For Jean Kane, CCIM, the possibilities for careers in commercial real estate are limitless. “Everyone is needed in real estate, whether you're creative, a numbers person, or a people person,” she says. “We need lots of different kinds of talent.”
Kane speaks from experience. In a career of more than 30 years, she's worked in several commercial real estate sectors. Today, as CEO of Colliers Minneapolis-St. Paul, she leads a full-service commercial real estate company, employing 240 people. Last year Kane was named one of Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal's Most Admired CEOs. She talked to CIRE about how her experience has shaped her leadership and the value of diversity in the workplace.
CIRE: Describe your background in commercial real estate.
Kane: I started out in property management and worked my way up through different facets of the industry. I interviewed with the Welsh Company and was lucky enough to become the real estate manager for the two founding members of the company, George Welsh and Dennis Doyle.
The company grew rapidly, and I just kept taking on anything that Doyle would give me. I didn't care about title; I didn't care about money; I just wanted to learn. I went from being a property manager to becoming an asset manager, overseeing a real estate portfolio.
That's when I approached Doyle and said, “I'm looking at either getting my MBA or my CCIM. I think I would add the most value to you and our organization if I got a CCIM.”
He understood the value of a CCIM designation because we had investment salespeople and brokers who were CCIMs. I started down that track because I thought it would help me better understand commercial real estate as an investment and make better decisions for my clients.
Next, I got involved in loan workouts and then evaluating companies. I became more engaged in running the business and putting together capital stacks within the organization. In 2004, I became an equity partner, and, in 2012, advanced to majority owner.
In 2017, we sold our business to Colliers International as part of a strategic decision. We wanted a capital partner who understood our business model, had a global strategy, and a leadership team that we valued, as well as cultural alignment.
CIRE: How important is culture in an organization?
Kane: I'm big on culture. People have choices on where they want to be employed, and you want to be an employer of choice.
We need to create a culture that provides a platform for creative, enterprising people. We have a full suite of services - brokers and property managers - and plumbers and electricians, architects, and space planners.
We've got creative people, technical people, and people out in the field. It's valuable for them to know they can make a difference. If a tenant, landlord, or investment client is happy with our services, that reflects on the value of the company.
CIRE: What are other elements to a successful organization?
Kane: You must surround yourself with diversity. If you have people around you who think just like you, good things won't happen. You must be willing to have people around you who can embrace change. As an organization, you must be cognizant of keeping what's working, but you must be flexible.
We need to provide an atmosphere that gives people tools for continuous learning. I don't care if it's learning new technology or getting a new license - you've got to learn more about people and about technology.
CIRE: How has the Minneapolis-St. Paul market changed?
Kane: It's a terrific region and is emerging as a new market to watch within the commercial real estate industry. We've been blessed with wonderful organizations headquartered here. The changes come from more housing units in the urban center, and many more people embracing living in the city.
CIRE: What advice would you give to have a successful career in commercial real estate?
Kane: Your career is a journey. You may think you need to be always moving forward. The reality, however, is you'll make mistakes, you'll learn, you'll hit bumps in the road, and you'll pick yourself up. Don't just be persistent - be pleasantly persistent.