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Origin Stories: Avison Young Miami Managing Director Donna Abood

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Donna Abood is now principal and managing director of Avison Young in Miami, but back in the early 1980s, she remembers the commercial real estate industry was quite different.

“There was only really one other prominent woman in the industry,” she said on a call with Bisnow. “I was very well aware that I was one of the very few, and it was like that into the early '90s.

“Those were the Miami Vice days,” she said. “It was always a war. You’d see who was left standing.”

She thrived on the city’s fresh energy. Commercial real estate had only started to coalesce as an industry, and she loved the pre-internet hustle to build relationships and close deals. 

Michael T. Fay and Donna Abood, principals and managing directors of Avison Young in Miami.

Abood grew up in the Tampa Bay area with a developer Dad who built houses.

“It was the family dinner conversation every night — my Dad’s business and how it was going,” Abood said. “I learned to love the industry.”

Abood went to Florida State University, where she majored in management and marketing. She earned her Realtor’s license when she was 18, which was rare at the time. Upon graduation, she planned to join her Dad’s company.

“At the last minute, I took a side track and said, ‘Let me just go to Miami to learn the business in a larger market and bring back new intel, new talent, new strengths,’” Abood said. “The problem is that I never came back.”

Abood took a job as an office leasing agent with The Green Cos., leasing up the Datran Building, a landmark Class-A building with an adjacent Metrorail station in Kendall. She also persuaded law firms to keep offices near the downtown courthouse even though buildings were cropping up in the suburbs, and she had a knack for marketing distressed assets.  

In 1989, she launched Abood & Associates, which grew to be one of the largest privately held, locally based commercial real estate firms in Miami-Dade County. In 2002, she merged with Michael T. Fay, whose expertise was in capital markets and investment sales, to form Wood-Fay Realty Group. In 2007, they purchased the Colliers International franchise for South Florida, and in 2014 sold their company to Avison Young, but stayed on to run the Miami market.

Abood postponed having a child until she was almost 40. “My career was my baby, and I loved it,” she said.

One of her most memorable moments was in 1998, when she was nine months pregnant and arranged a deal for a law firm and a bank to lease several floors in a building.

“A day after [my daughter] was born, I was on the phone finalizing this really, really successful transaction,” Abood said. “I thought, ‘So you can do it all!’”

Abood said her greatest mentor was her father, who taught her to speak softly and carry a big stick. Because of his influence, she always felt confident in her skills and comfortable as the only woman at the boardroom table, which she often still is.

“I didn’t want on my shirtsleeve, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ I just wanted to go in there and go do the job,” Abood said.

Other women don’t always have the same comfort level, though, and end up with less pay or fewer opportunities as men because they’re not networked, she said. So she has been happy to mentor women and even a number of men.

Her career has come full circle as she sometimes teaches classes at Florida State, serves on the board of its Real Estate Institute, and has been inducted into its College of Business Hall of Fame.

She recommends that up-and-comers acquire legal skills to read 50-page leases and thinks professional attire is still important for women.

“The sex appeal look — I’m really disappointed in that, frankly,” she said.

“It used to be that our knowledge would drive transactions,” Abood said. “Now that knowledge is a commodity you can buy on the internet. Today it is about relationships, ethics and how fast you move.”