Women in Real Estate – Interview with Jennifer Taylor of Atalanta about Career Development and West Coast/Hawaii Investments

Does gender make a difference in how real investors and developers succeed in the real estate industry? Do women get involved in real estate from different starting points than men, or find different ways to thrive?

These were questions that came up as iFunding was exploring the demographic of real estate investors and developers that attend our events, propose properties for development and participate in crowdfund investments. We’ve been interviewing female real estate developers and investors to hear their thoughts. This is the second of our interviews.

Jennifer Taylor is Managing Principal and founder of Atalanta Realty Investments, which targets investments in office, retail and industrial assets in the Western U.S. including Hawaii. Jennifer has been named one of “Ten Disruptors” this year by National Real Estate Investor magazine. Atalanta is a socially-responsible business that invests in culturally diverse, under-valued, urban neighborhoods.

Q: Your background is interesting, Jennifer. How did you get involved in real estate?

I started my career as a receptionist for an executive suites building, owned by Aetna. I knew nothing about real estate at the time, but could sense the potential power of operating the type of building I worked in.

I transitioned into property management, and worked in the field for nearly a decade. While there, I wanted to grow into the investment side of the business. I’ve always been a self-starter and have spent a lot of time learning about real estate from others, including the institutional asset managers that visited my management company’s to check on their properties.

Q: How did you grow your investment and operating business?

In 2002, I started an investment group called Arroyo Realty Partners with two partners. We invested in office building in Honolulu and expanded to other properties in Hawaii. We were fortunate with our exit from that business, as we sold the assets to an institutional investor in August 2007, right before the downturn.

I then rode out the downturn, before putting a new business plan together for a similar platform, now called Atalanta Realty Investments. We focus on operating and enhancing the value of commercial properties in markets with significant Asian populations, particularly parts of California and all of Hawaii. We aim to acquire retail, industrial and office assets. The first thing we did was to buy back the portfolio of Hawaiian assets we had sold to Morgan Stanley in 2007. Now, we just closed on our first acquisition: two offices buildings in Honolulu.

Q: Why did you focus on Hawaii?

I’m of Filipino descent. My parents came from the Philippines and met in New Jersey, where I was born, then we moved to Pasadena, California. I feel my family background has made it easier for me to operate in the Hawaiian real estate market. Hawaii is strongly influenced by its trade relationship to, and inhabitants from, the Pacific Rim. Interactions are subtly different from the mainland. For example, your word is held to a high standard, with less emphasis on the written contract to make progress in a relationship. Discussions are more subtle and toned down.

By the way, Hawaii has a ton of opportunity right now. The office market is still recovering from the earlier downturn, however retail and industrial vacancy is just 4%, and tourism and hospitality remain strong.

Q: Turning to the impact of gender in the real estate business, where do women and men concentrate in the real estate business? Does that make a difference in their success?

Most asset managers are men, though women can clearly stand out results-wise in investing as well. There are both male and female agents in high numbers and some of these will migrate to the investment side.

In property management, the majority of people I’ve met are women. I think having property management experience is valuable with cash-flowing commercial properties, because you gain a strong sense of what aspects of the property can be improved, and where financial efficiencies can be gained. Atalanta has four principals, three of which are women: Robin Dean, Lourdes Canlas and myself. It’s not coincidence that we’ve all had property operations experience. Our fourth partner is a gentleman named Aden Kun with a background from the investment side of the industry.

Q: Do you sense that there is a “glass ceiling” of patterns and perceptions that hinder a women’s career more than men’s?

I feel that I’ve experienced the glass ceiling at times. But I’ve focused instead on breaking through to new roles and relationships with senior management and peers, without being offensive to others. In a sense, every step upward in my career was an opportunity to grow and be seen as more senior. Growing up with two sisters helped me later to navigate individuals’ sensitivities in the office.

Q: Is it important to understand the numbers in real estate?

Absolutely, for both women and men. There actually are many things you need to understand to be successful in real estate, including the financials and contracts. I’ve trained myself to be able to evaluate income statements for cash-flowing properties, for example, but it’s not something I’d prefer to browse in my spare time.

Q: Are there other ways you think women and men may differ professionally, generally speaking?

I think women act more intuitively. Both men and women can be strong in the art of the deal; that is, picking the right market, negotiating terms, and choosing your timing. But women seem to read people better and are willing to communicate more frankly. For example, I found it pretty easy in a recent acquisition to get an early sense from the seller, another women, about whether we were in the right ballpark to get the deal done. With men I’ve negotiated with on deals, there was more beating around the bush about intentions.

I also have found that women in business are extremely supportive of one another. Throughout my career, I have seen women share information, refer each other to opportunities and mentor one another to get ahead. I think that this trend is only increasing and that this support will continue to have a positive and significant impact on the careers of emerging female leaders.

Q: What’s next for you and your business?

My partners and I are excited about Atalanta’s prospects, based on team chemistry and our understanding of Hawaii, California and other west coast markets with Asian populations. The focus suits us well. We will evaluate deals in the $5 – $30 million range. We’re also excited to be under contract to develop The Gathering Place, a 55,000 sq. foot open-air retail center on Oahu. Each acquisition and a growing operating history is building on our track record. That demonstrates to potential equity partners that we know our markets well.