Every REIT executive takes a different path within their careers. Some spend decades in real estate before joining the C-suite, while others join an organization to lead a function without deep real estate experience.
To coincide with and in recognition of Women’s History Month, Nareit is asking female executives “What advice would you give to your younger self when you were just getting started in your career?”
Click on the names below to jump to their responses, or scroll down to read them all:
- Kimberly Anstett, CTO, Iron Mountain
- Cathy Barré, executive vice president & general counsel, Nareit
- Laurel Durkay, head of global listed real assets, Morgan Stanley
- Tammy Fischer, president & CEO, National Storage Affiliates
- Mary Hogan-Preusse, founder & principal, Sturgis Partners LLC
- Tammy Jones, co-founder and CEO, Basis Investment Group
- Angela Kleiman, COO, Essex Property Trust
- Sheila McGrath, senior managing director, Evercore ISI
- Colleen McKeown, CHRO, Prologis
- Katherine Motlagh, CFO, CyrusOne
- Laura Nichol, EVP business support, Crown Castle
- Lisa Palmer, president and CEO, Regency Centers
- Smriti Popenoe, president & co-CIO, Dynex Capital, Inc.
- Sherry Rexroad, managing director, global REITs, BlackRock
- Toni Sanzone, CFO, W.P. Carey
Find their reflections on the career-defining moment that led them to their current roles here.
"I would tell my younger self that it's okay to be bold and take risks. Don't wait until you're completely ready for that next role. The best learning comes from those moments that are typically messy and oftentimes quite intimidating and they challenge us to bring our best selves. I would also remind myself to have fun. Our business is a team sport and we will gain so much from just jumping in, trusting our teammates, and finding that joy that comes from working together and delivering wins for our customers.”
"Learn from every experience. Gather positive leadership skills where you see them, make note of the ones to avoid, and embrace a breadth of skillsets and topics. Be good to people at work, be good to people at home, and take risks.
Jumping into public policy was uncharted territory for me. I landed on the Hill just before Hurricane Katrina, and found myself as the lead counsel on the economic recovery bills that followed, which was an incredible learning experience for me—collaborating with local government officials who were working to find housing for people, teaming with others to craft gulf opportunity zone incentives, grappling with the cascade of consequences given that the CAT bonds generally weren’t triggered, working across the spectrum of economic issues that needed to be addressed. I gained more than technical skills during just that one experience, I gained a new perspective, and I continue to have a deep interest in post-disaster economic recovery.
So, step into the breach and do something that you don't know much about if you're given the opportunity. You just might find something you really love, and you'll definitely learn a lot. Each time I have taken a risk, it has exceeded my expectations in terms of personal and professional growth."
“There's lots of advice that I would give to my younger self, but I think I can boil it down to about two points. The first would be to not dwell upon my mistakes, but instead try to learn from them and move on. Within asset management, the public market serves as my report card. It can be so satisfying to be able to point towards the tangible results of my hard work and my investment thesis and my research, but it also can be emotionally and intellectually draining when it's not going my way. I do think understanding the reasons for prior underperformance and performing a post-mortem on what went wrong is very healthy and helpful, but dwelling on it is what's not healthy nor helpful. So, my advice to my younger self would be to understand my underperformance, learn from my mistakes, and move on. Don't let that moment define you or hinder your confidence and your ability to perform creative research going forward.
The second piece of advice is related to that first piece, and it's just about the power of self-advocacy and having confidence in yourself. I've experienced it, and I think a lot of women around the world have experienced it, but being your own self-advocate can be uncomfortable. It's important to have a mentor to advocate on your behalf, but it's also important to be your own advocate. You can't rely on everyone around you, and instead you need to set your own goals and objectives and make sure you communicate that effectively with the people you work with. Hopefully it does result in them advocating for you, but it also creates an environment where you're advocating for yourself. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we all need to embrace that more in order to really move forward.”
"I would say stay focused on the big picture, and stay true to yourself and your core values. For me, modeling integrity and accountability have been key."
“I would say that my advice to my younger self would really be about confidence. I had the great fortune, about a year ago, to sit on a panel with a woman named Katty Kay, who is a news reporter for the BBC, and she's also written several books. One of them is called The Confidence Code by Katty Kay. I would for sure give myself that book, if it had existed when I started out in the real estate industry, because it just gives some very inspiring and concrete ways to feel more confident about yourself in a professional setting or really in any setting. For me, this confidence issue really boils down to one thing, which is knowing what you know. I've always sort of defined my career as being an expert in something that a lot of people don't know a lot about, for example, REITs.
