Be confident and project confidence. That will take you far. If you walk into a room with confidence, there is not much you can’t do! I have many competitors with impressive qualifications, but I have won business based on my ability to convey authority by projecting confidence in a pitch.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Leach.
Lauren Leach is a Real Estate Advisory Services Director with Conway Mackenzie, part of Riveron. Ms. Leach specializes in distressed and troubled real-estate assets. In her role, she is responsible for real estate workout strategy and client relationships. Leach has worked on over 300 receivership matters nationwide and negotiated over 10,000,000 square feet of leases with a value of more than 450,000,000 dollars. She also specializes in retailer advisory work, leasing matters, portfolio valuations and liquidations, and complex real estate negotiations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
The summer before my senior year at the University of Michigan, I embarked on an internship in commercial real estate with a woman who was highly successful in the field and a friend of my mother. I went into it thinking it’s just a summer job, so I’ll try something new, but I instantly fell in love with it. I found it to be exciting and different. What I liked most about the internship was the opportunity to learn and gain perspective on both the landlord and the tenant sides of the business. My boss had high expectations and I learned a lot from her, including many aspects of brokerage and leasing. I determined that was the field for me.
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?
A few years after I began my career in real estate, I was working and living in Chicago while my boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, was living in Michigan. As chance would have it, I ended up getting an assignment as a retail broker, where my client was Matt Mason (Michigan-based). I did not realize it at the time, but he would later become my mentor and ultimately my business partner.
Not long after completing that assignment, I moved to Michigan for graduate school. I called Matt and boldly asked him to hire me for a summer internship. He initially informed me that that his firm did not hire interns, but I persisted — and he relented. After that summer, he brought me onboard permanently while I finished school at night. The lesson I learned is to seek out people and opportunities that can put or keep your career in motion. It is rewarding to look back and recognize those defining moments that positively affected my professional life. It was through that relationship that the trajectory of my career was changed for forever.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think they might help people?
Right now, our business has morphed into heavy retail advisory work where we are helping retailers who are struggling with their real estate portfolios, largely due to the impacts of Covid-19. Many retailers are seeking help with their real estate exposure. We help them adjust their footprint, adjust how many locations they have, and to make smart real estate decisions. When you have too much real estate exposure and your business is struggling, you often cannot afford to pay your employees. In turn, we are helping these individuals — many of them small business owners — stay afloat and persevere. Their employees and family members depend on them (and us) for their survival.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are in the business of restructuring and turnaround management of real estate. I think what makes us stand out is the way that we look at our core purpose. Our job is to save jobs. Oftentimes, we are dealing with a crisis situation. There are a lot of struggling real estate properties today. Behind those struggling properties are struggling retailers, businesses, and employees. We come in as Receiver and work to bring new life to these properties; doing all we can to turn them around and make them more viable for the people who work and shop there, and for the surrounding community.
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 have had the same mentor, Matt Mason, for almost 15 years. As I described earlier, he started as my client, then became my boss, and I am lucky enough to think of him as a business partner today. He is always encouraging and supporting me both personally and professionally. He has my back (and I have his) and he helps guide me through adversity. Matt is a teacher to me too, always providing opportunities for learning and growth. All of this makes me a better person and businesswoman. He is the type of person that empowers me and makes me feel there is nothing I cannot do.
There is a common perception that women should have female mentors. While I wholeheartedly promote women supporting women, Matt is the perfect example of how that does not always have to be the case. There are great men out there who support and encourage women.
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?
Commercial real estate is definitely a man’s world. I am also in the financial consulting industry, which is male dominated too.
Commercial real estate is not an industry that you hear about when you are young. What do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor, lawyer, fireman, or a ballerina? It is hard to believe now, but I did not even know what commercial real estate was until I fell into my summer internship in college. And unless you have family in the industry, it is not widely publicized as a career possibility for most individuals. Introducing women to the field of commercial real estate, earlier and more often, would surely bring more women into the field.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
I served as Co-Chair of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Detroit Outreach Committee and remain an active committee member. One of the important initiatives that we embark upon annually is visiting high schools and colleges, many of them in city of Detroit, and talk with girls who otherwise would never be exposed to real estate — ever. We spend a whole day educating the young women on a range of opportunities within commercial real estate. Our ultimate goal is to have a girl say, “I want to do this. This sounds interesting.”
Supporting activities to engage women in the field is important. When I was in Chicago, I was a co-founder of Women’s Real Estate Network (WREN), a networking group for women in real estate. There, women connected with contemporaries in the industry to discuss the field and ways to include more women in our sector.
