Origin Stories: Newmark Vice Chairman Elizabeth Hart On Growing Her Career Alongside The Tech Sector
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
After taking a career test that put real estate in her top matches, Elizabeth Hart, then 22 and fresh out of the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in political science, got her foot in the real estate door by becoming a broker's assistant.
Soon, she became an office and retail broker and developed a niche in brokering deals for technology tenants. Nearly 16 years later, Hart, who is based in San Francisco, is now a top broker in the technology sector nationally and leads Newmark's Technology and Innovation Practice Group.
Her clients have included Pinterest, Square and Stripe, among others. Most recently, she brokered a deal for Uber's new San Francisco headquarters, a 1M SF office space in Mission Bay, earlier this year.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Hart: I was in college at UC Berkeley, and like many graduates, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My mom encouraged me to take an aptitude test at the career center. I matched up 98% to people in real estate. So I thought: I should at least give real estate a try!
I joined what was then Cornish & Carey Commercial in 2005 [Newmark acquired Cornish & Carey in 2013]. A primary deciding factor for me in choosing a firm was one that employed high-producing women. I was able to work with other women like Christine Slonek, Anne Rolston, Shannon Aja and Donnette Clarens, who were all top agents and inspirations.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Hart: I started as a broker assistant, which was the lowest possible position available at the time, at a starting salary of $30K a year. I was trying to take clients out and create a network in San Francisco. It was a considerable risk, and I was financially "all in" on this decision.
At the time, the advice in the industry was that women were more likely to be successful in retail brokerage. However, I was more interested in office, and through the support and guidance of mentors, I ended up doing half-and-half, retail and office. Looking back, it ended up helping me, long-term, to think of buildings and cities more holistically.
Keep in mind, this was 2005 before Google or Facebook entered the San Francisco market. The majority of big clients and transactions came from the financial services and legal sectors, and institutional downtown tenant rep and landlord rep was popular at the time.
Being 22 and a young woman in the business, I chose to work with technology companies by way of interest, network and friends. Yelp was on 2K SF at Mission Street, and Twitter was on 1K SF at South Park. I started with smaller tech deals in smaller offices, and as those companies grew, so did my career.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Hart: I studied political science at Berkeley, but probably the most important class I took — in terms of real estate training — was a meditation elective in the spring semester of my senior year. I learned (and am still learning) patience and positive thinking.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Hart: To take business decisions less personally. When you are young, and something doesn’t go the way you expect after hard work, it’s easy to take it personally. What you learn is that most decisions are not personal. Everyone is trying to do their best, and given the fast-paced nature of the industry, there are numerous decisions to be made on a daily basis. So it’s OK to be disappointed when things don’t go your way, but it’s important to think of it more as a revolving door rather than a shut door. A no today could mean your turn is next.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Hart: These thoughts have happened so many times; it is hard trying to pinpoint just one. I’ve been in a 16-year relationship with the same company, in the same industry, my whole adult life.
I have learned from these fluctuations of feeling overwhelmed and feeling successful that these ups and downs happen when you are pushing and challenging yourself. The emotions you experience, sometimes on the same day, show you are putting yourself out there to be who you want to become and taking risks.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Hart: I’ve always felt there was a lot of opportunity in it. It’s an industry with a lot of room to be positively influenced from different perspectives. It has changed so much in the last 16 years. There are things that I thought were “must do” to be successful that were not correct. For instance, when I first started in real estate, I thought I had to wear a traditional business suit every single day to fit in. Now, I don’t even own one. It’s not because the style has changed, but because there is a greater acceptance in the industry of people feeling more comfortable bringing who they are to the table.
Commercial real estate is a reflection of all the people who are in the building and community. The goal is to make sure the people in the building are happy and excited to be there. If you want to have a diverse and inclusive place, you have to have the people developing and creating real estate thinking that way, too. I feel good about the progress I’ve made in the last 16 years. I feel optimistic about what will happen in the future. Looking forward, there are so many exciting trends we are seeing around more diverse and inclusive workplaces, more sustainable workplaces and happier workplaces. The positive strides being made are meaningful.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Hart: I’ve had many mentors over the years. I have been blessed to collect the advice and mentorship, and sponsorship of many people. Within Newmark, I’ve worked with people for the past 16 years who have become mentors in life and real estate. They are partners and friends.
Some of the people I’ve learned the most from have been my clients. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. My career would not be the same without their impact on me and the questions they asked. Every single time I had a challenge to overcome, I was given a chance to try and was given feedback; it helped me excel. They’ve helped me gain more confidence over the years. I feel gratitude for my colleagues and clients, who have made me stronger.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Hart: I talk about resiliency as a key to success. Being able to bounce back and have confidence through unexpected challenges. About 10 years ago, I was in SoMA [in San Francisco], ready for a big client pitch. I walked outside, crossed the street to meet my client, probably the biggest client I’ve ever had or will have when a bird pooped all over my face and jacket. The client, the chairman and CEO of the company, was standing right there and saw the whole thing. I knew they didn’t have much time, and I really believed in this deal.
So I got out a Kleenex, wiped off the not-small-amount of bird poop, and pushed through. I don’t know if he actually wanted to buy the deal before that meeting or took a chance knowing how strongly I felt about it! It all worked out. The deal turned out well, and the relationship has become a successful partnership over many years.
The takeaway is that things are going to go awry. Not once, not twice, but many times. So it becomes a question of whether you can take it in stride, be patient with yourself, and not take yourself too seriously.
At the end of the day, work is supposed to be fun. Creating beautiful spaces is supposed to be fun. These are great places for people to work — to connect and be inspired.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Hart: When you start out as a junior person, be careful about being too much in another person’s shadow. It’s great to have mentors but find someone who wants you to be your own star, proximate to their star.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Hart: Even for the things I would do differently now, I realize that you can’t learn the lessons except for going through those experiences. There’s no shortcut to learning. That said, I see now that I was too risk-averse in my 20s. Commissions are hard to come by, and I was nervous about making “risky” investments. Having more confidence around investing is something I’m actively trying to work on now. I advise on investing with confidence to my clients all the time, but I should have given myself that same advice.