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C-Suite Spotlight: IQHQ President And Founder Tracy Murphy

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.

Tracy Murphy has helped IQHQ, a life sciences-focused REIT and developer that didn’t exist a few years ago, quickly become one of the largest property owners in the sector. In early 2019, it was just a pitch deck and idea with the working title of Creative Science Properties. Less than three years later, the firm has started a series of expansive campuses across major markets after raising more than $2.6B.

Murphy, IQHQ's president and co-founder, came into the life sciences real estate world when it was a nascent industry, with previous leadership stints at Kilroy Realty and BioMed Realty Trust, with a focus on West Coast markets.

Under Murphy’s leadership, San Diego-based IQHQ has been busy expanding its holdings and breaking ground in new neighborhoods in top life sciences markets. In Boston, the firm has made a series of significant acquisitions to accentuate its massive $1B Fenway Center project, set to deliver in 2025. It has made a series of acquisitions in South San Francisco, and it’s also making bold plans in its hometown, building out the 8-acre waterfront Research and Development District, the largest urban waterfront lab campus in California.  

The following has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

IQHQ President Tracy Murphy, center, collaborating with colleagues.

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

Murphy: I’ve embraced a leadership philosophy that encourages curiosity and creativity, and I’ve worked diligently to remove any fear or unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles from our company culture. I strongly believe that if we’re not growing, we’re dying — as individuals or as a company. It is important to make difficult decisions, and they’re seldom comfortable — you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Maintaining a commitment to these mantras is constant work. 

For me, this started early in my career when I was a broker and I went on 100% commission, which forced me to constantly fine-tune my skill set for survival. My earliest mentor, John Frager, helped instill this in me personally and professionally, whether it was learning Taekwondo, taking onboard presentations, or assuming leadership roles when nobody raised their hands, I did it. A word we often used for this was Kaizen. This has served me well, especially when I chose the life science niche, and it was in its infancy and at a time when virtually nobody in commercial real estate development — men or women — specialized in it. I took a leap of faith and I’ve never looked back. 

Finally, throughout my career, I’ve often been the only woman in the room. As a result, I’ve built an environment at IQHQ where leadership understands the importance of both recruiting and challenging women — and men — with stretch assignments early in their careers and to provide high-potential women with more exposure to senior leadership and boards.

Bisnow: How has the role of president at IQHQ changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now? 

Murphy: When we first formed IQHQ just under two years ago, we had a small and dedicated team, so I was doing everything and anything. While doing major real estate acquisitions, in the background, I was setting up our benefits program, writing an employee handbook, gathering insurance quotes, furnishing our first space and hiring people — you name it. I was never too proud to do the non-glamourous stuff and there was plenty of it. 

We all did what it took, everything you could imagine in this “startup” phase. As time went on, our internal needs increased, so we needed a more thoughtful approach to how we were doing things. I spent more time with our team thinking through our growth strategy, team organization — including roles and responsibilities —and putting processes in place. 

Now, every day, I’m still doing things that I’ve never done before, but I’ve always been comfortable making decisions and that has served me well. 

Bisnow: What will your role look like in 10 years?

Murphy: Well, in 10 years, I’ll have a lot more experience running a company and I won’t be “new” at it anymore, and hopefully that makes me better at everything. Our focus is to continue to develop, build and operate large-scale life science districts that are transforming cities and creating lasting value for our tenants, the surrounding workforce and the communities where we operate. So, as we expand over the next decade, it will be important that I ensure that we not only stay true to our mission but that we remain relentless in how we apply it across our growing portfolio. 

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

Murphy: It wasn’t a goal of mine, but I have always needed new challenges to feel alive, so, as my career advanced, it became a logical next step. There was an 'a-ha moment' before starting IQHQ, when I was interviewing for a senior position at a large company to build another life science platform. And it was as if a sign fell from the sky and said, “No, not this time — this time needs to be different!" That launched me into my digital Rolodex looking for old friends/colleagues with a similar sentiment. Sixty days later, I was on the road with IQHQ’s founding team raising money! In under two years, we’ve gone from zero to 10M SF in the best innovation markets in the world, and we have assembled the youngest and most sustainable life science team and portfolio in the business. I’m humbled by and proud of that every day. 

IQHQ President Tracy Murphy with CEO Steve Rosetta and Executive Chairman Alan Gold

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

Murphy: I’ll be the first to admit that I make all kinds of them — they’re unavoidable and the greatest teacher. The easiest way for me to boil it down is that every time I let my own doubts or others talk me out of respecting my instincts, it goes wrong, every time. Human nature is tough that way. Instincts are our greatest tools, but the world can easily influence our decision-making process, so it is important to try to minimize the outside noise and trust what your instincts and experiences are telling you.

