For Kim Brennan, it was one thing to learn the commercial real estate business.
It was another to actually climb the ladder.But she did just that for more than a decade in New York City, first as a researcher and then as a broker and manager. And she did it through a combination of working hard, leaning on her mentors and always making sure to network with other women.
So when Brennan returned in 2005 to Cushman & Wakefield’s East Rutherford office — where her career began 15 years earlier — she was quick to join the group now known as Commercial Real Estate Women of New Jersey.
“That was the first stop I made, because I knew that I had to meet the important women in the real estate industry in New Jersey,” she said. “And it was a great start.”
Brennan hasn’t stopped climbing the ladder. One year ago, she was named Cushman & Wakefield’s market leader in New Jersey — putting her in charge of 77 brokers and 155 employees overall for its offices in East Rutherford, Morristown and Edison.
So as she focuses on leading Cushman & Wakefield in New Jersey, Brennan also will continue to advocate for increasing the presence of women in commercial real estate. That was the subject of a recent Q&A with NJBIZ:
NJBIZ: Why is it important to increase the representation of women in this sector?
Kimberly Brennan: Everybody nowadays talks about organizational health, and they talk about diversity and how important it is. And I think, in reality, it really is. As opposed to 50 years ago, most of the people in this world work and continue to work. … And I think it’s important to really be proactive in bringing women into a business environment and looking for other things that are appealing to them than the traditional women careers that people think of.
Women could be very, very successful in this career if they just knew about it. And I think part of the problem is the P.R. — that there has been none for commercial. Real estate isn’t just residential. There are so many exciting things that women can do in commercial real estate, and I just am so passionate about it, and I think it’s so much fun, that I think it’s important that people learn about it and come into it.
NJBIZ: Your early career included more than 10 years at the firm then known as Edward S. Gordon Co. As you rose through the ranks, did you ever encounter any challenges as a result of being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
KB: I would say that it certainly was challenging in the beginning, because when I started managing — it was probably 18 years ago — not only did I encounter the fact I was probably the only woman manager at the time that was managing male brokers, I was probably the youngest. I was in my mid-20s at that point, so I had to overcome not only the female issues but also some people thinking, ‘Why is this kid managing me? What does she know?’
The way I got around that was I had a lot of support. My boss at the time, who was my mentor and still is — he was terrific.
We also had a lot of powerful women. That was New York, so I think it was a little different — I think they were a little ahead of the curve in terms of women in the real estate field at that point. And we had some very powerful women that also took an interest in me and made sure that I was able to navigate through that office.
NJBIZ: As you’ve moved through your career, is there anything else that you’ve been able to do to be successful in this industry — one that’s known to be extremely competitive?
KB: There’s a few things that I think every woman has to do to be successful: One of them is work hard and work harder than most men, because I think that we probably do work just as hard if not harder … (but) we don’t talk about it and we don’t make it known that we do these things. We typically tend to wait for people to notice, whereas men may tout themselves and be more proactive in being out there. And I think women are a little slower to realize that they also have to promote themselves.
So I made sure that when I was working hard, I promoted myself. I had a great network of mentors and role models — men as well as other women, and I leaned heavily on all those people making my way up the ladder.
I also made sure, and to this day I make sure, that I always network and I’m always involved in women’s networking organizations. And there always has to be mentorship, whether you’re mentoring someone or someone’s mentoring you, but those two really go hand in hand.
NJBIZ: Have you noticed the representation of women in the New Jersey commercial real estate industry increase since you started focusing on it?
KB: I think we are seeing it grow, but I think a lot of it is still not in the traditional brokerage roles. I think you’re seeing a lot of women real estate attorneys now, and a lot of architects and a lot of CPAs, and you’re seeing a lot of analysts. But I still don’t see a real increase in the number of women that want to go into brokerage. I think there, we’re still falling a little bit short.
I looked at my makeup … of how many women I actually have in the organization, and it’s interesting because … I have one industrial woman, I have two that are involved in health care. I have three for retail, so maybe retail is more appealing. I have one that does consulting. … So it’s not the traditional office brokers that we seem to be recruiting that are women. The women that are coming in, at least here, seem to want to specialize in something.
NJBIZ: Does being market leader give you a better chance at helping the overall cause?
KB: I think it does, because it gives me more visibility in the industry and more visibility in general in New Jersey business. And I think that alone will help shift the culture a little, because besides putting my head down and working hard and furthering my career, I have to be really aware — and I am — of how I can attract more women in general to business in New Jersey. And I think I can do that being visible and talking about it, and talking up commercial real estate and being involved in things.
NJBIZ: You’re on the executive advisory board for Cushman & Wakefield’s women networking group. Tell us more about that.
KB: We just revamped it recently and we’re really, really trying as an organization nationally to attract, retain and develop professional women, so that Cushman & Wakefield is the employer of choice. We want professional woman to think of Cushman & Wakefield first — and even women graduating college. I’ve been recruiting here in Jersey for 10 years and it’s really not even a thought for somebody that’s a recent grad to come into commercial real estate. And we’ve worked really hard to try and change that.
Now with Rutgers starting up the real estate program in New Jersey, that’s a huge help for us, because typically the colleges in New Jersey don’t really offer a major real estate (program). … I think we have to get down the college and even the high school level to start attracting women into this industry because they just don’t know about it. Most women, when they hear real estate, think residential and houses. So we need to do a better job of promoting it.