It's daunting to sit in a room as a young person, with a lot of presumably older people who are very experienced in whatever they do. It's just so important to remember that what you know, they don't necessarily know as much as you know about your thing. The fact that you know more about that than anything should give you confidence. Just know what you know as best as you can. You can't control anything else and being an expert in something will get you very far.”
Jones serves as an Independent Director for Mack-Cali Realty Corporation (NYSE: CLI)
“If I had the opportunity to speak to my younger self, I would tell her that you have to forgive yourself for not being perfect. I think that as women, we put so much pressure on ourselves. Being in an industry that is male dominated, we're always working so hard to try to stand out. I often speak with women and we come together to navigate some of those challenges when you're in an industry that is not diverse at all. I would also say that you need to remember that you don't fail, you actually learn. I wish someone told me that because anytime I had something that didn't go well, I'd beat myself up.
I think in commercial real estate where you don't necessarily have mentors as readily, you might fall a lot. And so for my younger self, I would say those fallings, those things that you didn't feel comfortable with; get comfortable being uncomfortable because opportunity lies at the edge of your discomfort. I wish someone would have told me that because there were many times I felt uncomfortable. I would also tell my younger self to get comfortable in your own personal pitch, to know how to network. As women, sometimes we speak with each other, but we don't network a lot about deals. I want to talk to my fellow sisters and ladies about doing business and I want to learn, and I wish I would have told my younger self to do that.
And finally, I would tell her that she can be anything she wants to be.”
There’s a fair amount of trial and error in any career decision, similar to life. I try to be diligent about evaluating each outcome and focusing on what worked and also what didn't. So the best advice I would give to my younger self is to learn from your past or your experiences, whatever they may be, and to focus on how you can grow from both the mistakes and the successes.”
“When I think about giving advice to younger people, there are a couple of things I've learned that have proved invaluable throughout my career. I think it's important to stay in touch with people that you meet along the way, as your paths may cross again or you may be helpful to each other over time. Another piece of advice would be never be afraid to hire and surround yourself with very skilled and talented people. Everyone benefits from hiring the most talented people.
I would also advise focusing on equipping yourself with the most recent skill sets or certifications in terms of computer tools, or what is in demand right now, which would be learning about data science and ESG initiatives. These are very important, especially in the REIT world today. Try to make your skills around new initiatives and technology. And make sure those skills are deeper and more current than those in the senior ranks as that can be a key to moving ahead.
I also advise to try to help younger people from your college or other organizations that were once in your shoes looking for an opportunity. Finally, I would advise trying to get involved in your industry trade organizations like Nareit or ULI, as it is a way to get to know a broad cross-section of talented people in the industry. Those are my pearls of wisdom.”
“The biggest advice I give to any young person is just never say no to an opportunity to work on a project, take a different job, or work under different leaders, because you always learn something. Even in a situation that turns out to be a bad choice, you learn a lot about why it was a bad choice, or not a good cultural fit, or why you don't like that kind of work. And without that opportunity you tend to just play it safe, and then you don't get an opportunity to expand your horizons more and do different things.
I have spent roughly a third of my career outside of HR. I've run sales, I've done marketing, I've been a chief administrative officer, a dog's breakfast of areas of responsibility. In each one of them, I learned a ton about the business and how I could be a better HR leader. So rule number one is never say no, and I don't think I ever did. Instead of ‘why?’ ask ‘why not?’ and give it a try. And if it doesn't work out, you'll learn from it and you'll learn to move on to something else. If it does work out, sometimes you end up in a career very different than what you originally thought. It's the old cliche of “man plans, God laughs.” Don't think you have it all figured out too early because life will change, and you'll learn and grow as you go.”
“When I look in the mirror and see my younger self, I remember the hesitation and insecurity I experienced when I had to raise a hand, speak up, or present in a room full of men. My advice would be believe in yourself, be brave and bold. I needed support and reassurance. And most importantly, I needed courage. I got this far in my career because I was competitive and I didn't let adversities take me down.
When I was younger, I made a big decision to come study in the United States, which helped me learn how to be different and adapt to a different environment, how to succeed despite adversity and challenges of unknown. When opportunities presented themselves to work in telecom, and subsequently in real estate, both traditionally male-dominated industries, I did not hesitate. I was fascinated by the business model, and I wanted to learn more. I told myself, concentrate on your strengths, enjoy the journey ahead, and keep the long-term horizon in mind.
Opportunities didn't present themselves, it took time and I worked diligently to find them as I believe that anyone who works hard enough can succeed in anything they do. Being brave in front of others did not come easy either. Striving to be the best at something gave me a reason to work on my public speaking presence and perfect each part of my toolkit that makes me comfortable in the field traditionally dominated by men.