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

Murphy: During the last two years in my role as president, we’ve had the dual challenge of building a company while navigating a global pandemic, and I’ve seen how much people count on leadership. As a result, I’ve grown even more committed to building a culture where our employees will thrive. I have read countless books and feel very strongly about the way we hire and the way we treat our team. If we hire humble, hungry and intelligent people (yes, in that order), alignment comes easier, and things just generally work better. 

I also spend a lot of time on our brand strategy and how it’s important to everything we do. The industry cannot just develop lab and office space like it used to. We must create vibrant life science districts that are at the convergence of lifestyle and life science and brimming with amenities, retail, open space and access to public transportation in desirable urban locations to accommodate the future.

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?

Murphy: Over the last year, IQHQ has seen tremendous growth and we’ve nearly tripled our employee headcount. In my role as president, I am committed to both recruiting and retaining the best candidates while building a strong culture of diversity and inclusion. Today, I’m proud to say that not only do we have the best team in the business, but that IQHQ’s workforce is over 50% women and women also make up half of the company’s executive team. 

We’ve established company-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals and metrics that adhere to both the JUST Label and Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Survey, which are considered the industry’s highest standards. Outside of the office, I always make the time to speak to groups of women at industry and regional meetings to inspire up-and-coming women to bring their skills and insight to our industry. Every time that I receive a note from a woman, whom I’ve inspired, it drives me to want to do more, pave a wider road for all those desiring a career in this industry. We need women. I’ve learned to appreciate my value, but it took time. My hope is that, in time, that value is easier and easier for women to understand. We’re different beings, but a critical part of any organization’s success. 

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? 

Murphy: On a personal and professional level, I believe in the science of climate change. And I believe that it’s incumbent on all of us, especially developers of large-scale campus environments, to ensure that our projects both minimize environmental impact and our carbon footprint while offering lasting benefits to our tenants and our surrounding communities. We operate in markets with aggressive decarbonization goals, and these cities have already established, or are in the process of establishing, strong building codes. So, we are actively exploring 100% building electrification, on-site renewable energy, and sourcing renewable power offsite as key strategies for reducing emissions that will address these codes while future-proofing our buildings. 

In addition, we are implementing an ambitious corporate ESG strategy, and plan to adopt stringent environmental corporate policies and incorporate sustainable design and construction guidelines with green building certification requirements ensuring that all buildings meet LEED Gold or Platinum requirements. IQHQ also incorporates sustainable design and construction guidelines into tenant lease agreements. Not only is this the right thing to do, but we also believe that going forward, most companies we’ll partner with at our buildings will expect this level of commitment to sustainability.

Tracy Murphy, president of IQHQ, second from left, celebrating the opening of the San Diego Trolley Blue Line extension that connects downtown to UC San Diego/UTC.

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

Murphy: Like any industry, CRE tends to look in the rearview mirror versus looking ahead through the windshield. As an industry, it is critical that we look ahead and around the corner — anticipating the needs of our partners and the life science industry. In order to do things differently the first time, it takes guts and the ability to look forward. I think IQHQ does a good job of this — we’ve done a lot of “firsts."

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

Murphy: We are obviously big believers in life science and the next five years should continue to be very strong — all the fundamentals remain very sound. As far as markets go, we are really excited about the immense potential of all our target markets (Boston, San Diego, San Francisco and the Golden Triangle in the United Kingdom). We spent significant time in a lot of markets, but for IQHQ, we determined this is where we want to focus. At top of mind for us right now is the United Kingdom, where we just completed our first acquisition — appropriately in the top-rated Cambridge Science Park — and there is just such exciting science coming out of the UK and so much opportunity for CRE to support it.

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

Murphy: The Advantage by Peter Lencioni. Peter has a lot of great books, but this one is a simple summary of all his best work. It’s a great resource for any person in senior management — it has a lot of insight into how management teams can better lead and build the best company culture possible. 

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

Murphy: Seinfeld. I grew up with it, my family loved it. Comedy is the only TV or movie genre that I’m willing to make time for, and I especially love the ones that provide lasting humor and laughter. Life is too short to be serious all the time. With Seinfeld/Larry David, the humor is timeless, and I find myself in similar situations and laughing through it!

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Murphy: On Saturdays, I typically take a hike with my dog, Banjo, and my family. And, typically, I am courtside or field-side cheering on one of my two boys, who are 7 and 10 and active in sports. And by sundown, I’ve earned a nice glass of cabernet surrounded by family and/or friends.