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“In this industry women actually have a big advantage” With Jason Hartman & Vicky Schiff

Frankly, I think women have it easier. I was just at a conference where 100–200 people were standing around in an open area and everyone was in dark or blue suits or blazers except the dozen women in the room, who really stood out. The man I was talking to was making fun of himself […]

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Frankly, I think women have it easier. I was just at a conference where 100–200 people were standing around in an open area and everyone was in dark or blue suits or blazers except the dozen women in the room, who really stood out. The man I was talking to was making fun of himself and how he just blended in. It is much easier to walk up to a group and say hello and be invited into a conversation.

If you’re smart, informed and can communicate, women have a big advantage. I’ve always believed that and better yet, have experienced that. To be successful, you need to be able to perform…to understand investments, sales, people and trends. There is not a lot of room for error so it tends to be a bit less forgiving than more creative businesses….you have to have thick skin, but that’s true for both men and women. Also, when you’re younger and have less experienced, people make mistakes and may be criticized for that. It’s important to approach the business with an attitude or desire to constantly improve. Be objective. Learn and move on.


Asa part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vicky Schiff.

Vicky is the Co-Founder of MREC Management, LLC and its affiliate co-mingled open-ended fund Mosaic Real Estate Credit (collectively “Mosaic”) which is focused on origination and managing short- and medium-term structured real estate debt investments.

Ms. Schiff’s investment career began in the early 1990s as an acquisitions and diligence executive in Los Angeles, where she worked on approximately $1 billion in real estate transactions. Ms. Schiff is a career entrepreneur, co-founding five firms since 1996 including: a real estate investment and development company and affiliated management company with more than 100 employees in the self-storage industry; an institutionally supported $400+ million real estate fund of funds with a sub-strategy of supporting women and minority emerging real estate firms throughout the U.S.; a national boutique investment banking firm which raised more than $6 billion from institutional investors for top-tier real estate and private equity firms around the world; an investment platform formed in 2009 to create value for investors by acquiring commercial real estate debt and distressed assets in target markets across the U.S. which owns and operates office, industrial, multi-family and retail properties; and Mosaic Real Estate Investors.

Ms. Schiff has been a frequent industry panelist and has spoken at institutional real estate, capital markets, emerging manager and trustee fiduciary executive conferences. She has also written and been interviewed for various industry publications and has appeared as a guest on Bloomberg TV. She was been named as one of the Most Powerful Women in Real Estate and early in her career, one of Commercial Property News’ Rising Stars and has been recognized by various industry publications including Globe Street, Commercial Observer, The Los Angeles Business Journal and Bisnow as a leader in her industry.

Her past board service includes a three-year term as a Commissioner for the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) and member of its Investment Committee; the Board of Advisors of Vanir Construction Management and; the Board of Directors and Audit Committee of DREAM Unlimited (TSX:DRM), one of Canada’s leading real estate companies with approximately $14B CAD AUM. Currently, Ms. Schiff serves on the Board of Directors of DREAM Industrial REIT (TSX:DIR); on the Board of Advisors of privately held Morgan Properties, a multi-family property owner/operator with over 70,000 units in the U.S. and; on the UCLA Anderson School of Management Advisory Board to the Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Ms. Schiff has been committed to service through various non-profit and educational organizations, serving as Chapter Chair and various board positions as a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) including YPO’s International Real Estate Network and YPO’s Women’s International Network; the Advisory Board of The Robert Toigo Foundation; the Advisory Board of The Lusk Center for Real Estate at USC and; Founding of an organization of top C-Suite women real estate investors in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

She earned her BS degree from the University of Southern California in 1988 and an MBA from The Anderson School of Management at UCLA in 1996. She resides in Pacific Palisades, California with her family.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

Iwas exposed to the real estate business at an early age as my father, Jim Schiff was a hotel and industrial developer in Las Vegas. I was on the job site of Circus Circus at the tender age of three!

I grew up in the 1970s and was raised by my father, Jim Schiff, who moved to Las Vegas in the early 1950s to participate in the adventure and future promise of a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, started from an idea of an oasis in the desert.

My father had a tremendous influence on my early life. By the time I was born, he was in mid-life and just starting to experience great success after years of struggling in a tough but growing real estate market.

My dad passed away after my Freshman year in College. I graduated from USC in 1988 and despite having an Exercise Science degree (which I studied out of a passion for training), I decided to embark on my real estate career.