It takes courage and confidence to be on equal footing with colleagues in the room. I learned that a smile is a great weapon and it disarms even the strongest opposition. I think it's a lot more powerful when women smile, and I would encourage my younger self and all the young girls out there to smile more often. Throughout my career, I found that being true to yourself, sticking to your morals, even if you have to turn down opportunities because you disagree with what they stand for, is the right thing to do in the long run. There will always be another better opportunity coming for you if you believe in yourself and work for it. I was fortunate enough to know what I wanted to do when I was young. I worked towards long-term goals with incremental steps and process improvements in mind.
It takes time to develop skills, and it takes inner strength to develop confidence. I would encourage my younger self and all the young girls out there starting a career in real estate, telecom or any other male-dominated industry, to believe in themselves, take chances and persevere. The most basic principles can lead you the furthest. And if you’re capable of doing more, you'll be able to succeed on your own.”
"I would say don't be quite so hard on yourself; you're going to be just fine. It's natural to have a little anxiousness when you go into taking a big risk or doing something new. I was in a lot of situations where I was facilitating different conversations with people well beyond my years of experience. I just had to keep reminding myself that I had the experience and I had the skills and capabilities that were needed. I think you have to remind yourself of that throughout your career. There's going to be times when you begin to doubt, but don't be so hard on yourself, you're going to do just fine.
The corollary to that, of course, is prepare, prepare, prepare. Chance favors the prepared mind and person. So preparing and not being so hard on yourself are the advice I would give to my younger self, and it’s the advice I give to other people today."
“The advice I would give to my younger self would be to never lose your curiosity or your desire to learn. It's always going to be helpful to be curious and to ask questions.
I would also tell my younger self that your instincts and your heart are really important and you should follow them.
And finally, be true to yourself and your values and what's most important to you. If you do all of that your career should follow a path that you'll be proud of.”
“I truly enjoy mentoring young people; it's a passion of mine. What I would say to everyone, including my younger self, is to have a growth mindset that allows you to learn throughout your life. Be completely open to new ideas, have the approach of learning from everyone and allow your experiences, whether they're good or bad, to actually be your teacher.
I would also say don't ever think that you know everything, or anything for that matter. You might know some things, but really have this approach of saying, ‘I want to learn from everyone in all of my experiences.’ Our industry prizes knowledge. And I think knowledge is very important, but it's also important to figure out when you don't know and what you don't know, so that you can be open to learning and you can pivot and change. I think that's really important because the pace of change in our industries is extremely fast.
And the last thing I would say is don't ever believe that you're there or that you've made it because there is no there, just a great lifelong journey towards excellence. Learn to be comfortable with growing and enjoy the ride.”
"Without a doubt, it's not so much about commercial real estate, but really just as a woman in her career and beginning a family at the same time at which you really need to propel your career forward. You almost have to be superwoman to do both. And the fact is, is you can't be a superwoman.
The advice I would give is to reach out for help. Whether that is through a mentor, a sponsor, your family, your partner, paid help—whatever it is that you have to do to make sure that you can create that ever elusive work-life balance. I think that particular period in time is very challenging for so many of us. It’s where some women get derailed from their careers, and a part where I would really like to see more support for women. And so, don't hesitate to ask for that support would be my advice to my younger self. "
“I'd say the two most important things I wish I knew when I first started out, especially in commercial real estate, is know and trust your own value and what you're capable of and don't always take the safe route. And those really go hand in hand. When I started working in commercial real estate, I had significant accounting experience, but I was joining a REIT as an assistant controller with no exposure to real estate. I almost didn't take the job I was offered because I felt like I would be starting over experience-wise having to learn a completely new industry and that was intimidating.
After I thought about it more, I realized they wouldn’t be offering me the role if they didn't think I could do it. So why was I questioning myself? And I ended up taking the role, and that ended up being a pivotal decision in my career as I've had so much success in the REIT world. Multiple times over in my career, I found myself faced with certain decisions, certain challenges, and each time the driving factor behind success was trusting myself in my own value.
When I first started working for that REIT as an assistant controller, I had a mentor who said to me at the time you're going to make a great CFO. And I think I laughed when he said it. That was 10 years ahead of when it actually happened, but I think back to that often and I wonder why he could see that back then, but I didn't have the same goal for myself. When it comes down to it, it's not always easy to see that far ahead or to see what you bring to the table. The importance of knowing and trusting your own value, that applies in so many different experiences. Whether it's taking on a new role or just feeling comfortable speaking up in a meeting and giving your opinion, recognize that you bring unique perspective and value to every conversation, every project, and every decision.
I'm just grateful that I've had people along the way who helped remind me of that and guide me.”
Editor’s Note: Interviews have been edited for clarity.