38 Pieces of Career Advice Learned on a Saturday in Western Massachusetts



Women of Isenberg Conference 2017

February closed out with a fun day on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus at the Women of Isenberg Conference. This was the second time I’ve attended the conference, which is put on by the Women in Business organization within the Isenberg School of Management and their faculty and staff advisors.  350 women (and men) were in attendance, dressed in business formal on a cold Saturday.

The morning keynote was by Karyn Schoenbart of the NPD Group, one of the largest market research companies in the world. Ms. Schoenbart is a UMass alum with a degree in education whose hunt for work right out of school led her to a new field.  Charismatic and an entertaining storyteller, Karyn highlighted her career journey and some advice I think is worth sharing again!

  1. Bring your A game every day
  2. Work hard and volunteer for everything you can – this is how you get noticed
  3. Connections are the currency of networking, and it is important to take a give to get mentality.  If you do for others first they are willing to help you later.
  4. Handwritten thank you notes still matter!
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously and have a sense of humor
  6. Be yourself by being true to your brand, but create differentiation from the crowd in who you are
  7. Figure out what “having it all” means to you – there will always be sacrifices, so you need to figure out what is important to you
  8. Sometimes a lateral move will get you the skills you need to move up
  9. Track your accomplishments, but don’t compare yourself to others
  10. Women should learn to say thank you – without any caveats.  Just “thank you”
  11. Working hard is not about the time you put in, but about giving 100% to what you’re doing in the moment
  12. “Don’t sell after the close”
  13. Managing your network is all about quality – focus on that one person you are with
  14. Write everything down about people you meet – it helps you remember the important things later
  15. Don’t let yourself get bored or held back.  If you feel that way, it is likely time for a change.
  16. Support at home in a woman’s career is important. Having a great husband helps, as does outsourcing as much as you can

After the morning keynote, panel discussions were held.  I had the opportunity to speak on a panel focused on personal finance and how I’ve been able to navigate the topics within (taxes, insurance, apartments, houses, cars, etc.) since graduating and how I balance needs today with the anticipation of future needs. Kristin Fafard and Rachel Northup were great co-panelists and had pertinent advice to offer.

I attended three other panel discussions throughout the day.  In addition to the 16 pieces of advice above from Ms. Schoenbart, I learned 22 more professional development nuggets from the panels described at the end of this post.

  1. Communication, diversity and inclusion, transformational, and evolving were how the panelists described their own leadership styles
  2. Listening is key.  As a leader, it is about others and helping them grow. In doing this, you also benefit in your own growth.
  3. Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast – important to bring your team on board
  4. Ensure there is a common, collective, inspired purpose. When the team is bought into the purpose like this, they are 5 times more likely to be successful
  5. Important to know who you are as a person to be a leader, and be able to articulate your values. These values are how you connect with others.
  6. Cultures allow for different communication and leadership styles to exist – awareness of the culture, the differences present, and what is acceptable in an environment is important
  7. You will need to take stands in your role as a leader (versus not offering an opinion)
  8. Chaos will happen – important to build support and be willing to ask for help
  9. Saying no is okay – be a role model in saying no.
  10. Soliciting feedback as a leader needs to be acceptable within the culture if you want to improve in that way. Provide alternate methods for feedback if that helps others feel more comfortable
  11. Keep broadening your foundation and base by adding expertise and new challenges.
  12. Develop our active listening skills
  13. Ask, and not just answer questions
  14. Even in times where you aren’t the expert, remember to find and bring in those experts and at the same time not forget about the skills you do bring to the table
  15. Challenges faced are just misunderstandings. Have you asked the right questions before reacting?
  16. Think about the impact of the things you say.  Try replacing “I don’t know what I’m doing” with, “I have a few questions.” This has a more positive connotation.
  17. The best mentoring relationships are natural and organic as opposed to structured programs
  18. Seek out mentors with whom you can be open and honest as well as someone who can dedicate the time to you
  19. Instead of asking someone to be your mentor, try something like, “I admire you and want to learn from you”
  20. Come prepared to mentoring sessions with questions and scenarios you need help on – don’t expect the mentor to guide the conversation
  21. Being well read can help immensely in developing relationships with a variety of people
  22. Never stop learning

