Leadership starts with trust and collaboration, says Marin County Commercial Real Estate CEO

Being at the head of a family business can come with pressure that you don’t find in other professional situations.

The same year she was born, in 1970, Stephanie Plante’s grandfather, Martin Bramante, started San Rafael-based CPi Developers. Today, she is CEO, president and sole owner after buying out an aunt and two cousins.

While change can be good, Plante acknowledges in a family business, change from how it’s always been done — like converting paper files to digital documentation — is emotionally charged. Just like another problem: wondering who is taking over the company.

“I’ve read a lot about how you make the first or second generation after the founder bite and stay, but after that it gets harder. I think there’s an appeal to keep it going for me,” Plante said.

But she also admitted: “I’m not quite attached to it like (my grandfather) was.”

For now, she plans to continue to acquire, manage and develop commercial properties throughout California. There is no date on the calendar for the retirement, nor is she looking for a buyer for the business.

Here are more insights Plante shared with the North Bay Business Journal.

What is your approach to making difficult and important business decisions?

I’ve been lucky enough to find some great mentors and consultants over the years that I can lean on. I’ve learned that it works great for finding out what you don’t know and asking for help.

What trends affecting your industry are keeping you up at night?

I think most of us small business owners are worried about COVID and its variants. The resulting equity issues that have been exposed are certainly of concern to me, as are the stories about how long certain systems like the supply chain will take to recover.

What qualities do you admire in other executives you have tried to emulate?

I admire people who lead with a collaborative style. I am drawn to trust in a leader and often seek out women who fight for other women in the workforce and beyond.

How have your mentors had a profound impact on your career?

Without a particular mentor, I might not have stayed in this career. With all due respect to my family, the family business is complicated. I am very lucky to have a mentor who specializes in this area and he has kept me from giving up more than once.

What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career that you now recognize as important?

Sometimes you have to be silent. I believe so much in what I feel is right and just, but I’m still learning when to speak up and when to hold my cards. It’s an art.

Even in a family business, I tend to want to jump to the conclusion so we can put our cards on the table now. But you can’t skip all the chapters, you have to go through all the stops.

It really is a matter of patience. I try to learn patience.

When I don’t have a project before the city of San Rafael and I have the opportunity to give back time and can advocate for another organization, I will speak. I am a community member who cares about the good of the community. I really try to take this responsibility seriously.

Your grandparents having started the business, what are some of the additional pressures of running CPi?

It’s that sense of obligation. My mother passed away when I was 29, so I chose to help out my grandparents by coming to work and trying to pick up where my mother left off. There were pressures because I felt like I was lifted up a generation once she passed. Not only did my grandparents consider me one of their daughters, but many people in the business community thought so too.

Would you encourage your two children to follow in your footsteps? Why or why not?

Probably not. I want each of my children to pursue their own interests. If this lawsuit brings any of them back into commercial real estate or real estate development, I’d like it to be on their own terms.

What would you do in your career if you could and why?

I think that’s what I would have done before the start of my career, really, and it would be to diversify myself a little more. If I had known that I would end up running my family’s business, I might have moved away for college and traveled abroad for my education as well.

I went from San Rafael High to UC Berkeley.

My mom was a single mom since I was 10. She was divorced. She had never been alone until I went to college. I couldn’t blame him for not encouraging me to look far ahead.

I remained quite attached to my mother by going to school so close and that may have led to choices I made for work.

I wanted to encourage my children to go where they want. I think the worldview is expanding.

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