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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Optima's Tara Hovey

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This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who are transforming neighborhoods and reshaping cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Optima Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Tara Hovey sees development as a higher calling.

She said Optima's multifamily properties are part of placemaking and that design has the power to inspire awe and wonder. The beautiful spaces that result from good design elevate the human experience, she said.

Tara Hovey Kayaking in New Zealand
Optima Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Tara Hovey kayaking in New Zealand

"We set out to withstand the aesthetic test of time with everything we create, in order to leave lasting positive economic, social and environmental impact on people and the built environment that surrounds them," Hovey said.

Optima serves as an architect, contractor, leasing agent and property manager for the multifamily developments it undertakes in greater Chicago and Phoenix.

Hovey oversees the company's growth across its spectrum of operations. Since joining the company in 2014, Hovey has also led the capitalization and financing of over $1B in real estate, including construction financing for new developments, recapitalizations and building dispositions.

She came to the real estate business like a lot of people, through her family, with her parents active in residential development before she was born. And though her parents founded Optima, nothing was simply handed to her — she had to prove herself, and she did so in a big way.

After graduating from Boston College in 2005, she began as a construction superintendent for Optima Old Orchard Woods for-sale development in north suburban Skokie, Illinois. During the last recession, she earned her broker's license and eventually became Optima's sales and marketing manager. In that role, she was able to increase both the average number of residential units sold and leased per month even during the downturn.

After earning an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 2012, Hovey also did a stint at Cushman & Wakefield, where she underwrote nearly $1B in debt and equity transactions. 

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Hovey: Optima is a design-driven real estate development firm, deeply rooted in the Modernist tradition. We identify a need for housing, acquire land, design, rezone, finance, develop and construct communities.  

Our work is grounded in respect for structure, materials and their expression, allowing us to achieve clarity and free-flowing movement through space that brings an intrinsic connection to nature to the fore, merging indoor and outdoor into a singular, holistic experience. Because of the structure of our business, we serve as the owner, the architect, the developer and the general contractor, providing unique degrees of freedom that allow us to work from a shared vision.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Hovey: I’ve always been passionate about art, both creating art and the importance it plays in our culture, society and in connecting people. I also love building and coaching teams and shaping organizational culture. 

If I weren’t in commercial real estate, I’d like to spend my time exploring the intersection of these two passions and to figure out how to expand the idea of a traditional community center to include health and wellness programming, community service programming, and multi-generational fine and performing arts education. I’d also spend more time creating my own art.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Hovey: I had a job early in my career where my role was limited to my specific job responsibilities without an understanding of how that fit into the overall project or business. It made me keenly aware of how driven I am by purpose. As a result, at Optima, I've tried to make sure each person on our team understands how what he or she is doing contributes to our purpose and our successes.

Tara Hovey and David Hovey Jr
Optima President and principal architect David Hovey Jr. and President and Chief Operating Officer Tara Hovey

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Hovey: I began my career in the real estate industry as construction superintendent, and contributed to several areas of the business, including sales, development, capital markets and corporate finance, before I grew into the chief operating officer role.

At one point while working as a construction superintendent, we were given the task of building out a large penthouse home — a custom combination of two units — in just a few weeks. It was a heavy lift, but a great opportunity to bring people together, many of whom had articulated that this was an impossible ask, to work together toward a common goal and problem solve on our feet. I felt a great deal of satisfaction from the camaraderie that we had after pulling together to complete it during that time.

I've enjoyed every part of the business and every position I’ve held, and it’s given me a great appreciation for the challenges in each of these areas, the critical role each has in contributing to what we do as a team and a more complete understanding of how the business operates, which has made me stronger in my role today.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Hovey: Failure is an important opportunity for growth and has always been part of the growth process for me. When things haven't gone as I had wanted or intended, I try to view how it is providing an opening to explore new or creative solutions.

I believe there's a solution to every problem, and though you may end up with a different outcome than you’d originally planned, if you stay true to your vision and values there will be successes within those experiences. During the Great Recession, while there were a lot of challenges and though the path through that time was hard and not as planned, I am proud of how we stayed true to our values and core conviction and met all of our financial obligations.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?

Hovey: I’d bring back handshake deals.

Tara Hovey in Front Row at Company Habitat for Humanity Event
Optima's Tara Hovey in front row at company Habitat for Humanity event

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Hovey: I believe we need to bring much more [intentionality] to use and relate to the incredible technology that we have. Being intentional and setting our own boundaries about how we want to use our phones, for example, is empowering and an important change if we really want to connect and thrive. So often when we are together today, people aren’t present in the interaction and as a result we miss the opportunity to get so much more from those interactions and experiences. 

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Hovey: Definitely my parents. My parents founded Optima in 1978. They mortgaged their house and bought a small piece of land in Hyde Park Chicago. My father was an architect, my mother was a teacher, and my father had a vision of a company that could perform all of the functions related to the mixed-use development business, something that was unheard of at the time. My father would design the buildings, they would build them, and my mother would sell them. Their first project was six units.

Today, over 30 developments later, we still act as architect, developer, general contractor and property manager or sales broker. And despite the fact that the work we do is demanding and complex, we revel in our freedom and adaptability — inherently derived from the privileged control of all aspects of the design and execution process that they created over 40 years ago.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you’ve ever gotten?

Hovey: Best: Be true to who you are. And that there is a solution to every problem.

Worst: Emotions don’t belong in the workplace. Regardless of whether or not you think they belong, they are absolutely ever-present, and if you are able to understand what is beneath those emotions, you will better understand yourself, others and the dynamics in a team.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Hovey: First-class adventure travel.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Hovey: Surf Simply Kitchen in Costa Rica. The team and the food are outstanding, and everything tastes better after coming in from a surf.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Hovey: Words matter.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Hovey: Optima was founded on the belief that you should be bold. We constantly take risks, question conventions and push the boundaries of what’s possible. We are driven and wired for rigor, never retreating from the challenges inherent in seeking out solutions that raise the bar.   

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?

Hovey: Lake Michigan at sunrise.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Hovey: Nothing currently.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Hovey: I am extremely passionate about living a wholehearted life, building deep and meaningful connections with my family and friends.

Related Topics: Optima Inc., Tara Hovey