Not everyone would remember the first time they looked at a federal housing loan statement as one of their life's greatest moments. But OneWorld Properties CEO Peggy Olin, like many of the women who have reached the upper echelon of the male-dominated commercial real estate industry, is wired to stand out.
"I'll never forget the first day that I was curious enough to look at a file and review a HUD statement. It was the best day of my life," Olin recalled at Bisnow's Miami Power Women event last week. It was one of her first jobs, and she was working at a bank, handing over keys to real estate agents after they closed a deal. "I turned the page and I realized that they had made double my yearly salary on a real estate transaction," she said. "So of course that piqued my interest. I said to myself, 'I have to learn this business.'" Olin recounted the story of being a single mom with a 2-year-old, hustling on weekends, studying to become a Realtor. "I very proudly walked into the bank and said, 'I got my real estate license,'" she said. "The next thing I heard was, 'Well, you can't keep it active while you're working here.' And I said, 'What? What do you mean?' 'Well, we have very confidential information. You just cannot do it.' "I understand that today," Olin continued. "But at the time ... I got so upset that I said, 'Well, I'm going to go with real estate.' And they're like, 'OK, well you cannot go back to your desk.' They met me downstairs with my box, and I walked out of there." Olin went on to run one of the most successful luxury brokerages in South Florida. She and other panelists at Bisnow's event told stories, gave advice and offered to mentor younger women in the crowd.
Miller Construction Senior Vice President and shareholder Traci Miller said she had been serving as the company's director of business development when she did a training with a business coach. Asked what her goal was, she said she was content in her position. "And they were like, 'Well, aren't you going to run the company?'" Miller said. "And I said, 'Oh gosh, no. I don't have a construction degree and ...' And this guy in the room of 10 people, he was like, 'You're Traci F***ing Miller! If you want to run the company, you tell them you want to run the company!'" The next day, Miller said, she went into the office and asked the owners for a meeting. She said she told her bosses she was going to start coming to the executive meetings, but didn't stop there. "I want to be on the board, I want ownership, and I want to make a difference," she said. "'I want to be this, I want to get paid this.' Walking out of the room, I was, like, floating. I wasn't sure my feet were touching the ground. I'm like, 'Did I really just do that?'"
The panelists shared stories and advice. Heather Zatik, Broward County market president of Centennial Bank, advised that, when going into meetings, "plan for three things: what you think will happen, the worst that can happen and the best that can happen — and have a response for all of those." Adriana Jaegerman, managing principal at Stantec, suggested finding a niche and work style that fits. She ran her own firm for a while. "It was really hard. You know, your mother-in-law comes to town and you're working for yourself, so how are you not going to spend time with your mother-in-law?" Jaegerman said. "And then you end up working till 3 in the morning, 5 in the morning." She realized she preferred the structure of working for someone else. "It's very important to know who you are and where you are in your life and make sure that what you're doing is not the idea of what you should be doing, but what really works for you and for your family," she said.
Lisa Neumayer, area vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher, said that she took a risk jumping from advertising sales to insurance, but that the industry is "surprisingly sexy." Her work has led her to be involved with power plants in Kazakhstan, solar energy plants in Ukraine and working with the president of Burkina Faso.
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