Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Real Capital Markets Chief Operating Officer Tina Lichens
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
Global commercial real estate marketplace Real Capital Markets hit a major milestone in May, completing $2 trillion in deals since the company's 1999 founding. The company credited its technological innovation with allowing it to reach that milestone, and one woman has been instrumental in spearheading the company's technological operations: Tina Lichens.
Lichens, now chief operating officer, joined RCM in 2001 as director of research. She rose within the company, serving as director of client services and managing director before reaching the C-suite.
As COO, Lichens oversees the company's operations and finance. She also maintains client relationships and provides strategic vision for all of RCM's business units. In April 2017, Lichens was named Top Woman in Southern California Real Estate by ALM Real Estate Media.
Prior to joining Real Capital Markets, Lichens spent three years as senior research manager at The CoStar Group, where she led research and created reports for the Southern California and southeast U.S. markets. Lichens earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1997.
Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?
Lichens: For people not in the industry, I say that I work for the commercial real estate equivalent of Match.com; we help brokers help buyers and sellers find each other to buy and sell big buildings. And then I’ll rattle off some iconic building, like the Sears Tower, that went through our platform. If they know a little about commercial real estate, I tell them that we help the largest investment services firms in the world manage and grow their investment sales business.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Lichens: There are so many things that I would fill my time with. I studied to be an archaeologist, and I love history, writing, traveling, being active. I think I’d be a Renaissance woman, teaching, traveling, coaching basketball, making wine, playing drums, baking bread … all while conducting science experiments in my basement. But in the meantime, I really like the personalities in our industry.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Lichens: I’ve had a few. Worse than being a dishwasher or a roller-skating carhop waitress would have to be my job as a mud bath attendant at a spa. I had to dig a tub of mud for people to lay in, cover them up and put cucumber slices on their eyes. When they were done I would hose them off — the place smelled a whole lot like rotten eggs.
Bisnow: What was your first big deal?
Lichens: It feels like 100 years ago …. we had just invented the VDR (Virtual Deal Room) and were awarded this huge portfolio from Morgan Stanley. They shipped us dozens of banker’s boxes full of due diligence with sticky notes on it that needed to be scanned and put into the VDR. This was back when people only had hard-copy files. It took two days over Christmas, and at least a couple overnights on a tiny couch in the office, but we did it — on time — and the portfolio was sold!
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Lichens: Early on, we engaged a consultant to help us with a major upgrade to the platform. He had a team of developers he oversees who (allegedly) could crank out twice the code for half the cost. Well, of course, when things seem too good to be true, they usually are, and it was a complete disaster. Thank goodness we pulled the plug quickly but [it] taught us that [there are] no shortcuts to product development — you have to do the hard work.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?
Lichens: Increased adoption of technology, of course; commercial real estate services firms taking an increased role in managing and controlling their business. Also, it would be nice to see greater diversity, at all levels, within the industry.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Lichens: I’m a stickler for grammar and punctuation — there’s simply no need to type two spaces after the end of a sentence. Another one is email etiquette — like when the subject line doesn’t match the content of the email after forwarding. Oh, and when people continually mispronounce words — there’s no “x” in espresso!
Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?
Lichens: My first “official” mentor was my social studies teacher/basketball coach in high school. He had traveled extensively and opened my eyes to a big wide world outside our rural area. He helped me get a scholarship to study abroad in Japan and set me on the path to learn more, do more, try to be more. My grandmother has always been a guiding force in my life. She is ridiculously hardworking and strong. I’ve benefited so much from her “actions over words” wisdom and her ability to stay true through adversity. In my CRE life, I owe a lot to Joe Mannina (vice chairman of Real Capital Analytics). I’ve known Joe for over 20 years (from COMPS.com, acquired by CoStar in 2000) and he introduced me to the opportunity at Real Capital Markets back in 2001. He continues to be a source of inspiration, information and support. And Steve Alter, founder of RCM. He gave me the opportunity to build something and challenged me to figure out how to make it happen. It’s an opportunity that very few people get. He said, “you can step up and grab the mic.”
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?
Lichens: Best advice is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. Paraphrased it’s “Sometimes you just have to jump and grow your wings on the way down.” I repeat that to myself often. Worst: I have selective memory so unconsciously don’t remember any advice that doesn’t serve.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Lichens: Time! Carving out small moments of time to be fully present and in the moment. Like sweet moments with my kids or the cappuccino delivered to my office in a porcelain cup Friday morning from the café next door. And shoes! And wine!
Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Lichens: That’s a tough one — sometimes my favorite restaurant in the world is the one down the street that offers child care (for my three young kids)! The best meals I’ve experienced have been stumbled upon rather than reservation-made: homemade lasagna from the winemaker while tasting in Italy, impromptu beach picnic from a Hawaiian farmer’s market, clam linguine from clams we harvested ourselves on an Alaskan beach. That kind of thing. There’s also the Italian Café next door to the office, owned by a family from Bologna, that serves the best homemade pasta — it’s where I eat probably three lunches a week.
Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?
Lichens: A) I am not sure that I could say anything that would be heard but it would be interesting to hear him paint the picture of his ideal version of our country in two years (how are the everyday lives of our people improved, how do we relate to the rest of the world?) B) Why in the world would a multi-billionaire such as yourself in their sunset years choose to get involved in all this?
Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Lichens: I took a very big risk in my personal life in my early 30s. Every day I look at my husband and our family and am grateful that paid off — in spades. I believe you don’t need to make a lot of great decisions to be happy, you need to get two or three of the biggest, most important decisions right and everything else falls in line.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?
Lichens: I’m from a very rural area of Northern California — there isn’t even a town there, just a store/bar/gas station; but when I visit, there’s nothing like an early morning swim at Ruth Lake — it’s so peaceful and quiet watching the steam rise off the water.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Lichens: Because I have three young kids in addition to my role at RCM, I’m nonstop from about 5 a.m. until 9 or so at night, so I typically sleep like a baby. But, if there’s anything that could keep me up at night, it would be the occasional thought of another global economic crisis, similar to the crash we experienced 10 years ago. And the big philosophical questions like, “Are my actions and dreams in line? Am I doing what’s true to myself?” are there.
Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Lichens: I’m passionate about life in general so don’t really distinguish between work and not-work but having more adventures with my husband and children and living a “Renaissance” life full of experiences and discovery is essential for me. And karaoke!