I pulled these golden tips of advice from a few different panels:

  • Leadership Styles
    • Panelists: Diane Holman (SVP, Chief People Officer) of athenahealth, Heidi Bailey of LEGO, Margery Piercey (Partner-In-Charge) of Marcum, and Michele Equale (AVP of Continuous Improvement) of MassMutual
  • Overcoming Career Challenges
    • Panelists: Kate Diemand (Manager of Pegging & Distribution in Manufacturing Accounting), Angela Ceppetilli (Controls and Compliance Manager for Operations Finance), Ariel Methe (Operations Finance for Global Supply Chain), and Susan Keegan (Senior Director and Chief Financial Officer at IAE), all of Pratt & Whitney
  • Mentoring
    • Panelists: Zheng “Wei Wei” Ding (Data Scientist) of OpenSky, Emily Baldarelli (Planning and Allocation) of TJX, Jodi Warshauer (Executive Director/Compliance Manager) of JPMorgan Chase, and Ariel Methe (Operations Finance for Global Supply Chain) of Pratt & Whitney

To find more information on the speakers and details of the event, check out the Women of Isenberg Conference website.

One concept echoed several times throughout the day was the importance placed on having a great partner in life. This reinforced that nothing in life is achieved alone, and also the need for balance and prioritization.  

A great thank you to the Women of Isenberg Planning Committee for the opportunity to speak on a panel and be part of a day filled with learning and development.  I was impressed with the event and the quality of students at UMass’ Isenberg School of Management!

More Forum on Real Estate in NYC – Part 2

There was much to learn in the morning session of the NYC Real Estate Women’s Forum on February 16, 2017, as I highlighted in part one of this series.  The late morning and afternoon provided just as much insight and education, punctuated with personality and storytelling with the closing key note conversation.

The session before a late lunch was very informative, with panelists from organizations with varying approaches and level of resources. I won’t go into the philosophies of any particular firm, but rather the general advice they offered for being in real estate for the long haul.

Current Affairs: Financing and Investment in Today’s Market

Moderated by Kristen Lonergan, Partner at Greenberg Traurig

Panelists were Ruth Ann Blankenheim, Co-Founder & Principal at Harbor Road Holdings; Beth Linn, Principal at Wrightwood Financial; Sherry Rexroad, Managing Director & CIO at BlackRock; Ashley Rissolo, Portfolio Manager at Ceruzzi Properties; and Sondra Wenger, Managing Director at CIM Group

  • When times change in the market, don’t leave the market but change your strategy there
  • Through periods of uncertainty, ensure foundation is solid
  • Extend the runway (of what is available)
  • Neutralize your portfolio from the risks of exposure; Need to have some sense and inclusion of underwriting for the unknowns
  • Some development firms, particularly the smaller ones, can be more affected by state and local elections than would other companies by federal and other global elections.
  • A recommendation to beginners was to get a stabilized asset to start – the idea is that the bank can take it over in case of failure and it already has income associated with it.
  • Crowdfunding might be perceived by some as a representation of pent up demand for private equity

The final panel of the day was immediately following lunch break. Though probably the “least technical” session of the day, it might have been the most interesting. Titled “Women at the Helm”, the panel focused on reaching pinnacle positions and experiences in a real estate career.

Moderated by Andrea Kretchmer, Principal at Xenolith Partners

Panelists were Roberta Axelrod, Director at Time Equities; Lisa Brill, Partner at Shearman & Sterling; Alison Novack, Principal at Hudson Companies; Onay Payne, Director at Clarion Partners, and Daria Salusbury, President & CEO at Salusbury & Co.

