C-Suite Spotlight: Jamison Realty CEO Jaime Lee
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.
Jaime Lee always knew she would be in the real estate business.
Her father, David Lee, founded Jamison in 1995 as an office investment and development firm; the company is still run by the family, and now ranks among the largest office landlords in Los Angeles. Lee heads up the firm's leasing and brokerage arm, Jamison Realty, where she has helped the firm expand into the multifamily sector over the past few years.
"We knew we had to reposition our portfolio to appeal to a new generation of users, namely, millennials," Lee told Bisnow in 2018. "We took a leap and converted an empty office building into amenity-rich, millennial-focused apartments, and it leased up in three months."
Now, Jamison projects include not just adaptive reuse but also new ground-up towers, including Kurve LA, a 23-story apartment complex that opened earlier this year across from Lafayette Park, at the edge of Koreatown.
Companywide, Jamison controls 18M SF of commercial and residential space throughout Southern California.
Bisnow spoke with Jamie Lee, CEO of Jamison Realty, via email about the future of multifamily in Los Angeles, and how the exec spends her free time.
Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.
Lee: "Leaders are made rather than born." Dr. Warren Bennis was a professor of mine at USC and is often thought of as the father of the academic study of leadership. When I was younger, I never thought of myself as a leader; I didn't possess the inborn charisma, public speaking skills or commanding personality of the traditional image of leaders. It took a long time for me to grow into myself, but Dr. Bennis' theory of leadership stresses that true leaders are those who know themselves (particularly their strengths and weaknesses) and can articulate their vision to others. I add that empathy and compassion are critical attributes of great leaders.
Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of yor career to now?
Lee: Perhaps when I started [in 2014], it felt like a CEO did what a COO does today: having to know every aspect of every job and all of the answers to every question. Today, it seems more likely that a CEO is in charge of relationships and ideas, knowing more about the vision for the uncharted territory ahead and bringing in the right people/partners for the future.
Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?
Lee: In the future, CEOs will have a lot more responsibility for setting the tone for culture, values, wellness and people. We've seen enormous growth and emphasis on mental health, physical well-being and self-care in the workplace and in day-to-day life, and to balance the areas of our lives.
Bisnow: Has leading a company always been a goal for you?
Lee: This is a family business, so it has been in my future since I was 15.
Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?
Lee: Being too trusting.
Bisnow: Has your workplace strategy changed between 2019 and today?
Lee: No, the workplace is where we spend a huge portion of our lives. It is where we learn, grow, get challenged, be creative, enjoy camaraderie with colleagues and friends, get out of the house, get rewarded for our merits, and carve out an identity that is our own and no one else's. We are an essential business, and so we only closed our offices and sites for one day of the pandemic (March 20, 2020). Otherwise, I have been in the office every single day alongside our essential workers.
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?
Lee: I am a woman of color, and our company is a minority- and immigrant- owned business. We are diverse and have equal numbers of women across our executive and management leadership teams. I mentor young students in high school, college and grad school — most often girls and women of color — and contribute to scholarships for the same. We need to build and sustain a pipeline of qualified candidates for every type of job in every type of company and continue to pull people up into the positions they deserve to be in.
Bisnow: What do you think about the industry's recent focus on sustainability and climate change? How is your company tackling the issue?
Lee: The climate crisis is a defining moment for the global citizens of this next decade. We must pursue R&D, investment and adoption for technologies and lifestyles that will transform our future in sustainable ways. Electric and driverless vehicles and their infrastructure, automated building management systems, alternative energy sources and repurposing buildings for new life will make an impact in this effort. We have a solar panel company, install EV chargers and upgrade building systems, but we are very proud of our adaptive reuse of multiple obsolete office buildings that have been converted into multifamily in dense urban areas.
Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?
Lee: Still an old boys club.
Bisnow: Which asset class or location will perform best over the next five years?
Lee: Multifamily in central Los Angeles city, of course! There is still tremendous demand for attainable, amenitized, new housing in a diverse, creative, dense, fun and central neighborhood. We have a critical housing shortage across Los Angeles, the Southland and California, and we aren't close to meeting the housing production needed to make a difference yet.
Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk means the most to you?
Lee: Fair Play by Eve Rodsky has changed my life as a working mother.
Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show?
Lee: Schitt's Creek — a hilarious, poignant, uplifting, values-driven look at the evolution of a family.
Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?
Lee: With my husband and three children.