Meet The JLL Deal Manager Hoping To Add A New Title This Week: Miss USA
Savena Mushinge is taking a week off from her job at brokerage firm JLL, but it isn't to go sightseeing across Europe or vacation on a Caribbean island. She is spending the week participating in the nationally televised competition to become the next Miss USA.
Amid the bright lights and sparkle of ballgowns in Reno, Nevada, Mushinge is practicing her walk and talking points before she joins women from all 50 states and D.C. onstage Friday. She won the Miss Maryland USA pageant in April, the stepping stone to the national competition.
“It all just seemed like a really good place to let all of what I have shine: my business accomplishments, my job — I've been able to network — my philanthropy and just some of those hobbies,” Mushinge told Bisnow in an interview.
By day, Mushinge is a transaction manager handling leases for U.S. Postal Service facilities, working on hundreds of such deals per year with a national team in JLL’s D.C. office.
“All across the United States, I'm working on deals, sometimes that are in the heart of San Francisco to Salisbury, North Carolina,” she said.
“Each deal is truly unique to itself,” she added. “I've been able to work on some really interesting ones — some, like in Hawaii, you just wouldn't even be able to believe [it] — and be able to work with different brokers across [the U.S.] I mean, it's really amazing.”
Born in Zambia, Mushinge moved to the U.S. at age 13 with her mother and siblings, a leap she said they took to search for better education opportunities.
“When I moved here, my English was slim to none, my writing skills as well as verbal skills,” she said. “I had to take tons of ESL classes to help work on that. So yeah, it was a very challenging time.”
Her interest in real estate began in her teens when she read a book that would change the course of her life: The Business of the 21st Century by Robert T. Kiyosaki. When she was in high school, her parents worked with her to buy and flip houses, a job that she said encouraged her entrepreneurial spirit and taught her about building wealth.
“Thank heavens I didn't really lose any of the money that they gave me,” she said.
From there, Mushinge became the first female president of the real estate club at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, growing the club from about 20 members when she started to hundreds at the end of her tenure. It was during this time in college when she first met employees at JLL during a CCIM networking event.
Being a woman of color in the primarily white, male-dominated brokerage industry, Mushinge said she sees these types of early interactions between real estate firms and students as critical to diversifying the profession.
She said firms should focus on engaging students at the collegiate level, going to campuses to meet students, setting up tours of properties or inviting them to their offices. When Mushinge was looking at JLL, she said the hiring manager took that extra step to bring her into the fold.
“I remember when I had my first meeting on the books, he said, ‘I do have a few extra minutes, and I'm happy to have a personal tour of our office,’” she said.
“Introducing them to one extra person, which they did for me, and then we're able to build on from those relationships," she said.
Now, with her success in the field, Mushinge said she tries to take that one extra step, whether mentoring a Miss Teen USA hopeful interested in real estate or grabbing coffee with students.
“Naturally, in real estate, we love to communicate and we're always open and willing to grab a coffee with someone. It's sort of the brokerage thing to do,” she said.
Mushinge’s manager, JLL Managing Director of Advisory and Transactions Matt Do, said he sees a “crossover” between the passion she has for her work and her outside activities.
“She’s ambitious to advance in her career, which is great — a lot of energy there, which I think relates to some of what you see her doing outside of work — just her ambition and drive,” Do said.
In addition to working on deals at JLL and serving as a health and wellness advocate for the firm, Mushinge also finds time to perform duties as Miss Maryland USA, prepare for the national competition, run her own charity, the Daughters Pride Foundation, and act as a tourism ambassador for Zambia. She also speaks four languages fluently and “dabbles” in two others.
Now, as she prepares to take the stage at Miss USA, Mushinge said she hopes the judges will be able to see all of those parts of her.
“You've got various amazing women. And so you really have to know yourself and know what you're bringing to the table and what makes you stand out,” she said.
“And I think the most challenging part is really knowing who you are because I think the judges are going to be able to pick up on that very quickly.”
Samantha Shelton, who works as titleholder manager for the Miss Maryland USA pageant, said that personality came through from the moment she met Mushinge at Miss Maryland USA in April.
“I met her at orientation, but I could tell that day she stood out,” Shelton told Bisnow. “There’s tons of really beautiful girls, but some of them just stand out to you, and she does stand out.”
The Miss USA activities taking place this week include walking rehearsals, a closed-door interview with the judges, social media and TV shoots, and meet-and-greets with celebrities in the area. Then, there are the swimsuit and ballgown competitions and the onstage questions, all leading up to the competition Friday, nationally televised live on The CW, which will culminate in a fateful moment like the one Mushinge experienced in April.
“When you hear your name, you just can't believe it,” Mushinge said of when they announced her as Miss Maryland USA. “The overwhelming emotion just fills you.”
She said that her experience proves to her that the American dream is “alive and well.”
“I remember arriving to this country and the first thing that comes to mind is for whatever reason, it did not get dark,” she said. “The sun was out longer. It was 8:45 [p.m.], and it's still bright as day outside. And ever since that day, I feel being in this country, my life has only gotten brighter, has only gotten better.”