  • Pursue what makes you smile
  • Mentors can help you develop and find positions, but you must put yourself forward for opportunities
  • Don’t limit yourself – allow yourself to figure things out when you don’t have 100% of the experience required. If you don’t go for it, the guys will.
  • Lessons to younger selves include the importance of building relationships and laying the foundation of where you want to be
  • Even today, women must still work harder for their opportunities. Be present everyday.
  • Younger women should have more confidence because they have voices that need to be heard; they must get past the feeling of being small
  • Make room for yourselves at the table with your elbows
  • To attract women to real estate:
    • Be invested early on with successes – you are more likely to stick with it
    • Give opportunities consciously to younger women
    • Don’t close off – the better you do the more opportunities you have. Keep learning.
    • Re-evaluate where you are every few years
  • On pivoting, one must factor out fear as there is always risk.
  • Figure out strategy and tactics as you go, nothing needs to be figured out fully at the start
  • Don’t be weighed down by negative messages in developing your plans
  • Go to events, speakers, and networking events – and be an active participant. There are many organizations to join. Every nugget of knowledge or connection you make can be helpful

The afternoon keynote was full of punches of personality, accompanied by star-filled stories and great advice from one of the premier brokers in New York, Dolly Lenz of Lenz Real Estate. She was interviewed by Good Day New York Anchor Rosanna Scotto.

  • Be willing to do what no one else wants to do – this allows you to differentiate yourself.
  • Use your assets creatively (Dolly’s ability to speak Spanish literally opened doors for her)
  • View each failure as an opportunity to get onto what is “next!”
  • Meticulous developers have buildings that don’t leak
  • Make you difference in someone else’s life. Always be willing to help people.
  • Today everyone needs to be able to add value to what they do, particularly with the pervasive technology that can be used by anyone.
  • Regarding ethics, we need to raise the bar for standards in the industry. We need to police ourselves as an industry
  • Enthusiasm, respect, and finding what motivates you will help you be successful.
  • Document everything and show how you are different. Be ready to do heavy lifting
  • Invest well in who you invest in as a mate – pick the best guy in the world
  • Find something that connects you with people
  • When the door opens, knock it down
  • You don’t get what you don’t ask for. The person who gets asked for a project or business is likely the person you talked to last about it

One of the strange themes throughout the day was commentary on the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.  While each woman who mentioned his name clarified her neutrality toward him politically (or seemingly provided some degree of distance), those who had worked with him heavily praised the President for his “genius” as a developer, particularly within New York City.

All in all, there was a lot to take away from the conference.  I was fortunate to be able to attend with my manager and many of my colleagues from the New York region and build the network with them in addition to others outside the company.

Have you been to any good conferences lately? What have you learned about what is different in being a woman in real estate?

Recap of the Real Estate Women’s Forum in NYC, Part 1


Over 400 women assembled at The New Yorker Hotel on February 16, 2017 for a day of following our professional passion of real estate.  Attendees and speakers ranged from Brokers to Developers to Capital Markets experts and beyond, touching both public and private sectors.  This made for interesting conversation at the end of the festivities with a networking event.

I’ll share some of my highlight moments from each of the morning sessions that I went to in this post, and the panels that they came from. The afternoon sessions will be posted in a Part 2 post forthcoming. 

The morning keynote included a presentation by Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wylde and her interview conducted by United Way of New York City President and CEO Sheena Wright.  While the presentation focused on New York statistics, it was incredible for this Boston girl to hear the scale and scope of what is done in a city about the population of my state:

  • With 50% recent job growth in recent years, technology is a key opportunity for NYC.  Similarly, Ms. Wylde thinks that NYC is poised for growth in the life sciences fields.
    • MKD thought: Does NYC become more desirable than Kendall Square for the biotech field? Time will tell.  
  • Emerging cities will create 50% of jobs through 2025.
  • The continued political polarity will be a large risk for the economy now and moving forward, no matter what side you are on. She believes the two most important areas of impact are the tax burden on companies and the cost of healthcare expenses.  
  • Education of the work force must focus on SKILLS development.
  • Old ideas need to be re-imagined to push the envelope of what they can do and what is possible.
  • Know your audience – use empathy to focus on the other person.  This works in a variety of environments.  
  • The gender wage gap cannot be addressed by legislation, but rather through business leadership. Women should get organized with industry groups.
  • Anyone you meet is someone who could be a potential mentor.  Take advantage of everyone you meet and what they are willing to offer.  Most people are willing to help others, but do not explicitly state the phrase, “will you be my mentor?”

