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Young leaders turn to technology to keep ahead of competition

In the high-stakes world of commercial real estate, today’s young leaders are turning to technology to get an edge on the competition.

To keep her company at the forefront of this ever-changing landscape, Jessica Sherman, project manager for Douglaston Development, makes a point to research the newest tech as soon as it comes out of the woodworks.

“It’s a booming industry and we meet regularly with people who invest in real estate technology to hear about companies that could be useful to us,” she said.

“When you’re talking about a brand-new construction software that you have to roll out and it requires people on site to use their cellphones, that’s definitely going to be a change. But particularly as there’s more millennials in the workplace, that helps a little bit.”

Sherman was one of four participants in the Millennial Managers panel during Real Estate Weekly’s 7th Annual Women’s Forum last week, along with Anita Gupta, VP of Chatam Management, Christie Houlihan, senior director and counsel for Houlihan Parnes and Sarah Jones Maturo, president of RM Friedland.

The group discussed the changes in the industry and the unique, generational perspectives they provide their respective companies, as well as a topic on the minds of many in real estate: how can the industry draw in more women?

“I think there are two main problems when it comes to attracting women and other minorities to the industry,” Houlihan said. “The first is actually getting women to choose to work in real estate as their career. The second issue is retaining women. We still see massive drop-offs where women who are mid-career maybe when they’re 30s when they start to have families. It’s very difficult in a 24-hour business where you’re always connected to your cellphone and servicing clients.”

Houlihan added that there need to be more women in senior roles to help those coming up as a mentor. Similarly, Sherman said that it was important having a female president at the head of Clinton Management, the management arm of Douglaston Companies, when she was deciding to join the family business or not.

Maturosaid it’s also important for companies to help employees lead a more balanced life whenever possible. She’s seen evidence of this shift on a macro level in the Bronx and Westchester County, where her company does most of its business.

“In Westchester, places like White Plains, New Rochelle and Yonkers are focusing on the work play live models, which I feel like is geared towards…the time-starved person,” Maturo said. “Maybe it’s not a millennial thing…but for someone in the early to mid-30s that has two kids, a career, their husband works fulltime, so you can go to the office, you can live and you can go grocery shopping and out to eat all in one block.”

Houlihan, whose company also has a predominantly suburban portfolio, echoed Maturo’s stance on the importance of balance work and personal lives.

“The way people are using space and the amount of space they need is changing rapidly,” Houlihan said. “The shared office space transition is definitely millennial in terms of people wanting to be collaborative and having open spaces. I’m really interested to see if that trend will move out to the suburbs and I have a feeling that it will.”

As the industry continues to grow, many of these women are looking to leave their mark on their companies, most of which are family-owned businesses.

“At Douglaston, we focus on transformative projects where you go into neighborhoods and think about how new housing is going to change how people live and provide new opportunities to people,” Sherman said. “And that’s the exact kind of legacy I want to continue on.”

Much Like Sherman, Gupta joined a business that was created by her father. Gupta’s father came to America from rural India and built Chatam Management from nothing, she explained.

“I think my legacy is to absolutely ensure his ambition and his hard work were not in vain,” Gupta said. “I just hope that I can continue it for a generation.”

But Gupta added that working at a family business isn’t the cakewalk everyone assumes it is and that it took a while to prove herself in that arena.

“My father and I are partners, we speak about everything, we make all decisions together, but it took a long time to get there,” Gupta said. “I had to speak up, I had to prove myself to him that I could make these decisions and that he could leave me to my own devices.”

Gupta said they’re now at a point where disagreements are discussed thoroughly and suggestions are taken seriously.

“As long as you keep pushing and keep speaking up, that’s what’s important,” Gupta said. “Regardless of whatever business or industry, it’s important to speak up.”

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