Karin Kraai of the Goldie Initiative discusses her career, the importance of mentoring and the need for more female leaders in commercial real estate

The Goldie Initiative will celebrate Chicago’s women in commercial real estate this week by hosting its annual Goldie Gala on Thursday, September 24. The organization, which offers scholarships, executive-level mentorship and networking opportunities to women seeking education and careers in the commercial real estate world, can boast the success of dozens of professionals among its members. old students. And for this year, the organization has its largest cohort to date, offering scholarships and professional support to 28 women.

Karin Kraai is the leader of The Goldie Initiative, having taken the role earlier in 2021. Prior to taking over the organization, Kraai spent 25 years in the commercial real estate world in Chicago, managing office leasing. for people like Vornado, Jones Lang LaSalle and Newmark. While managing portfolios worth over $ 7 billion, Karin would work on her own deals and volunteer mentoring young newcomers to the field through the Goldie initiative.

Kraai spoke to REjournals to discuss why her new role is so important and how The Goldie Initiative is working to change the industry.

On his early years in Chicago, commercial real estate and weathering development cycles…

I started with developer Lincoln Property Company and we built the last speculative office building in town [during the development cycle from the late ’80s through the early ’90s], 311 South Wacker, or 1.2 million vacant office spaces without pre-letting. And then in the early ’90s there was a crash, where everyone thought American businesses were going to start hosting hotels and reducing their footprint, and there was a serious, serious slowdown. So, in the space of six years, it went from almost doubling the office space that existed before 1980 to doubling in the 1980s. I still remember the closing party in 1990, because you could go to a party every other night, that’s the number of new buildings that started to be built and finished. It was a really fun time.

On his link with The Goldie Initiative and his experience as a mentor …

I have volunteered with The Goldie Initiative since 2010. I was a member of the board of directors and then I was chairman of the board for three years. I have led and led various committees including selection of scholars, this is how we select scholars who apply for the scholarship. So I left Newmark and started a consulting firm, then our executive director left The Goldie Initiative. The board asked me if I would be the temp [executive director] in October of last year and I said yes, because I really always believed in our mission very much, which is why I have been volunteering for so long. Then, after three weeks of work, I realized how much my real passion lies in what we do at The Goldie Initiative. So I would like to say that my timing was planned and perfect for making the switch, while still being connected to the commercial real estate community – it’s not like I have a crystal ball, it just happened. like that. And I did the acting and then I threw my hat in the ring and was lucky enough to get the job.

On the programming and the opportunities offered by The Goldie Initiative …

The nature of our program is therefore fourfold. We offer scholarships of $ 15,000 to women who graduate from commercial real estate. So it can be an MBA, it can be a JD, it can be an MSRE, or it can be a master’s in architecture and construction. This year we have several researchers who are interested in developments of the social justice type, for example. It is therefore an element. The second component is mentorship at the executive level. Our fellows are supervised by an extremely experienced person in the field of real estate. Most of the time it’s female, however, we’ve started to include men, and sometimes we match academics with two mentors based on their needs and mentor schedules and other commitments. The third component is network training. People think [networking] it’s easy, but it’s not. How do you walk into a room full of people and decide who to talk to and what to say? How do you make a connection and then how do you stay in touch? How to promote this first meeting and foster a real relationship? Our academics therefore follow this training before the gala. And then the fourth element is the career development and the leadership training that we provide. All of these women are in fantastic schools.

On the importance of real-world practice in preparing for a career in commercial real estate …

Fellows can also network above their pay level, which is the most difficult type of networking to do. It’s easy to network with your peers, but it’s really hard to network with someone who is CEO or board member and you don’t know how to contact them. And so, every year, Penny Pritzker reviews the elevator speeches of our academics. They train – and we spend a lot of time doing it – because we want them to look good and for Penny to be impressed. And they get started. So it’s less than a minute: this is who I am, this is where I am going, this is what I would like to achieve. And then some of them asked for a favor. So this is a great exercise to do, as an elevator speech is much more difficult to prepare than you might think – just talking about yourself to someone in an engaging and energizing way.

Again, these really seasoned real estate people. What we do in our training is more real life. We have people who will help them defend themselves and negotiate for themselves. How are they perceived in their work? What must they do to be seen differently? How are they promoted? How do they negotiate politics? This is all really difficult, but it is an integral part of being able to maneuver to reach high level managerial positions or leadership positions, which is ultimately our goal.

Why do we need more women in commercial real estate and in leadership roles…

It’s a really exciting time where companies are really embracing DEI and ESG and they’re trying to hire more women and branch out, but what they’re seeing is that the pipeline is not very. solid. So that’s how I see what we do, which is helping the commercial real estate community as a whole by filling this pipeline with really talented, smart and ambitious women who can help these businesses and them. bring up to senior management and senior management levels. There is study after study from Harvard, and many others, that prove that once you have more than 30% of women in your management and your C-suite, profitability increases by 15%, employee retention. is higher, collaboration grows, and it’s a different model making decision. All of these things are true, so why haven’t we embraced this before?


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