On November 13, Commercial Observer honored the top women in commercial real estate at the annual Women in Real Estate Forum in New York. Winners were chosen from leasing and sales, finance, and architecture, engineering and construction for four honors:
1. The Barrier-Breaker Award went to women who broke through the glass ceiling and are helping other women do the same.
2. The Innovation Award went to women who have made a unique or groundbreaking mark on the industry.
3. The Technology Award went to women who have moved the real estate industry forward through the use of technology.=
4. The Woman on the Rise Award went to emerging leaders under 40 years old.
These are the women who best represented the spirits of leadership, innovation, community involvement and environmental awareness, each building a solid career of her own while also setting a strong example for others.
Judith Kunoff – Barrier Breaker Award
SVP, Program Executive, MTA Capital Construction
Judith Kunoff, winner of the Barrier Breaker Award, has broken barriers not just for herself, but for women throughout the industry.
This veteran architect is currently Senior Vice President and Program Executive of East Side Access for MTA Capital Construction and the former Chief Architect for the MTA. Her influence can be seen in the best of the MTA’s new projects in recent years, including the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 train subway extension, the Fulton Street Station, the 96th Street Station, and the Court Square Transfer Complex. She is also currently overseeing the expansion of the LIRR into Grand Central Terminal, which is set to open in 2022.
As the MTA’s Chief Architect, she oversaw 490 stations and 28 bus depots, shifting the organization’s emphasis to sustainable solutions and accessibility, including better lighting for stations.
Prior to this, she served as the project architect for the New York City School Construction Authority (NYCSCA), where she oversaw the building and rebuilding of $5 billion in school projects.
Throughout her career, she has also mentored many women who wound up in executive architectural positions at the MTA and throughout the construction and architectural industries, challenging them to fight for their beliefs and trust their expertise.
As a result of her impressive achievements, Kunoff earned the Fellowship designation from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which is bestowed on only 2 percent of its over 90,000 members, and the Construction Management Association of America’s (CMAA) College of Fellows status, which has gone to only 79 of the organization’s over 16,000 members. Kunoff is one of only three people in the U.S. to receive both honors.
Cate Agnew – Barrier Breaker Award
Head of Valuation and Executive Director, Natixis CIB, New York
Cate Agnew has occupied high-level executive positions at prestigious companies including Natixis (her current home), Deutsche Bank, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Washington Mutual and TIAA-CREF.
At Natixis, Agnew has developed complex financial management methodologies and models in support of commercial acquisition due diligence and analyzes business trends and future strategies for incorporation into forecast and budgeting cycles.
The only woman in the world to hold four of the highest designations in CRE valuation — FRICS, CRE, CCIM, and MAI, to which she will soon add the HypZert MLV designation for German real estate bond valuation — Agnew established new business units for three different organizations: a $4 billion asset management role at a not-for-profit, an integrated valuation practice for a U.S. regional bank, and a new valuation group for an international investment bank.
Outside of her demanding professional roles, Agnew has given her time to the betterment of her industry through leaderships positions in numerous organizations.
A founding member and past president of several chapters, including the one in New York, of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW), she also leads the Counselor of Real Estate outreach to women and minorities, and is the organization’s U.S. delegate to the International Ethics Standards Coalition (IESC).
Agnew is also a founding member of Women in PropTech (WiPT), which is dedicated to promoting female thought leadership; an Advisory Board member for Moody’s/Rockport PA LLC, where she advises on proptech initiatives and industry trends; an audit chair for CCIM, where she oversees $18 million in annual net income; and a member of the finance board for RICS, where she oversees 80 million euros in annual net income.
Leslie Himmel – Barrier Breaker Award
Co-Managing Partner, Himmel + Meringoff
Leasing + Sales
Leslie Himmel co-established and developed, along with partner Stephen Meringoff, one of New York City’s leading privately owned and operated real estate empires.
The youngest person admitted to the Harvard Business School’s Class of 1978, Himmel later returned to share her wisdom and expertise, founding the Harvard Business School Women’s Student Association Fellowship Fund.
New York’s foremost female commercial landlord managing over 2 million square feet of real estate, Himmel has long been recognized as one of the first women to successfully break through the glass ceiling of New York’s largely male-dominated commercial real estate industry.
