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Bisnow Honors Seattle Power Women: Part 4

Today we bring you the fourth installment in our series on Seattle Power Women, recognizing six more influential players in the industry. We're profiling each of these women and then honoring them the morning of Nov. 3 at a special awards reception.

Wende Miller, Senior Leasing Director, Talon Private Capital


Talon Private Capital senior leasing director Wende Miller tells us she got into the commercial real estate industry by chance. She had just moved to Seattle from South Carolina and was seeking a job in a dynamic industry. Her real estate career started 22 years ago with Spieker Properties at the 520 Pike Tower as the receptionist because she could type, answer phones and had experience working with Microsoft Office products. She was trained and mentored by Joe Cannon, one of the industry’s most respected professionals. Joe helped her build a solid foundation for leasing, organization, management and marketing that she still relies on today. Currently, she's surrounded by an unrivaled team at Talon Private Capital, and the most rewarding part of her job is knowing she's part of transactions that change the landscape in the region. She gets to share the stories with her children as they drive through Seattle and the Eastside, engaging them in conversation as to how the industry works and her dream project, which is to develop a sports complex with her husband. She says she’s created several proud moments during her career, exceeded the expectations of those she’s represented, and created numerous, trusted relationships throughout the industry. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is to embrace that you are a woman in a male-dominated industry and not allow it to intimidate you. Use it as motivation and consistently look to add value to set yourself apart from your male counterparts. Make no excuses, work hard, learn everything you can about this business, work hard, be resourceful and—again—work hard.

Lacey Ahlf, Group Lead & Senior Project Manager, Skanska


When Lacey Ahlf started college at the University of Washington, she wanted to be an astronaut; loving math and science, engineering was a natural choice. Ultimately, she chose to study civil engineering. While still in college, she worked as a temp for a high-end residential construction company, learning how to work with finishes and a wide variety of clients. After college, she moved on to larger and more complex projects, working for Bechtel National at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. She solidified her grasp of construction management, and expanded her on-the-job experience and niche-project knowledge as an owner’s representative within construction. That diversity of experience culminated in her new role as group lead and senior project manager for Skanska’s Special Projects Group, where she has the opportunity to be an advocate for her clients, grow a business sector and mentor young professionals. The most rewarding part of her job is the vital role of the group in navigating the challenges involved in delivering exceptional customer experiences, regardless of project scale or type. The end-to-end creative and problem-solving aspects vary drastically from project to project, whether it’s lifting up the 9,979-ton Safeco Stadium roof to replace its 17 wheels, or building a company’s headquarters. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” Work hard, but set your parameters. She also encourages women to align themselves with other women. Find a group of women you can relate to, and remember to bring your thoughts to the table—they are as important as anyone else’s.

Theresa Howard, Leasing Agent, Martin Selig


In 1982, there was a recession on and Theresa Howard went to 32 job interviews without success. She heard Martin Selig had a receptionist position open, so she applied and was hired on the spot. She's worked her way up from receptionist to her position today, and she says she loves to go to work every single day. The company's single largest client is the federal government, and one of her tenants arranged for her to meet President Obama. No matter your political affiliation, meeting the president of the United States is breathtaking, she tells us. Putting together a deal for a half billion dollars is quite memorable, too. But in commercial real estate, quickly adapting to change isn’t easy. Building the latest and greatest and doing deals takes a tremendous amount of time. As an example, current technology when you start building isn’t necessarily current by the time the building is finished. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is to be prepared to be criticized for being ambitious, assertive and smart. Trust your gut instinct, she says. Lastly, mentor another woman.

Jen Reyes, VP National Sales, Fidelity National Title


Jen Reyes tells us after deciding not to pursue law school, and then focusing on time with her son, she connected with friends in the commercial title business. Being a single mom made her appreciate the flexibility a sales position would offer. She didn't set out to work in commercial title insurance sales, but 20 years later, here she is. She says she's had the privilege of working on some very notable real estate transactions, both locally and nationally. The best part of her job is having the opportunity to develop many great friendships over the years. She's fortunate that many clients are now friends. Jen's especially interested in the challenges surrounding diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate, and hopes to contribute perspective and promote a more conscious approach to encouraging more women to get out of their comfort zones. Toward that end, she was a past president and board member of CREW and is co-chairing the Women's Leadership Initiative with ULI. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is to stay focused on the goals you set for yourself and visualize your success. Once you achieve them, set the bar a little higher. If you come across challenges or failures along the way, accept them as learning experiences and move on.

Lynda Collie, Director, Real Estate Services, Unico Properties


Lynda Collie says she had an economics degree with an emphasis in accounting when she accepted an accounting position for a commercial real estate developer in Newport Beach, CA, right out of college. Working with asset managers, property managers and brokers, she was intrigued by what they did, and asked to go on-site and work with property managers to help them reconcile various tenant accounts. She never went back to accounting, discovering how much fun it was to manage and lease commercial real estate. The most rewarding part of her job, she says, is that there are so many aspects to it, so many experiences and so many amazing people. She says she feels very fortunate to have discovered commercial real estate and to have contributed to growing markets in Orange County and the Inland Empire. For the past 13 years, she's been in the Pacific Northwest, specifically with Unico Properties for the last year. She's been an active participant in Seattle’s growth, problem-solving for her clients, team and company, and leading talented teams to execute difficult strategies successfully. Staffing is a big challenge, since it's more difficult now to attract and retain top talent to manage assets and keep tenants and clients well-served. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is to be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Stay challenged in what you do, personally and professionally. Push yourself every day. Also, she believes it's very important to not only work hard at what you do, but to work just as hard to develop relationships with those around you, at your company and with your potential clients and peers within the industry.

Rachel Corp, Vice President, Kidder Mathews


Rachel Corp tells us she got into real estate by accident—she moved to Seattle in a down economy with an accounting/business management education, and was hired by a title company to work in their accounting department. The escrow manager took a liking to her and recruited her to be an escrow assistant. One of her duties was to answer the phones, and she fielded questions from real estate agents. Being young and perhaps a little arrogant, she says, she thought she could do the job better. After a couple of years in residential real estate in Bellevue—where she found it was a bit harder than she thought—a broker at Cushman & Wakefield recruited her to join the retail service line. Closing a 300-acre-plus land sale was a definite highlight of her career, and she still likes seeing the Cabela's store that ended up on part of it when she drives through that area. Another highlight involved the sale of a small commercial building in Puyallup, where her clients were a married couple and both faced severe medical diagnoses. She listed the property when the economy was still struggling, and the responsibility fell to the owners' daughter, who was juggling family, her own career, her parents' health issues and the listed property. There were also legal issues with the property's title. But Rachel was able to clear title and effect a sale. That sale, she says, underscored that it's not the size, but the effect on her client that's important—and she was glad her clients' daughter was able to get her life back under control after the sale. Her advice for women getting started in the industry is to find a strong mentor to work with and be willing to learn and acknowledge (at least to themselves) that you don't need to know everything to start. The absolute most important asset any of us have is our reputation, she says, and newcomers and old-timers alike need to always look to do the right thing, even if it costs you a commission or a listing.