It’s about the relationship — There is not only one relationship, the deals and projects are delivered by teams. Treat everyone with respect and there is always something interesting to learn from every person you meet in the industry. You never know if the person you helped will become someone in an influencing or gatekeeping role. The more diverse your relationship networking, the more interesting project or team options you can offer to your clients. Be a connector of circles…not just in one circle. This broadens your reach in unusual ties where deals are done because you have the ability to transcend trust barriers. Trust is the currency of the future.
Asa part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing President and Co-Founder of MWBE Unite, Pay Wu.
Pay Wu is a Commercial Real Estate (CRE) advisor and executive with 30+ years of industry and consulting experience, managing internal and outsourced teams to produce positive P&L impact. Most recently, she co-founded MWBE Unite, an organization whose sole mission is to advance supplier and workforce diversity in Commercial Real Estate. This standalone platform supplier paves the way for 100 percent Minority and Women participation, offering services that include strategic program management, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, social impact construction, development and management and property technologies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
Myfirst exposure to real estate was through my aunt, who invested in real estate in Park Slope-Brooklyn through the 1970s and 80s. When my family emigrated to the US, my mother brought with her life savings as a math teacher and insisted that my aunt help to find a house we could afford in NYC. That decision to buy an owner financed house in Brooklyn laid a firm foundation for an immigrant family.
As an artistic child through High School, I decided to study Facilities Planning & Management and Interior Design at Cornell University. I began my career in Chicago at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and quickly led to a Workplace Strategist role for Andersen Worldwide where I traveled globally in deploying alternative workplace strategies and driving efficiency in contracts for design and construction services for Arthur Andersen and what is now Accenture. I really enjoyed the strategic nature of the work and solving interesting problems based on data and change management.
Rather than spending time doing stair details, I veered toward business transformation, helping Fortune 1000 companies solve interesting problems in strategy, operations and technology all in the real estate space — including capital planning, strategic facilities / master planning, real estate and facilities cost reduction strategies, asset and equipment optimization, process reengineering, space and facilities management related technologies. I was able to translate value-added concepts from one client to the next and enhance delivery across the lifecycle of capital asset and real estate.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Together with JRT Realty Group ( the largest woman-owned commercial real estate firm in the country), we just launched MWBE Unite, Inc. This standalone Commercial Real Estate (CRE) platform supplier will pave the way for 100 percent Minority and Women participation, offering services that include strategic program management, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, social impact construction, development and management and property technologies.
MWBE Unite is a significant step forward in bridging CRE supplier and workforce diversity gaps and creating accessible opportunities within those spaces. This one-stop shop will bring together M/WBEs and talented Commercial Real Estate individuals with the ultimate goal of advancing inclusionary practices across all aspects of the built environment. Working with MWBE Unite will also present a unique opportunity for organizations to meet their diversity commitments while also taking advantage of high-level industry expertise. The platform spans corporate and commercial real estate — social impact development and projects.
It’s a great time to be in the built environment, with the debates that are on-going about the evolving nature of work and places…At MWBE Unite, we are focused on not only threading diversity in where/how people work, how they live and play in spaces, spanning different assets. The focus and fun is beyond corporate real estate and into communities, schools, accessible/workforce housing and where people live, work, play and study.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
Real Estate is an incredibly diverse and fragmented industry. In total, the stats might indicate that there are more women, however, the segments of real estate are important distinctions. Residential Real Estate is definitely more female dominated; but the same is not true for commercial real estate — one of the least diverse industries, both in gender and ethnicity. I can’t diagnose the root cause, as there are many reasons — structural and organic. It’s more important to focus on the outcome and what actions are needed to achieve more equity and representation.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
Regardless of individually, companies or society actions, I view support in 3 key steps:
- Alignment that it’s important for society, for the company and for diverse employees that gender balance is good for business
- Creating a roadmap and Action plan to improve gender balance and equity of participation
- Accountability in reporting results and sharing success stories
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
We have an inter-generational talent problem in commercial real estate. MWBE Unite as a platform will be focused on supporting and nurturing next generation diverse talent that is technical through creating accessible opportunities for diverse businesses and partnering with legacy CRE firms to drive more participation. The second challenge is the increasing digitization of the built environment — we can’t train individuals fast enough to address the shifts for technology understanding in real estate and workplace sectors. The third challenge is creating equitable thriving communities that balances profit for good. In the past, real estate development and gentrification prioritized maximizing profit. Increasingly, the focus is to create profitable deals that also help drive participation and ownership through supporting diverse businesses and supporting local capabilities.