In recent years, Himmel has leveraged her financial know-how to build the company’s cash position via $400 million in refinancings.
Much of her time and creative industry knowledge are spent reinvesting in and re-imagining her portfolio. Her achievements include her repositioning of 1460 Broadway, also known as 8 Times Square, into the southern anchor of a newly expanded Times Square commercial district; and reimagining the public areas of the historic Midtown West property at 729 Seventh Avenue, formerly home to United Artists.
Himmel is generous in helping others benefit from her real estate knowledge as a member of organizations including the Real Estate Roundtable, the Urban Land Institute, and REBNY, where she serves on the Board of Governors and as a senior officer of its executive committee — she’s the only female landlord represented there. She also founded REBNY’s Economic Development Committee and is currently the treasurer of the organization’s executive committee.
In 2016, Himmel was named the Harvard Business School Club of New York’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year,’ the first woman to receive the honor.
Kim Roy – Innovation Award
Chief Executive Officer, HITT
An old fashioned American success story, Kim Roy joined HITT in construction operations upon graduation from Virginia Tech in 1999 and rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2017. At present, Roy is the only female CEO on the Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) list of Top 100 Contractors.
During her 13 years spent leading operations in HITT’s Base Building sector, Roy delivered more than 6.5 million square feet of complex tenant fit-outs and new construction projects.
Becoming Senior Vice President in 2013, she unleashed a series of initiatives that grew HITT into a multibillion-dollar company. These include HITT’s Corporate Leadership Council (CLC), which develops future executives and grows the company’s talent pipeline; HITT University, the company’s training and development program offering education on topics including financial planning, ethics, emotional intelligence, and business etiquette; and Co-Lab, HITT’s R&D incubator.
Roy established and extended corporate resource groups including Legal & Risk Management, Human Resources, Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Business Development, and Project Solutions. Along the way, she mentored numerous women into VP, SVP, and Director level positions at the company. A mother of three school-age children, Roy also redesigned HITT’s concourse to introduce three wellness rooms for nursing mothers and revised the company’s parental leave policy to be more favorable for both mothers and fathers.
Roy also serves on the Industry Advisory Board of the Virginia Tech Myers-Lawson School of Construction and was named the school’s Outstanding Alumna in 2018.
Vicky Schiff – Innovation Award
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Mosaic Real Estate Investors
Vicky Schiff has co-founded numerous businesses over the past 25 years, including an early stage self‐storage investment and development firm, a capital markets firm, the first emerging managers fund‐of‐funds in the U.S., a distressed investment platform, and an innovative debt platform. She began her career in the early 1990s as an acquisitions and diligence executive for Summit Commercial/Highridge Partners in Los Angeles, where she worked on approximately $1 billion in transactions.
In the course of charting her own success, she has done much to mentor others as they rose through the ranks. A member of the Young Presidents’ Organization for 15 years, she has driven the organization’s expansive global real estate network toward greater participation for women and served as a past region Women’s Network Chair and a Chapter Chair of her YPO Chapter. Schiff is also the founder of a group of top women investors who support each other in their professional lives.
Schiff served a three-year term as a commissioner for the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System and has served on the boards of two publicly traded and two family-run companies. Other not-for-profit advisory boards she served on include the Robert Toigo Foundation and the USC Lusk Center of Real Estate.
Schiff also mentors students at her two alma maters, USC and UCLA.
Carol Rosenthal – Innovation Award
Real Estate Partner, Fried Frank
Leasing + Sales
Specializing in land use, zoning, and development counsel, Carol Rosenthal regularly represents clients in the land use application process for rezonings, special permits, and other government approvals, and in the transfer of development rights, government acquisitions, and turnkey developments, and has advised on numerous transformative real estate projects in New York City.
Rosenthal worked with Alloy Development and the New York City Educational Construction Fund on their 1.03-million-square-foot development of a full block at 80 Flatbush Avenue; The Durst Organization on their 2.4-million-square-foot, seven-building Halletts Point residential and retail development in Astoria, Queens; The Whitney Museum on their new museum in the Meatpacking District; Olayan America and its partner, Chelsfield, on their purchase of 550 Madison Avenue, the former Sony Building; and Time Equities on its development of 50 West Street in Manhattan, the 780-foot-tall luxury condominium designed by Helmut Jahn.
