The Tampa office publishes a recurring feature on the women of the Tampa WIN chapter, their accomplishments and the tips and advice they have for other women in the commercial real estate field.
Here’s our interview with Officer Brokerage Director Melanie Jackson.
Michelle & Nicole: How did you make your first dollar?
Melanie: Pigs and pecans. I grew up in a very rural area in Georgia. There are probably 2,800 people in the actual town, but only maybe 200 in the outskirts, where my family lived. We had 20 acres with 20 pecan trees. I would pick up pecans and sell them to the local Farmers Feed & Seed store.
Then in the fifth grade, I get a 4-H flyer asking “What do you want to do?” The one activity I thought I could do with my dad was raise pigs. We raised pigs, showed them, and kept track of all the feed that we bought. After showing them, the pigs immediately went off to slaughter and then they would send me a check.
M&N: So after all that, where did you go to college?
M: University of Tampa. Cushman & Wakefield’s Lauren Coup and I were classmates. She was two years ahead of me and we lived in the same residence hall. She was in a sorority and I was in charge of our volunteer office, the Peace Office. I coordinated all the volunteer projects that the sororities, fraternities and students would do.
M&N: How did you choose UT?
M: Luckily enough, they were doing a major enrollment push, so when I applied I got a really great scholarship. I mean, who doesn’t love Florida? The school is just gorgeous. The old hotel with minarets, the brick streets, the Hillsborough River; it’s just wonderful.
M&N: What did you major in?
M: Biology with a minor in math. I loved comparative vertebrate anatomy, parasitology, calculus, and all those crazy things.
M&N: Definitely going to have to Google those words! So, when you majored and minored in these things what was your dream job? Where did you see yourself after school?
M: Probably a CDC type of job, like figuring out how infectious diseases transfer. But after school was done, I was ready for something different, so that’s why I got into outside sales.
M&N: We’re guessing the math classes, but if you had to pick, which of your college classes is the most applicable to your life today?
M: The math classes were higher level stuff, nothing that makes sense in daily life to me. If I had to pick the most important, it was an Advanced Open Water Diving Class. I took that class my senior year, and my checkout dive was canceled because of bad weather. So, I graduated, went back home for the summer, and decided I was going to come back down to Florida and finish the checkout dive and that’s where I met my husband, John (John Jackson of Cushman & Wakefield).
M&N: That’s such a great story! So, was he in the class?
M: Yeah, the guy who taught the class worked with John and was a friend of his. They were getting the certification and I needed a dive buddy, so John ditched his friend and said, “I’ll be her buddy.”
M&N: Tell us a little bit about your path that got you here to Cushman & Wakefield.
M: I went into outside sales and did that for a while, but I knew I wanted to be in commercial real estate. It was kind of a tough field to get into then, although, I think now we want a lot of young people and talented folks to get involved. While I was doing sales, a friend who got me into commercial real estate with Colliers International. I was there for 11 years until October when I decided to come to Cushman & Wakefield because they’re the best. Not only here, locally, but throughout the state of Florida. I am very happy to be here.
Michelle: So what were you selling at your outside sales job?
M: Another P word. Postage Meters!
M&N: So you’ve been in this business for more than a decade. What was that moment that made you “face palm?”
M: That’s a daily event. I can’t pinpoint any one “face palm” moment that’s noteworthy.
M&N: What about something that was out of your comfort zone?
M: I have a fear of public speaking. I tried all throughout college to try and overcome it. When I don’t know people, and I am talking to them for the first time, I turn bright, bright red, like when I’m embarrassed or I’m mad. I have highly vascularized skin, which runs in my family. My voice shakes and I stutter— it’s just awful.
So, when I first got in the business, speaking in front of a crowd was still out of my comfort zone. When I’m one-on-one, it’s okay, but not so much in a big group of people. In FCGAR, we would always do large pitch sessions. When I started off, it was awful but now I’m fine. It’s not like you have to picture anyone in their underwear when you’re talking about real estate. What’s to be nervous about in real estate?
