CREW New Jersey Panel: Risks and Rewards for Women in Commercial Real Estate

Panel at CREW New Jesrey seminar.Panel at CREW New Jesrey seminar.

ISELIN, NJ—(SBN)—Knowing what risks to take and when to take them are critical business skills, and may mean even more to women in business, say members of a panel discussion sponsored by CREW New Jersey, the professional networking organization for women in commercial real estate.

The panel, sponsored by Commercial Real Estate Women – New Jersey, featured industry-leading women who have reached executive level positions in the commercial real estate field, who responded to quotes from famous authors with anecdotes from their own work experience.

CREW NJ Panel, Clockwise: Nitsch, Hardt, Gonchar, Brennan

CREW NJ Panel, Clockwise: Nitsch, Hardt, Gonchar, Brennan

A CREW Network white paper found that “Women do not take the same risks that men do, and therefore we don’t get the same rewards, whether it’s deals, or salary, or opportunities,” Judy Nitsch, immediate past president, CREW Network and founding principal and chairman of Nitsch Engineering, explained in opening the panel.  “We thought it would be important for our members to understand some of the risks, and it includes risks we took that worked out well, risks we took that didn’t work out so well, and risks that we didn’t take that we wish we had taken.”

Nitsch moderated the panel consisting of Meryl Gonchar, partner/co-chair, Development and Land Use Department of the law firm  Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis; Cheryl Hardt,  first vice president, CBRE; and Kimberly Brennan, chief operating officer for NY/Tri-State, Colliers International.

During 2005, Hardt recalled working on strategic issues, client relationships, and reporting tasks, not realizing until the market tanked and brokers left for other firms that her work was regarded as “implementation,” or expendable when the pipeline of deals dried up.

“So what I started to do was reinvent myself,” she says. “Really going out there and getting business and pitching business, and being out front. A lot of times, I was ‘Oz’ behind the team, but I never was out front. As a result, I have a whole new business line and a pipeline that’s a lot healthier today.”

Today, Hardt uses a five-year personal review to keep herself fresh. “Every five years I look at what I’m doing,” she says. “I sort of say, ‘what are we going to do now? What’s next?’”

Goncher recalls being asked to team-teach a course, but when reviewing the syllabus, realized that the course was about real estate transaction law, not her specialty of land use law. Ultimately convinced by the program director that she could easily lead the course, she later realized she almost gave in to her own fears.

“You think you’re beyond it,” she says. “What was the downside, some students are going to think that I’m not so bright?”

When Brennan approached her boss about moving into the firm’s management, he suggested she needed actual brokerage experience to be effective managing brokers. So she left the security of a salaried position in research to work on deals. Cold calling left her with a knot in her stomach, she says.

“It was a really scary year and a half, I told my boss I can’t be a broker but I know how to manage them now,” she says. “He gave me the five junior brokers and told me to go manage them. It was a good risk to take.”

You can hear the entire CREW NJ panel discussion as an audio podcast in the player below.