I found myself intrigued by this conversation, and by the New York statistics – I was hungry to learn more and how they compared with other states or cities. In particular, I was not curious about the statistics with emerging cities.  Given the increasing urbanization of America, I am curious where the most successful emerging cities will come from and how they handle to growth of those jobs. What kind of infrastructure growth, both in buildings and other related utility and transportation infrastructure, will be needed to sustain and provide opportunity? I also wonder in case of economic depression or recession how strongly these emerging cities will retain those jobs. Hoping for the best all around.

The next session was a panel discussion I enjoyed, even though it had a New York focus.  But the concepts these developers are discussing can be applicable if you think about what similarities there are in your own markets.  Each of the panelists had great advice – but what I found interesting was that most of these women, who were on the younger side, varied somewhat from what Ms. Wylde had offered in approach.

Cranes in the Clouds: Development & Construction State of the Market and Outlook

Moderated by Elise Wagener, Partner at Kramer Levin

Panelists were Jennifer Bernell, EVP at Kushner Companies; Terri Belkas-Mitchell, Principal at Xenolith Partners; Lauren Cahill, Senior Development Director at AvalonBay Communities; and Charlotte Sturgis, Head of Construction at Rose Associates

  • Downtown Brooklyn has a higher concentration of students than Cambridge, MA (home to Harvard, MIT, and others)
  • Technology like Uber and Lyft are changing the boundaries of where it makes sense to build
  • “If you find a deal that pencils, you’re going to take it”
  • Partnerships can exist with those who have land, like schools or churches, and would like to develop but don’t have the experience.
  • The new presidential administration means that affordable housing opportunities are anticipated to have funding gaps moving forward
  • In working with local agencies that may be difficult, you must understand that the people in those organizations are working to do their jobs too. Learn to understand where the reviewer is coming from.
  • Related to experience developing as a woman:
    • LC: Over prepare to compete. At the end of the day you need a stellar work product. Key books were “The Confidence Gap” and Megyn Kelly’s book. There will be some things you can’t control, but focus on what you can control.
    • TB: Go into the room as the “expert” – it engenders confidence in yourself and from others as the consummate professional
    • CS: Saw more issues with age than gender on the construction side. Allow work ethic and passion to make you shine.
    • JB: Set yourself apart with passion, work.  Be prepared to sink or swim – and learn to “swim professionally.”

The final panel of the morning before lunch that I attended had a very appealing title to me, but since the discussion tended heavily toward sustainability, I was a little disappointed.  The anecdotes of some of the projects, particularly from Ms. Fine and Ms. Radden, were the best and most entertaining parts of the panel as it was incredible the scope and scale of what they were able to accomplish in their previous and ongoing work. I did enjoy how interested the panel was in how each other was successful in their endeavors and how they accomplished tasks and projects. 

Ideas in the Skyline: Design, Technology, and Innovation in 2017 and Beyond.

Moderated by Julia Lewis, Director at Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

Panelists were Susan Fine, Principal at Oases Real Estate, Callie Haines, SVP – Asset Management at Brookfield; Sydney Mainster, Sustainability Manager at The Durst Organization; and Viki Radden, Managing Partner & COO at 5 Stone Green Capital

  • Sustainability can help reduce costs of managing an asset.  
  • Technology is needed to help push health and wellness in buildings
  • Look at products installed and used, including chemical portions
  • Sustainability tends to be very time heavy for research on both short and long term aspects.
  • Retrofitting creates a challenge cost-wise – question of how to finance savings
  • Sustainability is expected in the industry – for not cost increase to the user.
  • VR: “It is easier for the women to do what the boys don’t want to do”
  • We all need a place to live and food to eat – it is a question of how can we do it better than we did before?
  • VR: need multiple skills to succeed, and need to be agile.
  • Planning for the internet usage is essential.
  • Capturing data is important to know who is coming and who you need to reach to get them there.

Did you attend the conference?  What were your takeaways?  Was there anything that piqued your interest from my Part 1 recap?

Make sure to check back in for Part 2 of the conference in an upcoming post!