My Career Path in CRE

May 25, 2023 | By: Crystal Baptiste

Commercial real estate is a challenging industry to navigate, with a constantly evolving landscape and a multitude of factors at play. For me, my journey in commercial real estate began in 2011 when I was working at Regus Executive Suites.

Through my work with Regus, I gained a wealth of knowledge about managing tenants, even though it was on a smaller scale. I also had the opportunity to learn more about property management since I worked so closely with the property management teams in the buildings we were located in. I excelled at Regus and won awards for being top in sales across North America.

My properties were always doing well, but as in all business, new competitors come around and the company evolves. I was eventually laid off due to a change in the company’s business model. That experience was the beginning of my passion for commercial real estate and the start of a journey that would eventually lead me to my current role as a property administrator for CP Group at One Overton Park.

Revisiting Commercial Real Estate

After Regus, I took some time away from the industry to open my creative consulting and virtual assistant business. My business really moved into a space of freelance work and of course, you are never sure when a new client is coming. I decided to revisit my passion for commercial real estate. Could I use my experience at Regus to get a position for a property management company?

I was not sure, but I decided to take a leap of faith. Through a staffing agency, I attained a temporary position as a tenant services coordinator for a small commercial real estate company. Amazingly, when the assistant property manager interviewed me, I recognized her. She was on one of the property management teams that I worked with when I was a general manager for Regus. The assistant property manager took me under her wing and taught me about many of the business aspects of commercial real estate.

She said I had a knack for the people management of the building staff, vendors, and tenants, and she wanted me to truly understand the business because she saw my potential. As a Black woman, she felt it was very important to open the door for other young, Black women coming up in the industry.

I loved every aspect of commercial real estate. I enjoyed planning the tenant events, learning about the budget, and all the ins and outs of running a commercial building. When the assignment was finished, I was ready for my next opportunity in commercial real estate. I felt equipped and knowledgeable.

Pivoting in the Industry

After I learned and grew in that role, I was able to land an assistant property manager role for Stafford. My portfolio focused on shopping plazas, and I quickly realized that this area of commercial real estate did not align with my strengths and interests.

As an assistant property manager for shopping plazas between Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, I didn’t get to interact with people as much as I did when I worked on the office side of commercial real estate. I knew I needed to pivot again to find a role that would allow me to better utilize my skills and passions.

It is important to know your strengths and passions to make sure what you are doing aligns with that. Do not stay somewhere where you are unhappy. That’s when I found a temporary position with JLL doing split responsibilities as an executive assistant for the regional property manager and regional operations manager, as well as doing accounts payable for the South Downtown Project.

The South Downtown Project was managed by a powerful, intelligent Black woman. She made sure that I learned as much as possible with such a unique project. This project was an exciting undertaking, as it involved a major overhaul of the South Downtown area to make it more appealing for businesses, families, and the emerging new, young leaders in Atlanta. This experience gave me a greater appreciation for the impact that commercial real estate can have on a community.

Growing and Finding Passions

When that temporary assignment was finished, I was offered an accounting position, but both my manager and I knew that it wasn’t a fit for me because it wasn’t what I was passionate about doing. Back to the search again.

I hadn’t found the position in commercial real estate that I wanted, and I felt like my experience should have spoken volumes to interviewers. I realized that relationships and networking play a large role in hiring as well. I had some relationships, but not what I needed to grow. By this time, I had experience in sales, event planning, A/P, A/R, and people management, but I wasn’t finding anything.

Eventually, I ended up getting a great position with IMG Marketing Agency (now known as 160/90) as an operations manager. This role allowed me to broaden my skill set and gain valuable experience in a related field. However, as fate would have it, the pandemic hit, and I was laid off from the agency. While it was a difficult time for all of us, this presented an opportunity for me to explore new paths and see where my skills and passions could take me.

Pandemic and New Opportunities

During the pandemic, I continued my freelance work and I even worked remotely in the nonprofit sector, all while keeping an eye out for a new opportunity in commercial real estate. On Valentine’s Day 2022, I finally landed my current position as a property administrator for CP Group at One Overton Park.

As a property administrator, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the property, including tenant management, vendor management, building staff/contractor management, and ensuring that the property is running smoothly. I work closely with the property manager and assistant property manager to ensure that the property is always at its best and that tenants feel like this is their second home.

Lessons Learned

Working in commercial real estate has taught me many valuable lessons over the years. One of the most important lessons I learned was the importance of adaptability. In an industry that is constantly evolving, it is important to be able to adapt to changes quickly and effectively. During the pandemic, we had to learn to adapt to a new normal.

Many people would like to return to how business was conducted before the pandemic, but I think if you don’t adapt to changes, you will become obsolete. With a new generation of leaders on the horizon, we need to look at benefits that are important to them and make sure our business models meet those standards. It is all about adapting.

Another lesson I learned was the benefits of strong relationships. In commercial real estate, relationships are everything. I remember when I was younger, my dad told me that it is not always about what you know, but who you know, and who knows you. Whether it’s building relationships with tenants or working closely with vendors, having strong relationships is essential to success. It’s important to always be professional, courteous, approachable, authentic, and treat everyone with respect.

Working in commercial real estate has also taught me the importance of being proactive. In an industry that is ever changing, it is important to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate potential issues before they become problems. By being proactive and thinking ahead, you can ensure that everything runs smoothly and that your property is always at its best. An important aspect of becoming a leader in this industry is being able to fill your own cup, relax and recharge after working all day.

For me, after I finish working, I like to hone my gifts and talents. I am currently doing content creation and I have a YouTube channel (@CrystalBeyondLabels) that is all about living beyond labels. I want to help people understand how to pursue their gift and purpose in life. I am helping them to find fulfilment in their lives. I also shed light on invisible disabilities as I deal with an autoimmune disease and my daughter deals with learning disabilities.

My Journey

My journey in commercial real estate has taught me the power of perseverance and the importance of representation in this industry. As a Black woman, I faced unique challenges and setbacks along the way. However, seeing another Black woman in a leadership role and having her show me the ropes gave me the confidence to keep going. It’s crucial for minorities to see that this is a field we can not only dive into, but also succeed in.

As I reflect on my journey, I recognize that industry needs more diversity to reflect the world we live in. We need more representation of people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups in leadership positions. By amplifying diverse voices and experiences, we can create more inclusive spaces that foster innovation and growth.

Moving forward, I’m committed to being a voice for change in the industry. I want to inspire and empower other minorities to pursue their dreams in commercial real estate and to change the view of this field to reflect the diversity of our world. Yes, we are great at supporting, but we are amazing leaders, innovators, and trendsetters. It’s through our unique perspectives and experiences that we can create a more vibrant and inclusive industry that benefits us all.

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