She is also the longtime go-to attorney for all matters related to land use for TF Cornerstone, according to company SVP Jake Elghanayan.
Rosenthal served as lead counsel on land regulatory matters for the development and private financing of high-speed train maintenance facilities along Amtrak's northeast corridor and has occupied a similar role for many New York City educational and health care institutions in expanding their housing and other facilities.
She is also a member of the Women’s Forum Planning Committee at Fried Frank, where she was active in drafting programming to create professional opportunities and networking, women-to-women mentoring, as well as a welcoming community for women at the firm.
Beth Bailly – Technology Award
Vice President of Operations, Building Conservation Associates
Beth Bailly, who specializes in building restoration and the preservation of heritage architecture, began her career as an assistant to the CEO of Building Construction Associates (BCA) 20 years ago, eventually rising to become Director of Business Development in 2008, and VP of Operations in 2013.
In her current role, Bailly oversees marketing, communications, and business operations of four regional offices for the company.
At BCA, Bailly is responsible for creating and integrating electronic building management tools, including a groundbreaking app that assists in collecting building data, and customizable maintenance software currently being used in landmark buildings including St. Patrick's Cathedral, Grand Central Terminal, Moynihan Station (Farley Post Office), the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Trinity Church on Wall Street to streamline assessments, document and track repairs and maintenance, and contribute to the sustainability of resources. These innovations have dramatically reduced the time and cost of caring for these establishments and contributed to prolonging their life cycles.
In the case of Grand Central Terminal, a recent survey of conditions was performed in half the time it took 10 years before.
Sara Shank – Technology Award
Managing Director, Beacon Capital Partners
A 20-year veteran of the real estate industry, Sara Shank manages the national portfolio for Beacon Capital Partners. She has managed the closings of over $10 billion in real estate acquisitions and coordinated dispositions of assets and fund portfolios totaling over $8 billion.
Shank has become well known for spearheading portfolio technology initiatives and technology adoption, developing a reputation in the industry as a champion of new and innovative technology.
Thanks to Shank’s initiative, Beacon was the first company to establish a national platform with the CRE rating system WiredScore across its portfolio, strengthening landlords’ ability to improve their digital infrastructure. She has also made Beacon an early adopter of technology offerings including the leasing and asset management platform VTS, the project management and procurement platform Honest Buildings, and the crowdsourced CRE information platform CompStak.
Her early adoption and championing of these and other technologies has made her a sought-after speaker across the industry, and an advisory board member for all the companies mentioned above and more.
While real estate has often lagged behind other industries in its adoption of new technologies, Shank has long applied a business case approach to evaluating these new technologies, developing pilot programs in conjunction with key vendors to keep Beacon on the cutting edge.
Shank is also an adjunct professor of real estate finance at Brandeis University, the co-founder and co-chair of Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) New England Real Estate Technology Council, a founding member of ULI’s National Technology Council, and a member of the Executive Committee for NAIOP.
Chandra Dhandapani – Technology Award
Chief Digital & Technology Officer, CBRE
Leasing + Sales
In her three years with CBRE, Chandra Dhandapani has spearheaded the company’s technology strategy, leading them to become the first real estate company to fully adopt agile software development across the board.
CBRE has more than doubled its investment in technology and grown its pursuit and development of top digital talent, in large part due to Dhandapani’s skill in identifying and attracting top technology professionals.
Dhandapani is a regular participant at CBRE’s quarterly Board of Directors meetings, reporting directly to the Board on the company’s digital and technology strategy and its impact on the business. She has guided her team to create technology roadmaps for every line of company business, and to build their proprietary technology portfolio of over thirty enablement tools, which is known as CBRE Vantage.
Dhandapani was also a leader in the rollout of the CBRE Host concept, which was born in response to emerging client needs as part of a three-day initial proto-thon (prototype hackathon) led by Dhandapani’s Digital & Technology team. CBRE Host is a secure plug-and-play ‘workplace experience’ offering, a convergence of hospitality experts and a proprietary, AI-driven technology platform that together creates an employee-centric workplace experience.
Dhandapani has also guided the company’s strategic investments in technology acquisitions including Floored, Inc., a leading producer of SaaS (software as a service) solutions including scalable, interactive 3D graphics technology for the global commercial real estate industry. Floored gives CBRE’s professionals and clients access to advanced technology that enhances the marketing and leasing of commercial properties.
