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Deals & Dealmakers

Archeologist digging into newest role as CBRE site specialist

She may not walk around with a fedora and a whip, but Cris Kimbrough, the new managing director for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of CBRE’s Telecoms Advisory Services, is doing her best imitation of Indiana Jones.

Kimbrough, who said that she decided on her career path after watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, has over 20 years of experience as an archaeologist, with part of that time spent in exotic places worthy of an Indiana Jones sequel.
“It’s a generational thing. People of my generation, it’s Indiana Jones. People in the Gen Y, it’s Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. I don’t know why anyone becomes one (an archaeologist) now,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough, who started her career working on archaeological digs in Syria and Turkey, stressed sacrifice as she recounted her formative years in her profession. “You’ve really got to love it in order to become an archaeologist. It’s not easy,” she said.

“There’s not a lot of money involved, so it really has to be a passion if you’re going to make a living out of it. And you’re out digging holes in the middle of nowhere a lot of the time and (staying) in really awful hotels or a tent. There are long days under the heat or with the cold and you really have to want to learn about the past.”

While her years in the field ensured that she would be an interesting dinner guest for years to come, the financial and occupational reality of her profession brought her to an unavoidable development.

“If you’re going to dig in these far-flung places, you really, as an archaeologist, have to be an academic. That’s really the way you get to dig in those places. And academia is a very tough place to get into and it’s a very tough place to function in,” she said. “You have this passion for this field and you have to find some way to make a living at it if you can’t be an academic. So, in the United States at least, you have go into cultural resources management or contract archeology. If you’re going to be an archaeologist, that’s what you have to do. So that kind of career path is almost forced upon you if you want to be an archaeologist.”
Kimbrough started cashing in on the profitable applications of her field in 2002, when she divided her time between consulting for archeological surveys for real estate projects and working towards her Anthropology Ph.D. at NYU.

Her work usually covered the due diligence part of real estate projects. For instance, the records from the State Historic Preservation Office, which may indicate beforehand whether a site holds artifacts, can only be accessed by archaeologists.
Also, if artifacts are discovered in a site, archaeologists are responsible for conducting a survey and making sure that items are not damaged.

“There’s a lot of development work in New York State because of state environmental quality laws. When I got into contract archaeology in the United States, there was a lot of development work going on, that’s where the business was,” she said.

That changed in 2008. As the financial crisis shackled the real estate industry, Kimbrough’s job prospects dimmed with the pace of development slowing to a crawl. She found her next leap in the telecoms industry, a sector that she said has “nothing but growth forever because everybody keeps getting another device.

“Moving into telecom and what I do now, again, it’s due to market forces. What are you going to do if you’re still going to maintain that identity as an archaeologist?” she said.

Since switching to telecom work, Kimbrough has worked on some large projects, including LTE upgrades in 185 sites in upstate New York. She’s also authored and reviewed reports for hundreds of sites across the country.

Since joining CBRE, Kimbrough has been tasked with leading a team made up of archaeologists, architectural historians and biologists, with a mission to reconcile the firm’s aggressive build schedule and the limitations imposed by the regulatory environment.

Because of this, in spite of summarizing her main responsibilities as “putting out fires and sitting through meetings,” Kimbrough said that part of her work is being the bearer of bad tidings.

“I think most of them have a very good idea of the regulatory environment and the due diligence environment. Intellectually, they get that. But emotionally, on the day, especially towards the end of the month or the end of the quarter, it’s very much, like, ‘Come on, isn’t there anything we can do?” They have a very good idea about it, but it always takes them back to that. You’ve got to get good at delivering the bad news,” she said.

While she’s completed her relocation from archaeological digs to behind a desk, she hasn’t completely abandoned the template set by her fictional archetype.

“There’s always a part of me that’s going to be an archaeologist,” she said.

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