Developing women in commercial real estate

When some people think of real estate and women, there is a certain image that may come to mind. This is not the story of a woman discussing the terms of renting a Class A office suite…

When some people think of real estate and women, there is a certain image that may come to mind.

It’s not that of a woman discussing lease terms for a class-A office or reviewing a development site or sitting in a glass-walled conference room reviewing the financial details of a major transaction.

It is the image of a woman running to a visit for a house in the suburbs.

While there are plenty of women in the area who have built successful businesses working in residential real estate — and don’t care about clichés or preconceptions — there are also plenty of women in the Milwaukee area who are blazing the trail. a path in commercial real estate.

Slowly, but surely, they are bucking the stereotypes that the commercial real estate game is one in which only men can succeed.

In fact, in recent years, developers like Juli Kaufmann, JoAnne Johnson-Sabir, Melissa Nicole Allen and Cindy Shaffer have made a name for themselves with high-profile developments in the city and suburbs.

But it’s not just the developers.

Women have long played key roles in the market as investors, bankers, brokers, lawyers, architects, designers and construction workers, said Jacqueline Hrovat, shareholder and executive of the Mallery sc law firm, based in Milwaukee, which works on commercial real estate and financing transactions, including the Sherman Phoenix entrepreneurial hub, developed by Kaufmann and Johnson-Sabir.

“There are women in commercial real estate. They are intelligent and respected. They may not be the face of the business, but they do it in the background,” Hrovat said.

Some women in the industry – like emerging developers Obiageli ‘Oby’ Nwabuzor and Shar Borg – have come into real estate on their own. Sisters Caroline and Abby Brzezinski found their path in the field because they were inspired by the work of their father, Francis Brzezinski, managing director and partner at Waukesha-based Interstate Partners LLC.

After separately completing the University of Wisconsin School of Business real estate program, the sisters each worked in the commercial lending industry in Chicago for a few years before deciding to return home. Caroline joined Interstate Partners in 2008. With the industrial real estate market still recovering in 2012, Abby struck out on her own upon returning home, eventually teaming up with a friend from college to form Red Sky Partners. , based in Waukesha, which owns, manages and develops several family-owned properties across the region.

Recently, the sisters have started working together on some projects, such as Breeze Terrace, a 213-unit apartment building in Pleasant Prairie.

For both sisters, their father’s support has been key to their success, but so have the relationships they’ve forged with other women in the industry.

Women held less than 37% of commercial real estate jobs in 2020, according to research by the Commercial Real Estate Women Network. But for Caroline, “the narrative that CRE is ‘an old boys’ club is a bit tired”.

“There may not be a ton of women in leadership positions, but I think that’s true in almost every industry. And we have great relationships with a lot of very smart, successful women. (CRE) here,” she said.

Both Nwabuzor and Borg have been supported in their efforts to become developers by partners and mentors.

Borg began working in residential real estate in 2006. That year she began her very first project as a developer, working with Ryan Pattee on a 53-unit mixed-use apartment complex planned for the 1500 block of East North Avenue in Milwaukee.

“It’s not as easy for women. It’s a very small, tight-knit, male-dominated community,” Borg said of business development in Milwaukee. who are settled in this world, and they were happy to associate with me, but not everyone has those relationships.”

For Nwabuzor, mentors and partners have also played a key role in encouraging and helping him achieve his development goals.

Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Landmark Credit Union, Nwabuzor is currently working on a major redevelopment of the Milky Way Tech Hub space at 3803 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in Milwaukee, thanks to her relationship with the hub’s co-founder and CEO. Nadia Johnson.

A longtime Milwaukee resident who grew up in some of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods, Nwabuzor – whose development company Envision Growth was founded in 2019 – said leaders should look to people like her for guidance. help reinvent these spaces.

“I think there’s really a lack of investment in the vision of black and brown women who can make these changes,” she said.

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