M&N: In a real pitch, how do you prep mentally?
M: Being well-prepared, practicing and organizing. I was part of a team and a group mentality that never practiced and it was not a good thing. So, I went away and did training. We would film ourselves, we perfected our pitches, handwrote everything we were going to say. That just changed my world, because after that I knew that I could do anything as long as I prepared and practiced. I still keep a cold water bottle with me to help calm myself. I just think about what’s important and what I love to do and that makes it so much easier. When you’re not worried about that static and the stress, and you’re focusing on what you love and what you want to do, it’s much easier.
M&N: So on the being prepared note, what do you read every day and how do you stay on the pulse?
M: I follow the blogs of several office leasing brokers who I respect. I listen to news all the time. I try to stay up on the world’s events. Even some sports news now and then, because we’re such a sports-oriented world and it helps to be able to talk some sports shop with folks. I think it really helps to know trends in the office industry. Understanding why people do what they do in the workplace environment helps me relate to my clients and what they’re dealing with on a daily basis.
M&N: So, you’re pretty active on social media. What’s your favorite app?
M&N: Being in a transition period you probably have a unique perspective. As an industry, what challenges do you think CRE is facing right now?
M: There’s a lot of chatter about how our jobs are going to be obsolete. That makes it more challenging for us to remain relevant to our clients. When they can go and search LoopNet or CoStar, one of these sites, and find out where office space is, and try to do their office leasing without a broker, they’re really going to miss a lot of what we can bring to the table to help them. Even some landlords are starting to cut out the broker. I think they’re going to miss the personal touch, the person-to-person business that has always made this industry special. You can’t rely on technology to do your office leases for you. It’s just not going to work that way, it’s not that cut-and-dry. You’re going to need someone who knows the market and the tenants; brokers, who can help you have a successful transaction and build those strong relationships.
M&N: Two-part question: Being a woman and a mom, are there any challenges that you face day-to-day and how do you juggle the work-life balance?
M: My day is in four parts. Part 1 is in the early morning, when I wake up and get exercise, because I need that for my own mental sanity.
Part two is getting myself and my kids ready for the day. We eat breakfast, pack lunches, make sure they have everything they need, and we’re out the door to school.
Part three is work, the time to stay focused and organized, and complete all the work that needs to be done during the work day.
Part four is picking the kids up from school, doing homework, extracurricular activities and sports, making dinner. Then getting organized for the next day, and finally crashing.
It’s really about being organized, staying on task, and making sure that you’re present in what you’re doing in each part of your day. I am present when I’m with my kids and husband and I’m present when I am at work. I’m making sure that I am not crossing paths throughout the day.
M&N: Do you feel like you have to work any harder in this industry and do you have any tips for women, future leaders in commercial real estate?
M: I feel like professional women are more accepted than they used to be, at least in commercial real estate. I don’t feel that we are looked down upon in any way in this industry and market, and that’s because of the amazing women like Cushman & Wakefield’s Mercedes Angell and Paula Buffa, as well as other key players like Carol Warren and Jane Dizona, who helped pave the way for women for in the Tampa Bay office market.
I think our clients and customers understand that we make things better because we think differently, we listen better, and we add a bit of softness.
My advice to other women in commercial real estate is to not be afraid speak up and ask questions. No one knows it all, so remember that the more questions you ask the better broker/advisor you’ll be. Then, as long as you know what you’re doing, you communicate well, and you represent yourself genuinely, you will be successful.
M&N: Typically when someone is brought on, we do a new hire announcement. We didn’t get to do that with you specifically because we did a team announcement, so one of the questions we always ask is how do take your coffee?
M: Black with cinnamon.
About the Interviewers:
Michelle McMurray is the industrial research analyst for the Tampa Bay markets, as well as the co-author of the Millennial on Millennial (blog). You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemccre.
Nicole Grzywacz is the Florida Communications Lead, co-leading the state of Florida’s Marketing efforts with Nick Campbell. She is lover of memes, track changes in Microsoft Word and #hashtags. You can follow Nicole on Twitter @Cubolak403.