I started my first business in 1996 at the age of 30 when the economy was in recovery after the dot com bubble exploded. Working for a regional, fast-paced real estate investment firm with a reputation for contrarian strategies and a penchant for hiring ambitious people with strong work ethic, I was given a lot of responsibility and was forced to sink or swim. I was confident in my ability to succeed as I was educated, in a street sense, about choosing good investments from risky ones and the art and science of transactions.

During my third year at the firm and despite my relative lack of experience, I believed I could create a new business line. I spent my nights and weekends researching and developing a business plan, underwriting some of the firm’s excess land for the first development of a newly formed self- storage business that I wanted to start. Shortly after developing my plan (and having it turned down by my boss) a friend introduced me to a large family office who ultimately backed my business plan and together we launched my first company.

Over the last 20+ years, starting five companies, employing more than 150 people and experiencing many personal and professional ups and downs, I realized a few important lessons: The right team becomes a family and success should be shared with the people that add value…nothing can be accomplished alone and greed is NOT good; Business is not only about trust and ethics but it’s about what is written down…strong, clear and enforceable agreements prevent a lot of wasted time and negative experiences.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

So many interesting things have happened as I’ve worked through three economic cycles and founded five companies.

Very early in my career, I was completing an internship with a local commercial real estate brokerage firm. They were challenged to compete in a company-to-company paintball war with another firm. I showed up unsure of what to expect. The opposing team’s leader was the President of the other company and a former Military Intelligence officer complete with his own paint ball gun and fatigues. During the game, I snuck up behind him and shot him….He asked me right then and there if I wanted a job!

Thematically, readiness coupled with circumstance and luck led me to launching various businesses. I met the right people at the right time but also had some idea of where I wanted to go in my career. It has been true for me that I benefited from staying situationally aware, following markets, doing extra research and being assertive when meeting someone who can help.

I have put together a list of lessons learned throughout my career and am happy to share them:

  1. Don’t BS … do it
  2. Talk to more people if trying to find good deals
  3. Do the most work out of anyone
  4. Do the things I know
  5. Be on time/be reliable ALWAYS
  6. Keep a clean environment
  7. Don’t drown in opportunities — focus on the right thing and get it done
  8. Be present at critical times
  9. Be very tough
  10. Have a lot of fun
  11. Get better every day
  12. Be the smartest person about my products and services
  13. Do MORE than what is expected
  14. Leave my ego and serve others
  15. Be the person who Gets Shit Done
  16. Have an enormous sense of urgency
  17. Pursue excellence in every one of my activities
  18. Speak well of others
  19. Again and again, get up after falling
  20. Work backwards from what you want to accomplish
  21. Ask “and then what” after you think you have it figured out
  22. Discover my uniqueness and learn to exploit it to my fullest potential and in service to others
  23. Apply enthusiasm and energy to all things
  24. Ignore enticing opportunities outside of my area of expertise
  25. Important qualities for success include curiosity, concentration, perseverance, objective self-criticism and objectivity
  26. Have three boxes … Yes, No and Too Tough (too much brain damage)

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

What I love about our business now is two-fold. One, we are managing capital and providing cash flow for many people that help them enhance their own life experiences. We wake up every day thinking about how to create the best risk adjusted returns. We have a lot of retirement accounts in our investor base and that is super satisfying. We also chose to philosophically wait to get paid until the investors get paid so we are one of, if not the only investment managers in the business that has a 0% asset management fee.

Second, through our “Build to Core” lending side of our business, we are funding the construction of many projects around the country which means jobs! Some of those projects are hospitality developments so even when we are repaid, the permanent jobs will continue. We also fund housing and multi-family which provide middle class families places to live.

Some of the projects are changing city skylines or providing major hubs for businesses to grow. Being involved with super creative and smart developers is very satisfying.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our team, of course. We have such a collaborative culture at Mosaic despite having some of the top talent in the industry. My business partner Ethan Penner, for example, created the CMBS market. Our head of asset management Bruce Davidson led the workout of the Bear Sterns portfolio for the Fed (over $10B). As five of us have been through three economic cycles, we understand risk and underwriting in ways less experienced teams may not.

