Rising Stars Brighten CRE’s Outlook

January 24, 2023 • Linda K. Monroe

Original thinking, a thirst for knowledge and—most importantly—enthusiastic dedication to the future of commercial real estate are common traits among this year’s “rising stars.” The four emerging professionals recognized here, who were nominated by BOMA International members, leave no doubt that the industry is full of prospects and opportunities as these capable and confident individuals help shape their careers and lead by example.

Carolyn Brennan - Transwestern

Property management has always been a customer service business. So, it’s no surprise that the skills Carolyn Brennan developed from her hospitality background are valuable in her role as property manager at the Civic Opera Building in downtown Chicago. In fact, her journey from hospitality to commercial real estate, while somewhat serendipitous, was two-fold: She observed and engaged with property managers handling duties at her former employer’s conference centers; and an uncle in industrial real estate offered further insight and contacts. In short, Brennan was intrigued—and continues to be since her career move in January 2017. To capitalize on her practical CRE experience, she also obtained her real estate license in late 2020, and presently is completing coursework toward a Real Property Administrator (RPA®) designation.

Today, Brennan’s responsibilities include handling service agreements and monthly financial reporting, as well as implementing new programs “to help streamline operations … and find ways to save money for the landlord,” she explains. “Previously, I was at a smaller asset, so I’ve had a great learning opportunity in the [950,000-square-foot] Civic Opera Building, which Transwestern took over about a year ago.” Although an influx of tenants returned to the building this past summer following COVID shutdowns, Brennan says everyday operations constantly fluctuate. Her recommendation: “Be adaptable; keep a level head and be open to change.”

Transwestern took over about a year ago.” Although an influx of tenants returned to the building this past summer following COVID shutdowns, Brennan says everyday operations constantly fluctuate. Her recommendation: “Be adaptable; keep a level head and be open to change.”

Brennan, however, is quick to credit others with helping her achieve her short-term goals. “I have been very fortunate in having quite a few mentors along the way. It started really with my uncle, and then I’ve had great senior managers who are helping me navigate the industry and showing me different tools and tactics to assist with my day-to-day workload,” she says. Her BOMA local association, BOMA/Chicago, has been extremely helpful as well, “with a lot of lunch-and-learns where you can learn about construction, utility consulting and, more recently, a DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] initiative. It’s been an overall great experience with BOMA.”

She offers important lessons learned to her emerging professional peers. “Continually ask questions; that gives you a bigger picture into the asset, whether in operations, mechanicals or accounting,” notes Brennan. “And, with technology advances as we ride out of the COVID era, make sure you are flexible and open-minded to anything new that comes your way.”

Good advice from someone whose long-term goal is to manage a larger portfolio of assets—one that may very well be in Brennan’s not-too-distant future.

Rafi Fazari - Kilroy Realty Corp.

Although early January 2023 marks the one-year anniversary of Rafi Fazari’s commercial real estate career, his observations and proficiency today demonstrate that he already has reached a long way round what can only be described as a steep learning curve. He is property coordinator with Kilroy Realty Corp. in Bellevue, Washington, cross-training in two of the company’s buildings: the 429,000-square-foot Skyline Tower (his primary oversight, along with a property manager) and the 488,000-square-foot Key Center (which houses Kilroy’s regional office and the majority of its local staff).

Looking back, Fazari’s entry into the industry was purely timing and happenstance. While in college completing a business management degree, Fazari worked on his father’s Oklahoma residential properties, but was unaware of prospects in the distinctly different commercial real estate arena. Through CRE connections when he relocated near Seattle, “I landed a job,” he recalls. “I love it; everything falls into place perfectly.”

Short-term goals are about learning the basics. “Every day, I find out something new that happened that I have to deal with, so I’m really focused on mastering the knowledge of the building and the knowledge of my company,” Fazari says. Mentors have eased the process, especially a senior property manager at his previous company “who took me to new levels. He threw new challenges at me during my seven months there, and I learned so much.”

That relationship also led to an introduction to the local BOMA/Seattle-King County chapter. “My senior property manager said, ‘Go to every BOMA. Do everything you can do.’ So, I did. Then, I was awarded a J. Michael Coleman Scholarship to attend the 2022 BOMA International Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and going to the classes there, along with the trade show, opened up my thinking.” This mindset also extends to Fazari’s desire to pay back, specifically to mentor new people coming into the industry “once I master the basics.”

He adds: “I know a lot of people in my position are afraid to go to their superiors and ask for visibility, see what they’re doing, see how they do things. I am always knocking on doors, exploring and asking for responsibilities. You have to challenge yourself if you want to get better.”

