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San Diego Power Women: Part 1

Today, we bring you the first installment of our 10-part Power Woman series profiling the 50 most influential women in San Diego commercial real estate. Then join Bisnow and partner Allen Matkins on June 25 for a cocktail awards reception to honor these amazing leaders at the San Deigo Public Library, 6-8pm.



American National Investments chair Gina Champion-Cain made her commercial real estate debut during the Savings and Loans debacle, at the Resolution Trust Corp, helping to work out distressed properties. And that initial job became her expertise. “I was able to breathe new life into functionally and economically obsolete real estate assets," she tells us. It was also where her love for urban environments grew: hanging out in Downtown San Diego and watching guys like Bud Fisher and Howard Greenberg take old, dilapidated buildings and breathe new life into them, she says. The apex of those lessons came when she had the ability to transform something old and worn: the former Woolworth store on 5th Ave—not only did she redevelop it, but she moved House of Blues into it at a time when many clubs and restaurants were still sketchy on locating in the heart of the city. Her advice: “Never take no for an answer." She's currently working on Fireside, a new restaurant concept by The Patio Restaurant Group at Liberty Station; The Foundation, a coffee roasting and commissary kitchen in Sports Arena; and even new Patio restaurants at PetCo Park. 



Today, CBRE SVP Dixie Hall is among the very top multifamily brokers in San Diego. But she started as a private investigator. After growing up an Air Force brat and graduating from SDSU, Dixie had aspirations to become an attorney. To get some experience, she worked as a PI for a local law firm for a year. Then she had a revelation: “I realized criminal law didn't pay well and corporate law seemed too boring." Getting to the top of her profession was a process that involved the ups of some great real estate heydays, and the lows of three major recessions, including the one in the '70s, just six months into her budding real estate career, she tells us. But those experiences taught Dixie to be a survivor. The good thing about surviving the first downturn is you develop a better understanding of what a cycle is so by the second time, you know it is going to end. By the third time, you can see it coming and act accordingly. This love/hate Padres fan (here with her husband, Shelly, and daughter Tracy with fiance Chris Stalter) is big on kettlebell exercises, traveling, and reading mystery novels in her spare time.



Douglas Wilson Cos managing director Michele Vives has accomplished much in her career—including launching the firm’s senior living portfolio—so it'd be hard to guess she started out as an industrial psychologist. After becoming disenchanted with her initial career choice, the Chicago native took a personality test and discovered she was a good fit for development. After moving to San Diego and getting a second bachelor's degree in accounting and finance from University of Phoenix, she was hired as an executive assistant to Lankford & Associates’ Rob Lankford, who thought she was overqualified. “In six months, you’ll promote me,” she replied. So Rob, who became a mentor, taught her everything she needed to know. Indeed, six months later he promoted Michele to project coordinator, and then later to director of business development, specializing in public-private partnerships. Last year, she started as a managing director for Doug Wilson Cos, where she now works in third-party development and PPP services. Part of her role is prepping for the launch of DWC’s senior living portfolio, which will break ground by year’s end and become part of an asset portfolio DWC will hold long-term. Her advice: “Don’t feel intimidated—take time to gain knowledge and ask for what you want.” Michele loves cooking (think Indian and Ethiopian food) as well as anything outdoors, from paddleboarding and kayaking to long walks on the beach.



San Diego Downtown Partnership president and CEO Kris Michell learned about the value of real estate from her policeman father and bookkeeper mom. With eight children, Kris says her parents had to find other ways to make ends meet—so they invested in apartments. But jumping into the world of commercial real estate wasn't high on Kris' list: At SDSU, Kris pursued a political science major and so learned quickly as she began her career that politics in commercial real estate is “the currency and the language” of the business. She says she's most proud of the work she did help ushering the redevelopment of what eventually became Petco Park while working for the Padres as a campaign manager for Proposition C, which ultimately helped redevelop 22 acres around the stadium site that was formerly filled with razor wire, weeds, syringes and the smell of urine. “The ability to transform an area of our Downtown...was to me just an opportunity of a lifetime," she says.



Design. Architecture. Space. Abstract concepts for anyone. For Unisource Solutions president Anne Benge, they were concepts honed as a child by her architect father, who helped design the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. “I spent my childhood going to look at Frank Lloyd Wright," she says. That love of design never wavered. After graduating from the University of Michigan and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, she began work in NYC for a fabric manufacturer, calling on architectural firms. By 2009, she was tapped by Unisource to open a San Diego office, an opportunity that was perfect for her. “I didn't want to work anywhere else, and I didn't want to work for anyone else.” Of all the many projects Anne worked on, she says furnishing Downtown San Diego's public library was one of the most satisfying. Anne, whose favorite hobbies are “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says her greatest accomplishment is installing a company culture that allows her employees to “be who they are." Her advice: Find out what you're good at, not just what you're bad at. Once you can figure that out, that's what you should be doing, she says. "It's a whole lot more fun."