We need to have people think about the environment as more than just the supply side or the asset. Building and spaces exist for the people and the more complex side of the sector is about the demand, the people’s behaviors, what supports a thriving, destination community and how to continue to enhance experiences. It’s all about people in a post pandemic world.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give an example for each?
It’s not only about the box. Real estate, by legal definition is not about a box, it’s an asset class with air rights, mineral rights, options and varying structures and financing. It’s an interesting blend of art, science and math. More than ever, it’s also about the services wrapped around the box, the environment and the technologies that enable it for maximum experience. The whole debate on return to office and hybrid definition shows that the solution lies not in only the widget/assets, but in the demand variables of the people using the spaces. In addition, it’s about the journey to get to the space, so the commute is infinitely more important than before.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable — the industry traditionally has always been relationship driven but dynamics of how the clients are looking for different services providers delivery is changing. We have seen it — WeWork and Flex working, more remote work — it’s a massive shift of the assumptions of what the business was built on. COVID is also forcing a mash-up of asset classes, where retail is being transformed in certain locales into live, work, play and study environments and class B office buildings are likely to transition into residential.
The data and the story. Decisions in real estate have traditionally been financially focused. The industry now has many more dimensions of data that inform the story of how the industry is evolving. More data is being produced than ever, sensors, wifi data, travel data, badge data, employee sentiments, labor economics, workforce expectations, thriving cities where labor has decamped during COVID — all point to the fact that having the data alone is not enough. The interpretation of data in the context of each city, community, jobs, and technology investment is driving the cities and communities of the future.
You need to be an expert. Yes, And…you need to be a real estate expert and be a business generalist. Clients count on your trusted advice in real estate insights, but expect that you are informed in the business principles that help to drive balanced decisions.
It’s about the relationship. There is not only one relationship, the deals and projects are delivered by teams. Treat everyone with respect and there is always something interesting to learn from every person you meet in the industry. You never know if the person you helped will become someone in an influencing or gatekeeping role. The more diverse your relationship networking, the more interesting project or team options you can offer to your clients. Be a connector of circles…not just in one circle. This broadens your reach in unusual ties where deals are done because you have the ability to transcend trust barriers. Trust is the currency of the future.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!
About The Interviewer: Jason Hartman is the Founder and CEO of Empowered Investor. Jason has been involved in several thousand real estate transactions and has owned income properties in 11 states and 17 cities. Empowered Investor helps people achieve The American Dream of financial freedom by purchasing income property in prudent markets nationwide. Jason’s Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ is a comprehensive system providing real estate investors with education, research, resources and technology to deal with all areas of their income property investment needs. Through Jason’s podcasts, educational events, referrals, mentoring and software to track your investments, investors can easily locate, finance and purchase properties in these exceptional markets with confidence and peace of mind.
Starting with very little, Jason, while still in college at the age of 19, embarked on a career in real estate. While brokering properties for clients, he was investing in his own portfolio along the way. Through creativity, persistence and hard work, he earned a number of prestigious industry awards and became a young multi-millionaire. Jason purchased a California real estate brokerage firm that was later acquired by Coldwell Banker. He combined his dedication and business talents to become a successful entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and media personality. Over the years he developed his Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ where his innovative firm educates and assists investors in acquiring prudent investments nationwide for their portfolio. Jason’s sought after educational events, speaking engagements, and his popular “Creating Wealth Podcast” inspire and empower hundreds of thousands of people in 189 countries worldwide.
While running his successful real estate and media businesses, Jason also believes that giving back to the community plays an important role in building strong personal relationships. He established The Jason Hartman Foundation in 2005 to provide financial literacy education to young adults providing the all-important real world skills not taught in school which are the key to the financial stability and success of future generations. We’re in a global monetary crisis caused by decades of misguided policies and the cycle of financial dependence has to be broken, literacy and self-reliance are a good start. Visit JasonHartman.com for free materials and resources.