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San Diego Power Women: Part 4

Today, we bring you the fourth 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 Diego Public Library, 6-8pm.



American National Investments SVP Traci Billock has worked on a variety of major hospitality and retail projects across San Diego and SoCal, including The Patio restaurants on Lamont and Goldfinch and Luv Surf Luxury Vacation Rentals. But she tells us it was a winding path toward her executive role today. The Youngstown, OH, native took a chance and moved to San Diego 16 years ago and began working in the mortgage business. When the recession hit, she turned to the mortgage modification business. Then she started to follow her father's footsteps and work toward being an insurance broker. “Boy, was I wrong. No offense, but insurance takes a certain kind of person, and that is just not me.” As luck, or fate, would have it, Traci joined what was then a two-person shop with Gina Champion-Cain (chairman of American) and Cris Torres, who tutored her in everything commercial real estate. Traci has six pieces of advice for women entering the industry: Believe in yourself and your dreams; look to connect with mentors who push you to be stronger; be kind to everyone because you never know when that person will help you in the future; be humble and ask questions; always be willing to help others; and be a positive influence on others. “Everything serves a purpose and all goes noticed,” she says. And funny enough, San Diego was always the plan, Traci tells us. “I only dreamed of living in San Diego as a child. In high school, I would actually write all over my book cover, 'I will live in San Diego. I will live in San Diego,'” she says.



It’s been an incredible couple of weeks for Debra Smith—she was just promoted to COO of SteelWave, responsible for running its property management, leasing, marketing, construction and architectural design divisions. She’s been with the firm—then Lincoln Property—since the late ‘80s. (It was renamed Legacy Partners in ’98 and SteelWave in April.) Among its recent deals: completing the renovation on the 300k SF, three-building Torrey Pines campus it acquired with Walton Street Capitol from Pfizer in 2012; and recently acquiring with Goldman Sachs a 100k SF Sorrento Canyon building it plans to turn into creative office space. The Toledo, OH, native wasn’t in the industry when she moved to Palo Alto with her husband 35 years ago; she took a marketing job with Amarok in Menlo Park to support him in grad school, and that’s where she caught the real estate bug. Her advice: Create a network of women, be a collaborator, and seek out opportunities—don’t wait for them to be dropped in your lap. Outside of work, she’s an avid runner, fiction reader and traveler, especially to Turks and Caicos, Tahoe and Europe.



Bre’an Fox is founder of FS Design Group, and has some top clients, including Allen Matkins, Sony Online Entertainment, The Muller Co, Rreef Real Estate and Stockbridge Capital. She tells us her firm is focused on how companies’ office space reflects their brand, supports their culture and inspires their staff. One of her first projects was an office park owned by American Assets with broker Dick Balestri, and she still works with them. She grew up in rural Manitoba, where she became interested in design and the use of space, particularly manufacturing, R&D and office. After moving to San Diego, she began her career has a junior designer, then worked for developer The Courson Co before launching her firm in ’93. “Surround yourself with people that you admire and want to learn from—if not within your own company, then in an industry organization—and ask them for advice and guidance as you navigate your career path,” she advises. She’s active in CREW San Diego and NAWBO, and outside of work, loves cycling, skiing, studying the Italian language, and traveling to Italy and other parts of Europe (she's snapped above in Florence).



Managing partner (and co-founder) for environmental law firm Opper & Varco Suzanne Varco has worked on cleanup advice and cost recovery with a number of major players, including Holland Partners Group and Pinnacle International, in addition to having extensive CEQA litigation experience. Suzanne tells us she always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, but it was after meeting her future husband (a geologist) that she focused on environmental law. She emphasizes the importance of cultivating relationships in business (and in life). Her advice: “Follow your passion and you will find happiness and success.” Outside work, she’s a black belt in Shotokan Karate, practices yoga, and enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.



Elyse Lowe, deputy director for the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department, broke into the industry working for a local elected council member focused on redevelopment and investing in the City’s urban neighborhoods. Since, she’s advised local officials on investing billions in high-end transit projects—(think Bus Rapid Transit), drawing billions more advocating for investments like the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan; a $1.8B expansion of the Mid-Coast Trolley connecting UCSD to UTC from Old Town; and others. Her advice: “90% of success is just showing up,” she says. Get out and participate by getting involved with nonprofits. Doing so will create long-lasting relationships that open doors. Elyse’s hobbies include beach time and sailboat racing. She also enjoys spending time with her two young sons (4 and 7) and serves as the Toler Elementary PTA president.