By: Angela D’Aguanno, Chief Operating Officer – Tri State, 2018 WIN Chair Elect
As the 2018 WIN Chair Elect, I sat down with Chicago Executive Director, Marilyn Lissner, who was a founder and President of Commercial Real Estate Executive Women (CREW) and active in many other women’s organizations in Chicago, including the International Women’s Forum (IWF) and the Chicago Network (TCN). In profiling Marilyn’s philanthropic efforts, WIN hopes to empower more women leaders in our industry to use their talents for the greater good.
How did you first get involved in philanthropy?
I first became involved in college as a student teacher at Lathrop Homes. I saw how teachers and children treated each other with love and kindness in a neighborhood where community was very important, and that inspired me. I wanted to provide the same guidance and support that experience showed me, so my first job as a teacher was working with special needs and gifted children in Evanston, Illinois.
During the same time, my aunt’s daughter had cerebral palsy, and when she approached me to become involved, I of course said yes. I joined the Board of Directors of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago and eventually became President of the Women’s Board. I noticed that other members of the board were commercial real estate CEOs and I thought, “I can do it if they can.”
What is your involvement in CREW Chicago, and why has that organization been so important to you?
I started in commercial real estate in the 1980’s, looked around, and thought, “Where are the women?” I started speaking to women in the industry and found seven others who felt the same way. We decided to host 50 industry women for dinner in Chicago, and it evolved into CREW Chicago. I was the second president of the organization and was on the Board of Directors for years. Simultaneously, other cities were forming chapters which evolved into a National Network. After one year, our chapter joined the National Network, which has a membership now over 10,000.
CREW was very important to me because it taught me to take networking seriously! We all have our friends, but CREW is a network. It is something that helps women to be on par with men in an industry that has been so dominated by men. Women need to advocate for one another and boost each other up in business. I’m currently involved in the strategic planning for CREW’s future and excited to see where we go from here.
Have you been active with other organizations that women in real estate should know about?
A few of the ones I’ve been most active with are Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, The Chicago Network, and International Women’s Forum. I’ve introduced C&W women such as Adrienne Fasano, Debra Mortiz and Michelle Hay to these organizations and would love to see other women in our industry have a more active presence. Chicago United, although not strictly for women is an amazing organization that helps corporations become more diverse and inclusive.
What is most rewarding to you about giving back?
For all the success you have in real estate, you should be giving back. You truly get more from it the more you immerse yourself in it. I’ve mentored women who have gone on to get scholarships and post-graduate degrees, and you develop a deep sense of connection and pride. Your mentees become inspirational to you instead of the other way around.
Are there any new endeavors you are excited about?
Currently, I’m energized by helping non-profits. I recently joined the advisory council of Blessings in a Backpack which provides food on the weekends to 95,000 elementary school children who are considered food deprived. People might not guess that the weekends are when children are most vulnerable to going hungry.
How do you measure your social impact? Are there any milestones you are particularly proud of?
I was a volunteer for six years in Camp CEO, a leadership development and mentoring program for teen Girl Scouts. One of my current mentees received a full scholarship to the Harvard Divinity School Master’s Program and recently graduated. She is now interning as a Chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital. I will take just a teeny bit of credit for that.
How have you balanced your career and your philanthropic efforts?
You must pick your organizations carefully and find other women at Cushman & Wakefield who can help when you can’t. I have three sons and daughters-in-law and six grandchildren so I can say, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance, so don’t try to achieve it.” Just do what you can, and don’t get overwhelmed. Take care of yourself first before you take care of others. I owe that advice and encouragement to my greatest supporter, my husband.
What advice do you have for young women professionals in the industry who would like to get involved with local charities, non-profits or other community-based organizations? How can they keep a competitive edge while still finding time to give back?
If you feel strongly, you need to be active. Find your passion. All women professionals should get involved in charities and associations because that becomes a major part of your network. People see your competence, empathy, and leadership in action, and that speaks louder than pitching business.
As Chief Operating Officer – Tri-State, Angela manages all hands-on operational aspects of the region, to develop corporate and operational strategies and for facilitating these efforts across operations as well as providing the leadership, management, and vision necessary to ensure that the company has the proper operational controls, administrative, and reporting procedures and people systems in place to effectively grow the organization and to ensure financial strength and operating efficiency.