Katherine Bojsza – Woman on the Rise Award
Associate Partner, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Katherine Bojsza rose quickly through the ranks of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, becoming an associate partner in just 10 years with the firm.
Highly adept at overseeing large teams of architects, engineers, and specialty consultants, she has managed several of the firm’s most important recent projects. She served as project manager for the repositioning of the former Time & Life Building at 1271 Avenue of the Americas, including the recladding of the entire facade along with modernization of the building systems, plaza, and landmarked lobby. Prior to reopening, the building is nearly 100 percent leased, with Major League Baseball as the primary tenant.
Bojsza also spent eight years as project manager for the creation of Goldman Sachs’ new 2.7-million-square-foot (over five 11-story buildings) headquarters in Bangalore, India, overseeing master planning, architecture, exterior envelope, interior design of public spaces, and landscape design for the complex, which will serve as offices for 13,500 employees.
Other projects that benefitted from her involvement included Mumbai’s World One, India’s tallest residential tower; Goldman Sachs’ Global Headquarters at 200 West Street in New York; and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
But Bojsza’s influence at Pei Cobb Freed extends beyond individual projects to encompass the entire operation of the firm. She guided the evolution of their project management and documentation standards, QA/QC procedures, and accounting practices, and is a leading voice in their adoption of new technologies. She also serves as a mentor to younger colleagues, and is the driving force behind a series of in-house events meant to foster creative exchanges between employees.
Tyler Griffin – Woman on the Rise Award
Chief Operating Officer, Hunt Real Estate Capital
While Tyler Griffin has only been at Hunt Real Estate Capital since October 2018, she has already made a significant impact managing business operations across all loan platforms including the coordination and integration of systems and technology to expedite production and efficiencies across all business lines and streamline operations throughout Hunt’s lending platform.
Griffin played a key role in implementing a proprietary machine learning and AI loan-underwriting tool across the company’s commercial real estate lending business. She has been instrumental in ramping up Hunt’s market rate FHA platform, and by instituting a universal CRM across the organization, Griffin has helped loan originators increase their efficiency.
Prior to joining Hunt, Griffin was COO at Dwight Capital, where she established that firm as an FHA/MAP lender with GNMA servicing capabilities. While at Dwight, Griffin was responsible for a servicing portfolio of over $3 billion and more than $1.2 billion in annual loan production. Before that, Griffin was Senior Director, Head of FHA Programs at Capital One Multifamily Finance. She also spent time at Metropolitan Funding Corporation and at Beech Street Capital, where she kicked off the company’s FHA program.
Griffin graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in economics and financial economics from Vanderbilt University, where she was also a two-time All-American soccer goalie, at one point giving up just one goal during an 11-game winning streak for the team. She has since been inducted into the Vanderbilt Hall of Fame.
Jaime Lee – Woman on the Rise Award
Chief Executive Officer, Jamison Realty Inc.
Leasing + Sales
Jamie Lee runs Jamison Realty, the leasing and brokerage arm of the Jamison group of companies, which owns, manages and develops approximately 18 million square feet of commercial office and multifamily properties throughout Southern California.
While Jamison was traditionally focused on commercial properties, Lee aggressively led the firm into the multifamily sector due to her belief that Southern California had a significant unmet demand for more housing. Her unconventional strategy has included converting approximately one-third of the company’s existing office buildings into residential properties.
Lee’s initial focus on L.A.’s Koreatown helped revitalize the area, turning it into the most densely populated district in Los Angeles County. Her success there led to opportunities in other areas in L.A. such as building Circa LA, a 2-million-square-foot development in downtown Los Angeles across from the Staples Center, and LA Live, which includes two 35-story towers housing 648 luxury residences, as part of a joint venture.
The company currently has 17 multifamily projects under construction, totaling 3,274 units throughout Los Angeles.
For her efforts, Lee has been named one of L.A.’s Most Influential Business People the last two years in a row by the Los Angeles Business Journal. She also serves as Commissioner and Board President for the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System, and as a board member for Town Hall Los Angeles, the California Speech-Language Pathology, Audiology, and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board, the 2028 LA Organizing Committee for the Olympics and Paralympic Games, and the California Film Commission.