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An Interview With: Jane Shister

Washington, D.C.
An Interview With: Jane Shister

An Interview With: Jane Shister

Shister just completed a one-year term as president of the Washington chapter of CREW. A senior vice president at Cassidy & Pinkard specializing in investment sales, she was named one of the top 10 commercial agents in DC in 2004, with sales exceeding $100 million. Originally from Buffalo, she went to the University of Michigan, earned a masters in city planning from MIT, and came to DC in 1977. CREW, founded in 1979, is the leading local organization of women who are commercial real estate professionals. (The 2006 President of CREW is a colleague of Shister’s at Cassidy & Pinkard, Elaine Gray.).

Bisnow: How many women do you see in commercial real estate? In my part of the business, selling land and buildings, there’s usually at least one other woman involved in the deals that I’m doing. Often there is a female lawyer, commercial leasing broker, designer or architect, or title professional who is involved. We also have a number of women in the construction industry. But women are still a small minority in most parts of commercial real estate.

Does it bother you that in investment sales you don’t see many women? I do think about it, but it doesn’t bother me. There was an interesting study done last year about women leaving the corporate world. One of the reasons appears to be not only the tug of home and family responsibilities, but also that they don’t get enough support in their jobs. They don’t know the rules that men play by. When that article came out, I wrote a President’s letter to CREW, and got a lot of response. It struck me that CREW has served as a strong support group that may actually help keep women in the industry who might not otherwise stay.

What kind of support are you talking about? It’s very subtle. It goes to how men and women develop business relationships. I’ve been doing this a long time and have noticed that men don’t know how to socialize with women on a business level. And frankly, women aren’t sure how to socialize on a business level with men. It goes both ways, but to the extent men are making more decisions in the business it’s a disadvantage to women. We have to learn to succeed in spite of those natural hurdles and build relationships that help us in business.

On the other hand, is it helpful in some way to be a woman? Yes I do think it’s helpful, because you stand out. People don’t forget me. They may confuse me with somebody else, but they know I’m not the other guys in the room. I’m at times the only woman there. And that is definitely an advantage.

At CREW or otherwise, do women talk about these things? CREW doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about gender issues. That discussion is something that’s a lot more private. We are more oriented to educating members on relevant real estate topics and networking. This spring we are hosting a program about using golf in a business setting. And, for the second year in a row, we are going to hold a golf clinic. Several years ago, we used to run a tournament, and we didn’t have very many participants among our members. Rather than run a tournament again, our strategy is to help women become more comfortable with playing golf, so they can use it as a business tool.

Have you tried to play at the men’s game? Have you taken golf lessons? I did take golf lessons, but I wasn’t very good at it. It was during a time when I had kids at home and was too busy to learn the game.

I’ve heard it said that for men, those who don’t golf well still play. But that for women, if they don’t golf well, they don’t play.Yes, I’ve heard that. In fact it’s a quote from Hillary Bruggen, an expert in helping women learn golf. She will be speaking at our CREW program in March on that very subject.

Yeah, that’s exactly where I got it. Anything else where you’ve tried to play a man’s game? I’ve attended hockey and basketball games. But I’m more of a theatre, ballet, music, and reading person. That’s just my personality.

What’s an example of the kind of transaction you do? Typically, I list properties for sale for a variety of owners, from sophisticated developers and investors to families who are not educated in the nuances of commercial real estate. For example, I sold nine acres of ground at Buzzard’s Point for Pepco last year – a very sophisticated seller.

If women are at a social disadvantage, how do you explain the fact that you do so well in commercial real estate? You sold those nine acres for Pepco, and a number of other women are well known as high-producers. Well, I’ve been in the industry for 23 years. The success didn’t come overnight. I created a niche in land sales and assemblages. Sellers come to me because they know I know the history, the zoning, planning, and the development process. It also helps a lot that I’m with Cassidy & Pinkard, which has a terrific reputation, an in-depth research department, and 25 years of local relationships in the District. And maybe because I’m a woman, I have patience and diplomatic and negotiating skills. I’m not very pedantic, but I’m good at educating people who are not knowledgeable about the real estate industry. Yet I also have the experience and knowledge to attract sophisticated owners and investors to list their properties with me, too.

Why did you come to Washington? Love. My boyfriend, who became my husband, was in a Ph.D. program in Washington.

How did you end up in real estate? I am educated as a planner, and my first job here was working for a consulting group that had a HUD contract to write about best practices in the Community Development Block Grant Program. I traveled around the country interviewing city planners about how they allocated federal grants and summarized those findings in a report. Then I joined the National Commission on Neighborhoods as associate director in the Carter administration, which was meant to produce recommendations for improving city neighborhoods. But then a political upheaval in the Commission occurred; and I lost my job. I ended up doing consulting on real estate matters for a company that now is called Edmondson & Gallagher. They are Virginia housing developers. At the time they were in the city and trying to combine subsidized programs and unsubsidized programs to renovate housing complexes. I worked on one in Silver Spring called University Manor. That’s how I got exposed to the profit-making part of real estate. When I left there, I joined the Oliver Carr Company, where I was hired to do acquisitions, which at first were all land acquisitions for future building. I focused on the District and Alexandria putting together storefronts and land on the fringe.

