We will gain perspective. This crisis has hit everyone in the entire world, but it has not impacted all of us equally. I think this has provided us an opportunity to gain perspective and see how fortunate we are and all the resources and tools that are available to us to be successful in this new environment. It also shines a light on those who do not have those same resources and face struggles so that we can see how we are in the perfect position to help.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bethany Babcock.
Bethany Babcock founded Foresite Commercial Real Estate in San Antonio shortly after having her first child in 2014 at the age of 29. The company, and her family, grew and it is now one of the fastest-growing commercial real estate firms in South Texas. In 2018, Bethany was named by the San Antonio Business Journal as one of the “40 under 40”. She has three children six and under and the company is responsible for the management of a portfolio of commercial properties worth over 100 Million dollars. In addition, Foresite provides project leasing and tenant representation for several notable retailers and projects. The company also boasts a successful and dedicated investment sales team that has completed the sale of investment properties in thirteen states. Bethany is also a long-time board member for the non-profit, Adult and Teen Challenge of Texas and is fluent in Spanish.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have a bit of a different background from most others in our industry. I do not come from a long line of business owners or other commercial real estate professionals. My parents were Christian missionaries in Northern Chile when I was growing up, so I was most familiar with the nonprofit sector and volunteer work. I spent most of my childhood in Chile and then came back to the United States by myself when I turned eighteen. I wanted to go to college, but I had to work full time since I did not have any family around to live with. I got my first full time job through a temp agency and through a series of mistakes I was sent to interview as an administrative assistant for a family office. The group managed the family’s investments of shopping centers and office buildings. I was fortunate that I was able to work during the day and attend college at night. By the time I graduated with my undergraduate degree I was responsible for managing most of their San Antonio investment properties. That first job laid the foundation for my interest and future roles in commercial real estate.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The first year of the company’s existence I took virtually any project and client that I could. Most were not the type of projects I was even very good at working on. I was desperate to break into higher quality property management and leasing assignments.
During a client meeting, a well-known developer mentioned that he usually does most leasing in-house but due to conditions he was interviewing national brokerage firms for a key development he was working on. Without even thinking I blurted out, “I’ll do it and I will do it for free”. He stared at me for a while and I felt the awkward silence for what felt like hours. The client changed the subject without much acknowledgment of my offer. Later he stopped by my office and said. “You have no idea what you offered.”
I knew the assignment was worth several hundred thousand in fees, but I felt that without the project I wouldn’t earn them anyways. I had no staff so the only person that would have to work for free would be me. He continued. “This will consume every minute of your day, a project this size will keep you from everything else, even your family, and will require all you have and then some. Its for an entire team, not an individual”. I acknowledged I knew that, though truthfully I didn’t yet understand the scope. Then he accepted my offer.
His statement was not an exaggeration. If anything, the scope was downplayed. It took all I had and then some. My little family continued to grow during that time, so I carried babies to construction sites and meetings, and it took far more time and energy than I ever imagined. There was not one wasted minute of the day. Even while nursing in the middle of the night I was emailing prospective tenants. Eventually I was passing on other opportunities just to be able to finish and honor the commitment I made. During that time, I frequently scolded myself for my impulsive offer. After two incredibly challenging years, the project was leased, and I was excited to use that experience to earn new assignments that I could make a living off. To my surprise, the client came back and asked for my invoice. I told him while the project was far more than I thought, he had warned me, and the deal was a deal. He mailed payment anyways and would not take no for an answer. Looking back, I could not be more grateful for the challenges that came with that assignment and it absolutely opened the doors I hoped it would. More importantly it gave me the skills I needed to know what to do once those doors were opened.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
It’s funny because you would think that in the middle of chaos, it is a bad idea to start a new project and take on another challenge but sometimes that is where the best ideas are born! During the shutdown and the stay at home orders I noticed on LinkedIn that several recent college graduates were announcing that they were losing their summer internships. A few mentioned that without those credits they would not be able to graduate.
I had an impulsive idea to open up our internal training program for commercial real estate to outside participants needing an internship. We had been building it for the past year online and it was about two thirds complete and could be completed virtual with a few modifications.
The idea was that, I would use the public announcement of this new program as motivation and a deadline to finish writing the curriculum for the last third of the program. I had to write until my fingers cramped and then I switched to record video until I could not stand the sound of my own voice. It worked, but it was a bit like trying to run ahead of a train. Especially when schools closed and suddenly, I was homeschooling. But I did finish creating the program, barely. At one point I was typing the last few sentences of a lesson as students were logging into read the first part.