A recent local TOBY Award for Skyline Tower further validates Fazari’s philosophy. “This is the oldest high-rise in Bellevue and my property manager and I went against newer buildings. Going through the application process and the walk-throughs was stressful, but it definitely has paid off.”

Marco McCartney - Cushman & Wakefield

Marco McCartney, assistant property manager at Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), has perfected the art of networking to what can best be described as a tour de force. His office is in Salesforce West, an iconic Class A office tower located at 50 Fremont in San Francisco. McCartney has fine-tuned his aptitude for connecting with people ever since he attended San Francisco State University and became a fellow in the nine-months-long Commercial Real Estate Alliance for Tomorrow’s Employees (CREATE) program, a partnership among BOMA/San Francisco, BOMA/Oakland-East Bay, NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area and IREM San Francisco Bay Area. “The transition into BOMA was a very seamless, natural process for me coming out of the CREATE program,” McCartney says. He also has served as subcommittee chair on both his BOMA local association’s Careers in Commercial Real Estate and its Emerging Professionals committees.

At work, McCartney helps optimize the daily operations of the three downtown Salesforce buildings, along with six C&W colleagues. Tenant facing and project management are key activities too, although McCartney brings a unique value-add: security technology, a skill set he continually sharpens after being mentored by the company’s vendor service provider. “One of the global physical security system engineers in that company really helped me understand on a deeper level how all this technology works and all the dependencies that go into such a system,” he says. “So, while not an expert, I have a working knowledge of the subject and can understand problems and appropriately coordinate with different departments and the vendor.”

Even though he hopes to build on his security expertise, McCartney says, “One of the things I really like about the commercial real estate industry is touching all aspects of a building.” His mentors come “from within my company, connections I’ve made through the CREATE program and people at BOMA. Just surrounding myself with all those people has been really beneficial for me.”

For emerging professionals interested in CRE, McCartney recommends, “Start by doing your own research. Then, ask for informational interviews with people who are in the industry. Ask good questions; discover what you’re looking for, network with people, try to attend a BOMA event. Be a sponge. If you can leave a good impression, you are going to be top-of-mind with those people when they have a job opening.”

Obviously, McCartney knows how to leave that good impression. Earlier this year, he received the BOMA/San Francisco Rising Star award, as well as a nomination for BOMA International’s Rising Stars recognition.

Melissa Rice - CBRE

When Melissa Rice joined CBRE in August 2021, it was her first immersion in the business of commercial real estate. However, her background in finance and residential real estate, encompassing a full decade beforehand, meant her natural talents and depths of knowledge quickly added value. Now, as real estate coordinator in CBRE’s Kansas City, Missouri, office, Rice supports all aspects of property management’s responsibilities, including marketing, operations and financial activities. The team currently manages about 3 million square feet of industrial, retail and office properties throughout the Kansas City area.

In addition to her degree in business administration from MidAmerica Nazarene University, Rice received her Kansas real estate license and recently completed a 15-week CRE development class offered by the Urban Land Institute (ULI Kansas City). Named the Real Estate Diversity Initiative (REDI), the coursework is intended to assist women and people of color in learning what it takes to get a construction project planned and off the ground. “My long-term goal is to move to brokerage,” explains Rice. “I want to help determine what to build and where to build it. The more we can understand our communities, the better we are able to serve them.” She also plans to pursue her Certified Manager of Commercial Properties (CMCP) certification in 2023.

Rice acknowledges the importance of mentors, noting she’s been encouraged and guided by several professionals within CBRE and BOMA. “I’m still fairly new in the CRE industry and learning a ton! Tiffany Smith, CBRE senior vice president, has been a great resource for me,” in addition to other CBRE leaders and influencers in the commercial real estate profession. And, as one of 12 recipients of a J. Michael Coleman Scholarship to attend the most recent BOMA International conference and expo in Nashville, Tennessee, Rice intends to pay her experiences forward during the BOMA 2023 conference and expo in her home city. “Receiving the J. Michael Coleman Scholarship was an invaluable experience,” she says. “I was able to network and build relationships that I know will be long-lasting.”

Her advice for others interested in the CRE industry? “Don’t be intimidated. CRE can be intimidating initially, but it is really a fulfilling career. Be purposeful when networking and find ways to improve time management,” advises Rice. “Always take a client-focused approach, and learn to adapt!”

Details about the Rising Stars nomination procedures are here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda K. Monroe, a freelance writer and editorial project manager, was the former editorial director at BUILDINGS magazine from 1981–2008.