Stepping out of the quintessential sunshine and sea flavored air of the San Diego waterfront, I entered the hushed grandeur of the Manchester Hyatt San Diego lobby and heaved an audible sigh. Hurtling over the daunting pile of my “busier than ever” workload felt like an event for an Olympian, yet here I was with my smart phone switched to silent, eagerly standing in line for my convention badge. Yet with that first step into the murmur of the CREW Network Marketplace, I knew the effort was well worth it. For in this room, instead of the alto rumble of male colleagues that I have come to expect at my professional conventions, there was the notes of my fellow commercial real estate females. Their voices embodied the annual recharge that I had grown to expect: the inspiration, the camaraderie, the possible next-big business connection.
Attendees entering the CREW Network Marketplace on Wednesday evening.
CREW Network President Tara Piurko greeted us with the story of her CREW journey, from engaged member through to first Canadian to serve as CREW Network President. Year by year, we witness the transformation of our presidents as they step into their roles as leaders, overcoming fears and finding strength along the way. Each story is unique and personal, and it is the variation that inspires us. There are many roads to leadership. Perhaps we can find our own? Tara stepped away from the podium to illustrate that in her vulnerability, she found strength.
CREW Network President Tara Piurko welcomes attendees to San Diego.
CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann shared a different journey, one of tenacity and perseverance. Signing up for the Five Boro Bike Ride, an athletic challenge for which she had no time to properly prepare, Wendy said an enthusiastic YES when many would have shied away. No, it wasn’t easy and there were many struggles along the way, but the finish line was her goal and she achieved it.
CREW Network President-Elect Holly Neber, CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann with featured speaker Alison Levine.
Opening session speaker Alison Levine invited us to reach high, literally, over 10,000 feet in fact. As the team captain of the first all-female American expedition to head out for the top of Mount Everest, her story was one of months of preparation before embarking down this most dangerous of roads. Her description of the process of assembling the team, finding financing and ultimately the climb itself was rife with metaphors, including:
“Step up even when you are not ready.”
“Backing up is not the same as backing down.” (My personal favorite.)
“Fear is okay, but complacency will kill you.” (If you need a motivator to take that next step, fear has always worked for me).
After almost reaching the top, but not quite, the expedition team was forced to turn back in what could be seen as defeat. But with the lessons learned from the first attempt, she returned to the reach the summit successfully a few years later.
American mountain climber Alison Levine inspiring attendees with her will and determination.
Convention is as much about making connections as it is about inspiration and knowledge. A few months prior, I had reached out to a former high school classmate who just happened to be recommended as a potential speaker for an upcoming chapter event. What do you know? She (Collete English Dixon) is an active member of CREW Network. Living in different cities at this point in our lives, convention offered the perfect opportunity to meet for a cup of coffee (with our red CREW Coffee Talk mugs) and catch up while soaking up sun on the veranda between sessions. Without the convention, we would not have had the chance to reconnect.
Following the general session lunch and an optimistic economic outlook by Marcus & Millichap CEO Hassem Nadji, I ran to catch my bus for the Learning Excursion, When Science and Architecture Collide. As a University of Pennsylvania graduate, I felt compelled to visit this icon of architecture designed by Louis I. Kahn. (Some say his ghost still walks the halls of Penn, as his influence is so deep and lasting.) Thank you CREW Network for this opportunity!
Marcus & Millichap CEO Hessam Nadji speaking about the future of the commercial real estate industry.
In the evening, members of my chapter met in the lobby to sort out dinner options and six of us broke off in search of seafood. Fresh as you would expect while dining by a marina, my catch of the day with a tasty glass of wine provided the gastronomic setting for a more intimate conversation. We relaxed and shared conversation in a way not possible in our home cities.
The Distinguished Leaders Roundtable premiered in a more formal setting as the first general session of the day, highlighting the women’s accomplishments and their recommendations from career advice to travel tips. At the break, I dashed over to one of the Conversation Corners where rings of chairs circled the moderator, shouting over the din of the convention space. Our topic was navigating a potential shift in careers, and quandaries and tips alike were shared. My takeaways:
I am not alone in thinking of changing directions
Watch the Ted Talk, How to Find Work You Love, by Scott Dinsmore
Invest in a Full Focus Planner to schedule yourself to success
Listen to Wharton Business Radio to learn while you drive
Palpable excitement stirred as we lined up before the closed doors of the main hall. Friends chatted with anticipation while plotting the best strategy for finding the best seat to see their hero, Robin Roberts. I soon learned from her numerous fans how she had continued to break boundaries. She overcame amazing odds to find her voice, make her contribution and not just survive, but thrive. Title IX kickstarted her career and gave her the opportunity to parlay into achieving her personal and professional aspirations.
Keynote speaker Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America."
Just before Robin took the stage, incoming CREW Network President Holly Neber introduced herself. She hunched down to address Tara’s children, thanking them for understanding all their mom had given us in the past year. She let us know that she was an introvert and this too was possible for a successful leader.
CREW Network President-Elect Holly Neber addresses attendees and thanks current President Tara Piurko.
I wrapped my convention experience with a second Learning Excursion, the New Experiential Retail, a tour of Westfield’s UTC Shopping Center, a successful development that took a fresh look at enhancing retail space. UTC has been emulated by Westfield in subsequent developments across the U.S.
Exploring new cities is the cherry on top for CREW Network events—a chance to travel and experience something new. The convention was officially, over but I capped off my day with a swim off La Jolla beach. Diving into the warmish water, I wondered what it would be like to live here. By the time I returned, the sun was setting over the beach and it did seem rather perfect. Thank you CREW San Diego! I may never go home.
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Donna Schumacher is Founder and Creative Director of Donna Schumacher Architecture. DSA is a boutique architecture firm specializing in one-of-a-kind signature interiors and design elements. Schumacher has led dozens of successful projects during her 30-year career, including Stearns Political Consulting Offices, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and SFCameraworks. Schumacher has contributed numerous articles for art and architecture publications, most recently as the Founding Editor of The VIEW, a semi annual publication for three chapters: CREW East Bay, CREW San Francisco and CREW Silicon Valley. She is a member of the CREW Network Communications and Editorial Committee.