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Deals & Dealmakers

European exile finds peace at biggest real estate firm in world

Snezana Anderson, a senior vice president at CBRE, considers her place of employment as a shelter from occupational and personal hazards.

Having worked at the same firm for the past 25 years, she credits her employer for her longevity. The way she tells it, CBRE has allowed her to survive the emergence of new industries (the dot-com era of the late ‘90s) and the outbreak of war in her home country of Yugoslavia.

“I think the world was changing around me and the only thing that was stable was the place where I went to work,” Anderson said. This stability has allowed her to carve her own place in commercial real estate, an industry notorious for having a dearth of women in executive positions.

Anderson, who speaks five languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian and English), has cultivated a reputation as a strong deal-closer for European government agencies looking for space in New York City.

The Austrian Consulate in Manhattan
The Austrian Consulate in Manhattan

Her specialty lies with French government organizations, for which she has completed over 200,000 s/f of office transactions. These include lease re-negotiations and renewals for the Paris Stock Exchange and Mercantile Exchange, the Permanent Mission of France to the UN and the French Government Trade Office (Ubifrance). She has also closed 15,000 s/f of deals for the Austrian Tourist Office, the Austrian Trade Office and the German Tourist Bureau.

She credits her company for her career trajectory, almost gushing as she describes past and present colleagues as “best friends” and “older brothers.”

“I like to work in a company where I know the people. They know my life story. I like that,” she said.

While many of her colleagues keep an eye out for opportunities to jump ship in the name of career advancement, Anderson is staying right where she is.

“I stick with the same firm because when you interview with other firms, you realize that it’s really up to you. The job is such, when you’re a broker, that it’s always up to you to produce business. When there’s an issue, when I’m not happy, it’s usually me. I have to change something about it. It’s never the firm, whether I’m with Cushman, Newmark or JLL. I found that I was the only person that I had to work on,” she said.

Another thing that’s likely to keep her in the same place is loyalty, something that the company inspired by providing flexibility when she needed it the most.

Anderson had just started her job in Insignia Financial Group (which was acquired by CBRE in 2003), when war broke out in her country. Her bosses at the time, John Powers (now with Boston Properties) and Mitchell Rudin (now with Mack-Cali Realty Corporation), allowed her to take months off to go home. She had a brother in Serbia and relatives in Croatia when the country broke up.

“When I left my country, it was perfectly stable, perfectly normal. I had a fantastic job there. Then you’re away from it and you suddenly hear that war is starting. It just feels unreal. Especially since I’m mixed, I was born and raised in Bosnia and then I moved to Serbia. I was really attached to the two warring sides in that war. It was like having a war within yourself at the same time,” she said.

“You know, all of my friends got completely displaced for years. I had no idea. We didn’t have Facebook or Internet. You just felt completely isolated. Reduced to hearing on CNN what was going on and reading the (New York) Times, which was a very one-sided story, what they were giving.”

Anderson, a panelists at last week’s Real Estate Weekly Women’s Forum, said that the conflict has provided her with life lessons, something that she applies to her vocation.

“Nothing is for sure,” she said. “You should take nothing for granted in life, not even your country.”

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