As a woman in a historically male-led industry, I’m in constant pursuit of inspiration and growth opportunities. I’ve found that there is a wealth of resources and networks to help me build a career and ultimately become a leader in both real estate and tech. For my first in a series of “fireside chats” with established female leaders, I was honored to chat with Diane Danielson, COO of SVN Global. We originally connected with Diane to capture her insights on trends shaping the modern Retail #CREcosystem. Please feel free to share her amazing insights with your network and stay tuned for future spotlights.
What first attracted you to commercial real estate?
It was a combination of factors that attracted me to commercial real estate. First, I grew up in one of the premier planned communities, Columbia, MD. Designed by James Rouse in 1967, our community had carefully planned neighborhoods that were inclusive of all races, incomes, interests and religions. That was a living lesson in how real estate matters. Later on at Boston College Law School, I earned a place on the Environmental Law Review and further developed my interest in how we use land in a sustainable and sensible way. Commercial real estate tells the story of a community. It touches all we do and it changes as we change. It’s a key driver in our economy and I wanted to be involved.
How has the CRE industry changed during the course of your career?
If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago, I would have said not much (and that includes weathering a recession). But today, we are facing a tsunami of change that is affecting how CRE is developed, bought, sold and even leased. From new apps and tools to the “Internet of Things” and co-working spaces, from big data analysis to blockchain records management, from innovative infrastructure to urbanization and climate change, we are experiencing changes in our relationship with real estate unseen since we moved from the agricultural era into the industrialized one.
What career advice would you give to women in CRE?
My advice would not be exclusive to women, but may be more crucial to them or any other group that is underrepresented in an industry:
1. Know your market. Not just where it is, or information that is available online, but really understand your owners and users of today and who they will be in the future. This applies to a geographic area as well as a product type specialty.
2. Find a mentor and/or sponsor. History and experience play a large role in successful real estate deals. Having a good mentor and/or sponsor can open more doors for you both in your market and in your own company.
3. Take risks. Not every risk will pan out, but some will and you can learn from any that don’t. Mentors can be helpful in guiding you towards risks worth taking.
4. Drop the perfectionism. It leads to indecision and an inability to take risks. If you know your market and your clients, you can do the right thing without being perfect.
You’ve published multiple articles on LinkedIn regarding gender equality. Why is creating and posting this content important to you?
Studies have shown that companies with gender-balanced leadership outperform the competition. This is because it allows for diversity of thought, better employee engagement, and a wider array of leadership skills. In addition, companies that are inclusionary at the highest levels attract and retain the best and the brightest young talent. Why is this important? The CRE industry is facing a brain drain in our industry. When the baby boomers begin to retire en masse in the next few years, we need to recruit millennials, who are the most diverse generation in history. CRE has operated as a closed network and at SVN we are trying to open it up in order to attract the next generation of talent.
You also recently authored a study on Generation Y and commission-based careers. Can you tell us a little more about this report and what you hope to accomplish with this research?
Anytime you have a generational shift, you are going to see change in how people work. At SVN, we wanted to find out what changes we had to make to avoid being a “Dinosaur Company” and attract millennials, many of whom are burdened with student loans, to a commission-based profession. We knew that embracing technology and diversity were core components. But mentoring, skills training and even conscious capitalism were new and different elements we are incorporating into our company-wide DNA.
What has your experience been like with the CREW Network and what’s the best way to get involved?
CREW Network is similar to any other network in that you need to get involved to reap any benefits and the best way to get involved is to join a committee. I’ve participated in local and national committees – and both have been rewarding. Since many of us work at companies where there are not a lot of women, it’s a great way to meet other women who may be potential colleagues, friends and mentors.
What other resources do you recommend for women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
In order to be a leader, you need to understand your company’s overall growth and profit strategy. All too often, I see women who do a great job within their department, but they don’t lift their head up to see how their department fits in with the overall company strategy. This is where mentors can come into play. They can be your guide and a great source of information. It also helps to understand how other departments work. Networking, industry events and even taking courses in other areas of real estate and business finance will help expand your knowledge.
Who do you admire most and why?
In business, I am intrigued with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Both are taking the status quo and turning it on its head. I admire their ability to look beyond the confines of our existing infrastructure and ask “what if?”
Any major predictions for CRE in 2017?
The urbanization trend will continue for those cities that are affordable and I would watch them closely for innovative infrastructure projects . We are going to see entire SmartCities evolve, where smart buildings and smart cars connect with smart infrastructure (Internet of things). It is easier to experiment in smaller markets, especially when you have a younger population eager to adapt. You can install fiber optic loops, pursue alternative energy strategies, test driverless cars, implement green architecture to fight climate change and design placemaking developments that would be both cost prohibitive and logistically unfeasible in New York City, Los Angeles or Boston.