You really liked that? I liked making deals. It was exciting and it combined my interest in city planning and dealing with people. I remember that 11th Street, which is now Lincoln Square, was 15 or 18 different parcels when I was first trying to assemble that deal for Carr. There were two or three wig shops, a nut store, a uniform store, and a nude bar – Swings Coffee and Whitlows Tavern were there, too. Everybody had different motivation and different needs. That was tremendously interesting to me, and I did those types of deals at Carr for four years in the mid-80s. I had bought four or five sites downtown with Carr, and then we decided to sell one. I thought selling wouldn’t be as much fun as buying, so I decided to jump ship. We had been working with Cassidy & Pinkard on a lot of these deals, so I came over here in 1987.

In a nutshell, what have you been doing since 1987 at Cassidy? Primarily selling urban development land, as I’ve been for 23 years now. I’ve done a few other things, but that’s really where I focus.

What are examples people would know? I’ve sold the land where the U.S. Mint is now at Ninth and H, on behalf of Mellon Bank to DRI. And I sold what we called at the time Square 456, which is Terrell Place now. The ownership was with three different insurance companies, and CarrAmerica was a developer there. That’s probably 500,000 feet of office space and 75 condominiums, which will ultimately be the home of the Shakespeare Theatre—a building that’s under construction on F Street between Sixth and Seventh. It’s also Venable’s office and where Rosa Mexicano is across from the MCI Center. But when I sold it, it was the old Hechts building and the MCI Center wasn’t built. It was a fringe area.

What’s the history of CREW? It was founded in 1979 by a group of women back when there weren’t many women at all in the real estate business. We’ve been celebrating CREW’s 25th anniversary since the fall of ‘04. It’s consistently been an organization that helps provide opportunities for women. We exist to advance the success of women in commercial real estate. We’re also part of CREW Network, a national organization with 54 chapters and more than 6,000 members. The Washington, DC, chapter was one of the founding members and has consistently been a leader in the world of women in real estate. We have about 200 individuals from leading real estate and professional service companies as members: brokers, developers, architects, property managers, attorneys, and some vendors who sell furniture and the like. Our awards program this year honored women leaders in the industry like Linda Rabbitt, CEO of RAND Construction; Maureen Dwyer, Managing Partner of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Greta Perry, founder of Greta Perry Construction Management; and Susan Strohm, an architect with Nelson Architects. Linda and Maureen are past CREW presidents. The list of past presidents of CREW is a Who’s Who of women in Washington real estate.

What are other events or activities of CREW during the year? Our programs are mostly held at lunchtime and feature leading experts in commercial real estate. Often 150 or so attend these programs. We have networking meetings, which are usually smaller, focused on a topic, or purely social. One of them was recently on REITs, but we also had a wine tasting. We have a program this year called CREW Careers, a pilot program developed by CREW Network to introduce younger girls to the industry and to CREW. We work with high school girls in the Girl Scouts to show them the world of commercial real estate. We held a one-day program in May with about 25 Girl Scouts from different local troops. The program featured the old Woodies Building at Eleventh and F Streets as a case study. They heard from lawyers, brokers, architects, leasing brokers, and others in the business about what their world is like.

Does CREW have any connection to residential real estate? We haven’t typically had residential realtors as our members. But as the apartment and condo developments continue to grow, one of our goals is to bring in more professionals who are involved in multi-family residential.

Did you celebrate the end of your term? Yes, I hosted a dinner for the Board at my home in December. We toasted with some wine. My husband and I made the meal, and he served it.

That was nice of him. Does he normally do that?Well, normally we host meals together, but he knew this was my occasion. Afterward, I received a thank you from one of the Board members who wrote, “Boy, you make quite a team.”

You admitted to people it was your husband serving? Yes, but I didn’t make him wear a tux.

What were the highlights of 2005 for CREW? We’ve had a great year. We piloted the CREW Careers program, we developed a new strategic plan, we started celebrating our 25th anniversary, and we had tremendous events with high visibility. To create our long-range plan, we spent several full days working with a representative group from our organization. I think we have a great blueprint to go forward. It’s not the kind of thing that gets a lot of publicity, but it’s something that is really necessary for an organization like ours.

And tell me just a little more about Cassidy & Pinkard. We have the distinction of being the largest privately owned commercial brokerage firm in the region, and represent about 30% of the office building sales in the Metropolitan area. In 2004, we did more than $3 billion in sales and leasing transactions, and managed nearly 4 million square feet. And, we were named by the Washington Business Journal as one of the top five best places to work among locally-based companies.

And a good place for women? Well, just to link it to the women’s issue, Cassidy & Pinkard was named by CREW at our 25th anniversary gala as “Firm of the Year,” for its strong support of CREW. In fact, there are four women on the Board of Directors in 2006 who are from Cassidy & Pinkard. The company has done a great job of promoting women and supporting them. That’s another reason why I’m still working there. And the firm, coincidentally, will also be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.