Lastly, companies need to make a concerted effort to recruit more women. This cannot be accomplished only through outreach, networking, and membership groups. More companies need to commit to have more diversity and inclusion within their organizations.
What are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that are not typically faced by their male counterparts in your opinion?
It is the norm for me to walk into a meeting or a networking event and find I am the only woman in the room. It is common for me to join a conversation and I can tell that the men feel like they need to be careful not to use certain language or act a certain way because they are in the presence of a woman. That is a challenge, I think, for female executives when you are the only woman at the table, and you feel like men are changing the way they behave simply because you are there. I do not want to be treated differently, better, or worse. I have a thick skin. It is hard to offend me. Women want to be treated equally.
I think women also struggle more with trying to find work-life balance. Quite often in society it is expected that women take on a greater role at home than men. It is expected for men to travel and not necessarily always be home at dinnertime or to put the kids to bed. It is generally expected that women will fulfill those duties. Certainly not always, but, I think, more often.
As a young mother, I often struggle with that work-life balance because I do feel the pressure, and quite frankly the desire, to be home for dinner or bedtime and not to be at the office or on the road 24/7. But it is part of the job that I love. And I am hard charging and a hard worker. Yet, it is not always easy.
Three things that excite you about your industry.
From a workout perspective, every property is different which provides the opportunity to bring a fresh set of ideas and new strategies to create and implement value. I love that no two projects are the same given the unique circumstances of being a Receiver. There is no monotony in my job.
I also have the good fortune of interacting with very impressive and successful people — owners, developers, private equity groups and others — from all over the country. As such, I am never at a loss for new learning opportunities and inspiration.
Using the various skillsets that I’ve acquired over the years is also exciting. I can put on my hat as a Receiver, as a retailer advisor working on behalf of the tenant, or work on behalf of an investor. As such, I am afforded the opportunity to use different negotiation tactics from my toolbox. All my past experiences bring value to whatever situation I am engaged in.
Can you share three things that most concern you about the industry?
The commercial real estate restructuring industry is heavily male dominated. I would love to see more women in the field to bring greater balance and a different perspective. To that end, our industry could also benefit from more race and cultural diversity. All these things are vital to the industry’s success for today and for the future.
Oftentimes, as a Receiver I am working in crisis situations. And when people are facing a crisis, I do not always see them making the best decisions or doing the right thing. I have witnessed a lot of greed and compromised values. That concerns me. Unfortunately, this can occur when individuals are facing a major financial crisis. This is particularly true given our current economic climate for businesses and investors dealing with fallout from 2020. Many are facing the greatest struggles of their lives.
I am also concerned that, from a retail real estate perspective, we are very overbuilt in the United States. We have too much gross leasable area. As a result, we are going to have excess real estate that needs to be shed. There is going to be more vacancy going forward, especially as the effects of Covid-19 shake out. That, in turn, will most likely lead to more defaults.
What advice would you give other leaders to help their teams thrive?
Adding more women and diversity brings new perspectives. At the end of the day, our goal is to be better and achieve great results. Trying to make our industry a little bit more balanced is a positive thing.
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?
1. You never hear that being a woman can be an advantage in a man’s world. But if you are smart, you can turn it into a positive.
When you walk into a room at a networking event or a meeting and you’re the only woman in a sea of men, you will automatically get noticed. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are, or what you’re wearing. You stand out simply because you are different. Use that to your advantage to engage in conversation and be memorable.
2. It’s okay as a woman to have a male role model or a mentor. Of course, I point to my colleague Matt Mason as a great example of that.
3. Be confident and project confidence. That will take you far. If you walk into a room with confidence, there is not much you can’t do! I have many competitors with impressive qualifications, but I have won business based on my ability to convey authority by projecting confidence in a pitch.
4. It’s also important to celebrate your victories and recognize your successes. The further along you get in your career and the busier you are, the more major milestones do not always feel as significant. A victory professionally and personally should be celebrated.
5. By the same token, I’m never really satisfied with what I’ve achieved. I will always want more. When I set a goal for myself and accomplish it, I automatically look ahead to what’s next.
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.
Women should strive to lift each other up. We should celebrate each other’s victories. Leave the gossip and pettiness at the door and be each other’s cheerleaders and supporters. To the extent that we can, help each other grow and further our careers. We should be each other’s best advocates — for ourselves and for the industry.