Not all my impulsive ideas work out well, most don’t, but this one exceeded expectations. The program helped several students land full time positions in our industry even during a period of double-digit unemployment. The program highlighted a huge need in our industry for training and we are now looking to expand the program in significant ways.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without hesitation, Chad Knibbe. Chad was my mentor when I was an investment sales broker at a national investment sales firm. While working under his leadership he began (repeatedly) pointing out every time a property management or leasing company missed the mark and how our clients were not happy with those companies and their investments were losing value. He began encouraging me to tap into my experience as a property manager and leasing agent and start a firm to serve his clients. It took him several years to finally convince me, but the tipping point was right after I had my first son. There was a series of challenges in my personal life. I was a new mom, my own mother was very ill and moved in with us so we could help take care of her, and my husband was working a new job where he traveled out of town at least 4 nights each week. The pressure was intense.
In the middle of that storm, Chad brought it up again. I remember questioning his logic and timing. Why add even more to think about and do? His response was “This is the perfect time, no one has any expectations, and no one is watching, and no one expects this. You will catch everyone by surprise.” That got me thinking and somehow, surprisingly, it took the pressure off.
While Chad stayed at our prior employer for another four years, he helped the company grow by working with our clients on the purchase and sale of centers that I was managing and leasing. After four years however, Foresite grew to a size that it needed more active leadership and his full-time involvement. He is now my full-time business partner and President of Foresite and leads a high performing investment sales team. To say I would not be where I am professionally without him, is an understatement.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
I think all women can agree that the challenge was childcare. I could handle stay at home orders and working from home and managing the crisis of a shutdown at our centers. I learned I could handle a slightly longer spring break and the kids at the house. I learned how to navigate alternating taking client calls with my husband who was also working from home.
However, when they sent the kids home with giant binders full of assignments, logins, Zoom meeting schedules and task lists, it was almost comical. The first week I just decided it could wait until they went back to school that next week, but that week never came. My kids attend a full Spanish immersion school so my husband couldn’t help since he doesn’t speak Spanish. I did not want them to fall behind so I spent the days juggling text messages from clients, Slack messages from staff, and emails from banks while setting up Zoom calls and helping sound out words and distributing snacks every seven minutes.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The silver lining of the shutdown was that we were all in a similar boat. I often would answer the phone and candidly tell the clients, “I am stopping a fight between my kids right now please hold”. Or I would tell them a meeting needed to be scheduled later because my oldest had a Zoom call with the Math teacher and he needed my computer at that time. Those are admissions I would have never made to a client in January of this year. Most of my clients and staff had different dynamics at home. Many were empty nesters or had a spouse that was able to care for the kids to allow them to work with minimal interruptions. However, they understood, and I was not ashamed to hide the challenges because it was so well known that all parents of young kids were facing them. Being honest about it and finding the humor in it took the pressure off. I also set boundaries with everyone including my children’s teachers. I told them that I was going to focus on math and other essential tasks, we would skip the virtual science fair and fun Zoom activities. Instead, I let the kids play and sometimes I even joined in. Once expectations were set, I found myself enjoying the small moments a lot more.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The biggest struggle continues to be childcare and all the unknowns. We have to develop plan b, c, through z. While daycares are opening back up and some schools are planning to open, the situation changes daily. I have my oldest enrolled in two different schools for Fall and am waiting to see what the ‘final’ plan is for each before deciding which route to go.
In most families, the burden of pivoting, finding solutions, etc. falls on the mother most of the time regardless of earnings or professional obligations. My hope is that in seeing that dynamic during the crisis, families can examine the situation and determine whether that setup will still work for them. Some tough conversations will have to take place to see what works best for their families. I also hope other business owners are observing these conversations and social shifts to help support their teams beyond this crisis as roles and responsibilities at home evolve.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Candidly I can say that it is easy to look out at the world and get angry and upset at the heavy burden we carry juggling work and responsibilities at home. What this crisis has shown me, is that if something is not working for me or my family I should speak up. Not in a blog, or a video, or to my friends. It is not the world’s fault I am carrying a lot of responsibility, its mine. I need to stop accepting it and ask for help. During this crisis I have had the opportunity to have much more honest conversations with my husband. I used to take so much pride in trying to ‘do it all’. I wanted dinner on the table, a clean house, well behaved children, and a job I was passionate about. I think it is on me to say, something has to change. I need help and here is a load of laundry. Please help. There is no reason to silently resent the inequalities. Speak up, ask for help. It may not be well received at first, but approach and timing are everything. My husband was not intentionally shifting the weight to me. However, I needed to speak up and explain why it was important and how he could help. The burden for much of my stress falls on me and my own poor communication. The pandemic has really forced a lot of us to have important conversations at home that we never prioritized before.
