Power Women in Los Angeles
Today we bring you the sixth installment in our 10-part series highlighting some of the top leaders in SoCal commercial real estate. Bisnow's Los Angeles Power Women recognizes 50 influential players in the industry. We're profiling each of these women (read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5) and then honoring them the morning of Oct. 11 at a special awards reception.
Rachel Howitt, President and CFO, NAI Capital
NAI Capital president and CFO Rachel Howitt has been working in commercial real estate for more than 25 years. She says the most rewarding aspect of her career is "inspiring other women to break the glass ceiling." When Rachel first began working for NAI Capital, there were only two women brokers. There are now 41, including an executive managing director who runs the Palm Desert office. Rachel is proud of the women at the firm and her own ascent as president. She is happy to have the opportunity to represent NAI Capital, the largest independently owned full-service commercial real estate firm headquartered in SoCal, she says. She sees consolidation in the industry as one of the challenges, since many firms have merged into "large, impersonal firms where company culture is supplanted by a 'Wall Street' mentality." Competition for talent also is challenging, and barriers for new brokers in the business are high, particularly for women, Rachel says. Her advice for women looking to enter the industry is to find mentors, take advantage of training opportunities, be prepared and "most importantly, be yourself." Rachel enjoys going to the Thermal Club racetrack with her sports car for a rush of adrenaline. She also supports the Navy Seal Foundation and is a member of the board of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
Lisa St. John, founding principal, LA Realty Partners
The road since Harvard Business School has been a rewarding one for Lisa St. John (pictured above with her family). She joined Trammell Crow right after graduation, working in the Washington, DC, office before moving to LA. Prior to business school, she worked as a banker for Citibank in Tokyo. She loves her job, especially “putting together complex deals and coordinating the many facets of a successful transaction.” Lisa enjoys going to work every day and negotiating industry challenges, including evolving tenant space needs as buildings aim to be more of a lifestyle location. Landlords now offer tenants more amenities than before, driving the popularity of pet-friendly buildings and interactive outdoor space. Lisa encourages women to continue entering this dynamic and diversifying industry, but cautions them to make sure they love it as “it can still be a challenging career for women.” Outside of the office, Lisa has her hands full with her four children.
Beatrice Hsu, SVP of development, Brookfield Property Group
Bea Hsu enjoys real estate development because of its tangible end results. She is drawn to projects that contribute to the revitalization of neighborhoods and the evolution of cities. Bea held posts at the state and city level before getting into the industry; as an adviser to then-Council member Eric Garcetti, she helped build the city’s first Affordable Housing Trust Fund and facilitated the early days of Hollywood’s redevelopment. As an SVP for Related California, she played a key role in some of the region’s significant redevelopment projects, including The Grand Avenue Project in DTLA and Ocean Avenue South in Santa Monica. Bea tells us one of the biggest challenges facing the industry and the region is building consensus with community stakeholders on how to accommodate growth and future development. Los Angeles has an undersupplied housing market, a problem that cannot be solved without updating land use plans and meaningful CEQA reform. Bea makes sure to get out from behind her desk, which allows her to see the broader civic context of the projects she’s working on. She sits on the board of Larchmont Charter School and is a member of the LA Board of Airport Commissioners.
Jilliene Helman, CEO, RealtyMogul
RealtyMogul.com CEO Jilliene Helman grew up discussing real estate around the dinner table with her family and always knew she wanted to do it as a profession. Her greatest rewards come from watching and helping her team grow. She says she likes to hire people who can “punch above their weight class” and watch them excel in ways they didn’t think they were capable of. Jilliene sees education as a challenge when it comes to crowdfunding for the real estate industry, since it has only been in existence for three years. “People are still questioning if it’s a viable place to invest in real estate and a viable place to finance real estate,” she says. But as far as Jilliene is concerned, “this industry is here to stay." For women getting into the industry, she says the key is to hustle. When she’s not hustling, Jilliene enjoys traveling and SoulCycle.
Cheryl Prell, partner, Allen Matkins
Cheryl Prell, a partner in the real estate department of Allen Matkins, first began focusing on commercial real estate in the 1980s while practicing law at the boutique firm of Shafran & Fragner. Her father had been a real estate appraiser, which made her somewhat familiar with the industry. She values her career for the opportunities it has given her "to work with smart, clever, creative people," including lawyers in her firm, opposing counsel, clients and brokers, and especially those who appreciate the lawyer's contribution to a transaction. While Cheryl says it can be difficult to find young attorneys interested in focusing on commercial real estate, she advises women, in particular, to learn as much as they can about all facets of the industry early on since “you never know where your career path will lead.” When she’s not working, she loves traveling the world with her husband and catching up with their five children, who live all over the country.