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Exclusive Q&A: Cushman's Rhonda Diaz Caldewey on Adventure and Real Estate

Cushman & Wakefield managing director Rhonda Diaz Caldewey has spent the last 25 years at the forefront of restaurant and retail transactions in the Bay Area. From bringing Michael Chiarello's Coqueta and Charles Phan's Hard Water to The Embarcadero to, when Salesforce Tower opens next year, bringing in the food and beverage programming there.


Rhonda has ranked in the top five retail brokers locally and across the nation and is also recognized as one of the Bay Area's most influential women in business. Rhonda took a few minutes out of her busy day (she works hard and plays hard) to tell Bisnow about some of her key successes, what motivates her, and why, sometimes, the best thing for business is to head out into the woods for awhile.

Bisnow: Your undergraduate degree was in journalism, followed by your MBA. What brought you into commercial real estate?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: People, places, new ideas and the why of the world have always fascinated me. The well-known mantra of journalism—who, what, when, where and why—translated well to business. After graduate school, and spending some time in technology, my inquisitive and creative passions fit well with the entrepreneurialism of real estate—especially retail and restaurants. Being a good interviewer came in handy when getting to know clients—understanding where they've been, where they want to go, and why—essential in servicing anyone at a higher level. Places and new ideas, culture and sociology fascinate me, and bringing them together is the magic of placing concepts in the right location. It satisfies my endless curiosity, and involves business, finance, trend-spotting, project and team management and drive.

Bisnow: What is it about the industry that has kept you?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: It's fascinating. The ongoing evolution of all of the components we study—the way people shop, what brings them together, the food culture, and the continuum of new ideas—whether they come from the new entrepreneur or seasoned entrepreneur within an established chain. It's sociology, really.

Reviewing a new retail or food concept for a marketplace is sometimes like an editor—filtering ideas, translating the good ones and the talented people behind it and refining. Good ideas can be right on, or too soon for the time. Working with a project—whether new or a renovation—is like starting with a blank canvas. We get to be part of the team that creates the color palette, proportions and scale of a vibrant place that grabs you. It's constantly challenging, and I work with some really talented people.


Bisnow: What would you say are your biggest professional achievements and why?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: Working with great people that think outside the box and bring their particular talent to the table is satisfying. I learn something new from my colleagues every day. 

For example, years ago we suggested converting an old BMW car dealership into a Whole Foods, which became one of the successful stores in their chain. Most recently, it's great to see the reprogramming of the food and beverage at the W Westwood into the smash hit STK and Bagatelle in Los Angeles. It's pretty rewarding to see my clients win Michelin stars and James Beard award nominations, such as Coqueta at Pier 5 (above) and Hard Water at Pier 3.

Many of the concepts we’ve brought to the Mission Bay area have played a role in transforming the area into a new neighborhood (such as the Lucky Strike at The Beacon, below). Whether working with a large high-profile project, chain, or an entrepreneur going solo…it’s fulfilling to see good ideas succeed.


Bisnow: Are there things you bring from your adventurous recreational pursuits to your approach to business?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: I suppose you're referring to my love of archaeology, my glacier hike and flyfishing in New Zealand or shooting birds at Highclere Castle. Some say adventure and experience are the new luxury, but they have always been a part of my DNA. Being out in nature reunites one with their intuition, and reminds us of who we are when we are not spinning in busyness or caught up in digital oblivion. They require complete focus for me, and with that—blinders to the outside world go up. That's when the new ideas come in. Nature reignites our sense of wonder and belief in possibilities. Real estate definitely requires vision, overcoming the fear of risk, and seeing new possibilities. It is definitely a hunter/gatherer sport.

Bisnow: What is your advice for women entering the commercial real estate business?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: Go for it. Be yourself—they'll talk about you either way. Show your talent and complement it with your colleagues and team.

Bisnow: What's your favorite part of your day?

Rhonda Diaz Caldewey: My favorite part of the day is taking a night walk with my husband, and touching base with my dad and my aunts.