At the same time, it is important to look at the why and decide together if everything needs a piece of your life. Why do each of my kids need multiple after school activities? Why do I insist on making this from scratch when I could buy it for the fundraiser or send cash instead? Is it worth it if it makes you and the family miserable? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. This crisis presents the perfect opportunity for us to wipe the slate clean and say ok… what do we really need to be doing? And who needs to be doing it?
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Lower your standards. Truthfully. I looked at the kids’ weekly sheets and decided my two-year old did not need structured lessons, at all. Instead, we set simple goals for the remainder of the school year. My four-year-old would learn to ride a bike and read. My oldest would be allowed to freely read all the Star Wars and science books he could handle, and he got to play math quizzes on the computer. We intentionally did the bare minimum that the schools required just so they could move on to the next class. Instead we went to life school. We baked, we wrote stories, we played a game where the kids would try to stump the internet and they would ask any question that came to mind. We would look up the answer and learn random facts about why the sky is blue and things like that. And you know what? The teachers understood and the kids got a much happier mom and some cool memories.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Right before the crisis we bought a house outside the city with some land. When the shutdown happened, I thought I had the worst timing ever and could not believe we had just bought a house before the economy was going to tank. It turned out to be a blessing because the kids and I spent a lot of time outside. I would work on my laptop in the garden and watch my kids chase each other with the water hose. We got some baby chicks and learned to care for them, learned about the cycle of life and how to protect them (we were not always successful). We also started a vegetable garden. That is something I never thought I would do but it turned out to be the perfect science class for the kids. Letting them dig holes in the backyard to plant their apple cores and clementine seeds bought me several hours to catch up on emails. I also learned the kids really do not need a schedule or even activities. They can easily entertain themselves and come up with their own silly games if I just get out of their way.
The biggest challenge has been in finding long periods of quite time to complete more detailed work. For that, I have literally sat in my closet with my back against the door while the kids knocked. In fact, that is where I am now. It’s not glamorous but it works.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- We will pivot. I have seen firsthand the resilience of the small business owners. Their ability to pivot will lead us into recovery if we can provide them the support and encouragement they desperately need. So many of them are creating new products and services and even starting entirely new businesses. These small businesses are a vital driver of job creation and generate tax revenue we need to support other essential services. Seeing so many examples of this inspires me. A theater tenant of ours started doing outdoor drive in movies to keep their restaurant’s staff employed. A math tutoring franchise started offering virtual math workshops and found a whole new client base. The list goes on and on.
- We will reflect. This has given everyone a time to stop and reflect on where they are in life and if they are heading in the right direction. What is important? What is healthy for me? What is best for those I love? It has been a wonderful season for personal development.
- We will reconnect. So many people feeling completely isolated have reached out to loved ones around the world through Facetime and Zoom and reconnected and built new relationships. My husband’s family lives in Michigan and Argentina and used to only see us every couple of years. But with everyone home, video calls are now the norm and the kids are getting to know their entire family regardless of borders.
- We will gain perspective. This crisis has hit everyone in the entire world, but it has not impacted all of us equally. I think this has provided us an opportunity to gain perspective and see how fortunate we are and all the resources and tools that are available to us to be successful in this new environment. It also shines a light on those who do not have those same resources and face struggles so that we can see how we are in the perfect position to help.
- We will have hard conversations. It is harder to walk away when we are in quarantine together and I think so many people have found that they have learned to communicate better with their families. They have talked about things they have avoided; they have worked through issues. Some are talking and setting new goals, planning for new adventures, and making major changes together. Sometimes we depend on our circle of friends for these things and the crisis has forced us to have these conversations at home first and I see a lot of good coming from that.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Personally, my faith has been the most crucial tool for dealing with the inevitable anxiety from this pandemic and economic upheaval. It offers me a much longer perspective on life and beyond to deal with the challenges we are facing today. In the same manner, when encouraging loved ones, I like to offer a historical context of all the changes this world has undergone. This is not the biggest one, it’s not even in the top ten. Yet good will come from this, we can already see it. We just need to get a higher-level perspective and keep the focus off ourselves and our own situations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is a moment, not forever. It is easy to become fatigued with circumstances and challenges and make long term decisions to avoid temporary pain and discomfort. Keeping this in mind has helped me focus on long term goals such as working my way through college to graduate with no student loans, start a business while starting a family, and creating new opportunities for others while managing the crisis of a shut down. I have to ask myself, “Is the short-term sacrifice worth the long-term goal?”. Keeping the end in mind makes making decisions that delay gratification much easier.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am pretty active on LinkedIn so that is the best way https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethanybabcock/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!