two suitcases, but speaking the language of finance.
Through years and relationships, Malpica found a passion for developing homes. She has been involved in the development of over 2,500 apartments throughout Texas in the last six years and said she finds each project more exciting than the last. Memorial at Six in Houston marks the first Allied Orion Group development with a 221(d)(4) loan and a public facility corporation structure, and Malpica was part of that achievement.
Malpica said she loves to learn and discover new ways to enhance investments without sacrificing quality, and she thinks there’s always room for improvement. Her second full-time job is being the mom of Damian, 7, and Annabella, 4. She and her husband, David, love to visit the beach with them.
A love for numbers drew Anna Pawlik to the finance industry, and seeing the impact that banking and commercial real estate has on a community has kept her there.
Throughout this downturn, Pawlik has worked to keep her team focused on helping customers and growing Frost Bank’s brand. She said she has been inspired by the perseverance and innovation of the real estate developers she works with.
Pawlik said she is passionate about developing new talent and giving young commercial real estate bankers the opportunity to shine. When she’s not working, Pawlik enjoys spending time with her husband and their German shepherd.
Jennifer Ray’s position brings her constant challenges, meaning she never has the same day twice.
That’s what she loves about her role, she said, in addition to the commercial real estate industry's social element, professional organizations and opportunities for upward mobility.
Ray is the top-producing female multifamily broker in Texas and has set pricing records and won accolades for brokerage success. She has parlayed those achievements to help younger female brokers find their way and is mentoring women through today’s downturn.
Ray said she hopes to one day sit on an industry board of directors. Outside of the office, she spends her time in the kitchen, cooking up feasts from cookbooks picked up during her world travels.
Jamie Safier said she has loved math since childhood, and that led her to her first job in investment banking before she pivoted to commercial real estate debt and equity advisory in 2011.
Safier has closed over $1B in capital throughout her career, including more than $200M in 2022, the same year she delivered her third child. She said she is proud of the loyalty she has earned from her clients, which keeps her motivated through periods of decreased deal flow.
Though Safier said she didn’t have the benefit of a female mentor early in her career to advise her on being the only woman in a meeting or overcoming predetermined notions, she hopes to be that mentor for others now that she is in a visible and senior role.
Family is Safier’s biggest priority, so when she is not working, she spends time with her husband and three children. She also enjoys running and watching her Texas Longhorns.
A stock market simulation during college helped Anar Shah discover her passion for the intricate world of finance, and she said the industry has provided an ideal platform to harness her analytical skills, indulge in her passion for problem-solving and unravel the stories hidden within financial statements and economic trends.
Through real estate finance, Shah said she has helped shape communities and impact lives, whether through revitalizing neglected urban areas, developing affordable housing or reimagining commercial spaces.
The resiliency and adaptability the field demands keeps Shah inspired no matter the economic circumstances. And a financial downturn, though scary, creates opportunities. Shah said she stays focused on effective communication, teamwork, goal-setting, fostering a positive culture, professional development, setting a clear path forward and leading by example.
Looking forward in her career, Shah said hopes to take on more leadership roles and eventually reach a managerial or executive position. Travel is extremely important to Shah, who has visited 48 countries and counting, finding joy and inspiration from immersing herself in different cultures.
Stephanie Swaim has been handling real estate finances since eighth grade, when her parents started a small real estate investment business and she input monthly bills and expenses.
Swaim said she feels responsible for doing her part to provide clean and safe housing at a fair price point for families struggling in current conditions, which keeps her motivated. She recently had a proud moment when Nitya sold the first deal she was assigned to as an acquisition associate, realizing a 1.5x equity return for investors.
Swaim said she hopes to continue making impactful contributions to the real estate sector, both in terms of successful transactions and effective asset management. Her goal is to leave a lasting and positive mark on the real estate landscape, showcasing the potential for sustainable and socially responsible investment practices.
In her off hours, Swaim and her husband started competitive ballroom dancing about two years ago, which is fun, great exercise and gets her out of her comfort zone.
Sidney Whaley was drawn to real estate because she wanted to have a say in shaping her community.
Now established in her career, she said she is proud of the relationships she has built and maintained with tenants, investors and other industry partners. Her team is keeping her inspired throughout this downturn, she said, while she uses an “attitude of gratitude” to motivate others.
In the future, Whaley said she hopes to continue creating fun, welcoming projects that draw people into the community and building prosperity for tenants and investors. Outside of work, Whaley can be found spending time with her family and 7-month-old baby girl, who keeps her busy.