In addition, we solicit feedback and opinions from each one of our team members and have a weekly meeting that every person in our firm attends. We encourage people to speak up and let us know what they think. We work hard to learn from each other. Someone that is 20 years younger than me, for example, still can teach me how to look at a situation from a different perspective. We also have a very diverse team, which allows us to see things from different angles and make more balanced decisions.

Lastly, we all care about the world, albeit in different ways. Our company provides each employee an annual giving budget where they can choose the charity of their choice and the company contributes. Many of us volunteer as well.

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?

I’ve had a few bosses and mentors in my life that have helped me tremendously. Early in my career, I cold called several of the most well-known people in real estate and asked for a meeting to “get advice.” I was able to meet with three legendary people and they all generously spent an hour with me to give me their best advice and share how they started. There is a lot of generosity in our industry.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?

Real Estate is a great business for women and there are a lot of women in certain parts of the business, like home sales, leasing and property management. I’m really not sure why there are not more women in senior positions. I do know more than 100 women that do hold senior positions, including CEOs of large companies and Managing Partners of firms of various sizes. The jobs require long hours and travel so perhaps growth is a function of finding the right significant other who will take on equal responsibility at home, rely on family or perhaps get great outside help. Some of the most successful women I know have husbands or partners who provide balance in a variety of ways. I have a great husband who owns his own business and works locally. He has been a great dad and I simply couldn’t do what I do without him, as we have an 11-year-old son.

What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?

  1. Successful women in finance guest lecturing to undergrad and graduate classes
  2. Internship programs with university both undergrad and grad
  3. Recruit on campuses
  4. Look for women candidates from other industries who have skill sets that cross over into our industry.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Frankly, I think women have it easier. I was just at a conference where 100–200 people were standing around in an open area and everyone was in dark or blue suits or blazers except the dozen women in the room, who really stood out. The man I was talking to was making fun of himself and how he just blended in. It is much easier to walk up to a group and say hello and be invited into a conversation.

If you’re smart, informed and can communicate, women have a big advantage. I’ve always believed that and better yet, have experienced that. To be successful, you need to be able to perform…to understand investments, sales, people and trends. There is not a lot of room for error so it tends to be a bit less forgiving than more creative businesses….you have to have thick skin, but that’s true for both men and women. Also, when you’re younger and have less experienced, people make mistakes and may be criticized for that. It’s important to approach the business with an attitude or desire to constantly improve. Be objective. Learn and move on.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?

  1. The people are fantastic, and the industry is tight knit. It’s easy to become known quickly if you’re good at what you do.
  2. The industry has so many facets that it can suit almost any personality. From super creative (design) to super analytical (finance) and everywhere in between. Plus, its fun.
  3. It’s always changing, and everyone uses some form of real estate. It’s ubiquitous.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  1. We are behind on big data and tech. We need more standardization.
  2. Sustainability is given a lot of lip service and I am hopeful the industry does something about pollution and waste. Investors need to insist on truly measuring their investments and manager. I don’t think we can count on policy.
  3. Affordable housing. There are 50,000+ homeless people in LA and tons more that can barely afford to live in the City. Apartment “Value Add” funds buy middle class apartments with a plan to improve the units and raise rents which displace a lot of people. Institutional capital supports this activity. There has to be a balance or we are all going to pay the price. If people can’t have a decent place to live, we are all in trouble and our cities will break down.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

See above.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

See above on my lessons learned. If I had to choose 5, I would say.

  1. Be present at critical times
  2. Get better every day.
  3. Again, and again, get up after falling.
  4. Ignore enticing opportunities outside of my area of expertise
  5. Be the person who gets Shit done

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have passion for so many things…getting people into decent housing, reducing pollution, financial literacy, implementing policies to save animal species that are becoming extinct.

I’ve traveled extensively and have seen through lack of education people throwing massive amounts of trash in the oceans or in the streets and open spaces of their towns. If every single person on the planet picked up one bag a trash every day, we could dramatically reduce pollution. Of course, we would need bins and places to put it all….That is up to government infrastructure initiatives and programs where we can reuse the materials. There is a movement to clean up the massive amounts of plastic in the oceans but if we keep throwing plastic in the ocean, the problem will never get solved.

How can our readers follow you online?

I will be launching a podcast with my 11 year old son called kids and money. I’ll announce soon. I don’t participate a lot in social media but readers can follow articles on our website. Www.mosaicrei.com

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!

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