The Cushman & Wakefield Tampa WIN chapter publishes a recurring blog feature on its members, their accomplishments and the tips and advice they have for other women in the commercial real estate field.
Here’s our interview with Nina Sullivan, Director specializing in office brokerage services.
Michelle (M) & Nicole (N) – How did you make your first dollar?
Nina (NS) –I remember making my first dollar in a very entrepreneurial fashion. My parents had just put an addition on our house and we had leftover light switch covers and outlet covers from the renovation – surplus homewares, basically. I set up a table at the end of the driveway and decided to sell these excess items to the people driving by. I guess even at a young age I saw an opportunity to make a profit. I had that instinct even then. My parents were probably so embarrassed by me.
M&N – That’s basically a lemonade stand on steroids.
NS – Right! Most kids have a lemonade stand and I sold surplus housewares. I did that and then I had a HUGE babysitting business. Instead of just playing it by ear in the neighborhood and word-of-mouth referrals, I drafted up a formal contract that I took door-to-door and literally insisted that everyone in the neighborhood sign this baby sitters club contract that I had created. People were uncomfortable signing it!
M&N – How old were you?
NS – I was probably 11 or 12. I might have been overly aggressive, but, hey, it worked and I even became a nanny all throughout college.
M&N –– Where are you from?
N S– I grew up in North Jersey. In Kinnelon, which is in Morris County. It’s a more rural area, but it’s really close to New York City. It was really the best of both worlds growing up.
M&N – Where did you go to college?
NS – I went to Villanova — go Wildcats! Big basketball school. I really loved Villanova.
M&N – Did you play any sports?
NS – I didn’t. I retired from my cheerleading career in high school. I just focused on school.
M&N – What did you major in?
NS – Marketing.
M&N – What made you choose marketing?
NS – I wanted to do something that was creative, ideally, but I also felt like I needed to have a business degree. It was a way for me to combine the two together.
M&N – Is there a class you took where you learned something that you still use today?
NS – The classes that were the most effective for me where ones where our professor was also a business person. One in particular that I can remember was sports marketing. The content of the class wasn’t something I use on a day-to-day basis now but, there was a time period that I thought I was going to be the female Jerry Maguire, so I was really into that class.
M&N – Did you take any public speaking classes? You seem very comfortable in front of a crowd.
NS – In my big Italian family, you had to be the loudest one or no one would hear you.
M&N – Do you have siblings?
NS – I do. I have a brother and I have a sister.
M&N – Where are you in the birth order?
NS – I’m the oldest. I am the clear leader of the Marroccoli family.
M&N – So you were a nanny in college, did you have any internships?
NS – After the phase of wanting to be a sports agent, I focused very quickly on becoming an office broker. My father is an insurance broker and owned his own agency. He had a flexible lifestyle and was always there for us as kids. I knew that was the type of career that I needed to have. His best friend was a real estate broker and he had just made a fortune selling a portfolio of office properties in Manhattan. When I was a junior in college, he helped me to land my first internship at GVA Williams, which is a firm that is no longer around. I was basically a human CoStar for them – I obtained research the old-fashioned way of canvassing and walking the city.
M&N – Did you like it?
NS – I never turned back. My senior year in college, I started to look right away for a brokerage position and I started out as a junior broker.
M&N – At Cushman & Wakefield?
NS – No, I was at NAI Global. It was a small shop of about 10 brokers. It was a Wild West-type of brokerage environment. It was a great way to learn though, and I had a very patient, hands-on senior broker to mentor me, which made all the difference.
M&N – At NAI, were you focused on a particular asset type?
NS – When you’re at a small shop in NYC you will do whatever you can to get in front of potential tenants. It was a lot of cold calling, targeting a lot of media and tech companies at the time – hitting the pavement. I was only there a year before I went to JLL.
M&N – What was your focus at JLL?
NS – I had more of a transaction management position focused on the east coast portfolio for a large client account, as well as working on larger listings like 650 Fifth Avenue and 7 Times Square. That’s where I really honed my client-facing skills. That account showed me how to work with a company’s real estate director, to become an expert in how that particular client operated, what their reporting procedures were, what they needed – we handled everything! We took care of their dispositions, new locations, renewals, and I was doing a lot of deals with brokers around the country. It taught me how to work with other brokers across markets, which I still enjoy.
M&N – How long were you there?
NS – I was at JLL until around 2010/2011. Before I moved to Tampa, I took a brief hiatus from real estate to work on the development side for a new sports complex with my husband.
M&N – So you and your husband moved to Tampa because he was launching this new sports complex?
NS – My husband’s business was always based here. When I lived in New York, my team at JLL did a few deals with Andy May’s team at Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa. When I moved down here I eventually crossed paths with the team again, and the timing was great because they were looking to add to their team. That is how I ended up at Cushman & Wakefield.
M&N – Did Andy already know you?
NS – Not really; he peripherally knew me from the team that I worked with at JLL.
M&N – What was your impression of Andy? You two are pretty different.
NS – I knew that Andy had a strong reputation and I could tell he worked with excellence, but his southern personality was something I did not understand the full impact of until I really got to know him.
M&N – Your team has a Country Mouse, City Mouse vibe. You’re this fast-talking lady from New York City and Andy is a southern gentleman.
NS – There’s a big juxtaposition there, which is funny because we work so well together. Our outside packages are very different, but we mesh really well. I think we play off of each other’s strengths and we have a good time doing it.
M&N – It’s nice to see you two in action together. Are there any challenges that you’ve faced being a female in the business?
NS – It’s a challenge in our business to be a female. It’s been a huge learning experience for me over my career as a woman knowing when to “fit in.” But I’ve also learned that, sometimes you don’t fit in with a particular situation or client, and that’s okay too. I think honoring who you are is the most important thing. As long as you’re true to yourself, if you don’t win a certain deal or a particular person doesn’t click with you, that’s okay.
M&N – You’ve been with Cushman & Wakefield for a few years now, how do you think it’s evolved and changed over that time?
NS – I’ve been here for almost six years and there has been a major shift in the Tampa office dynamic in a very positive way. When I started, we were still upstairs in our old offices, and we had a great group of brokers, but my peer group was very limited. Now, we benefit from such a wealth of different personalities, talents, skill sets – and there has been an infusion of talent and diversity in that 20s and 30s age range. It’s a huge asset for us as a company, because the truth is that while experience is invaluable, new ideas and young talent is also very valued. I think it’s a tremendous advantage that we can collaborate across service lines in my peer group in a way that we never were able to before. I’ve definitely seen this bring a new energy to the company and our office. It literally is the future of Cushman & Wakefield, and I love how our Cushman & Wakefield Future Leaders team has grown. It’s pretty exciting.
M&N – Are your clients receptive to that? The mix of youth and experience?
NS – Your employees are your future. I see a shift of clients recognizing the importance of understanding what motivates their people to excel in the work environment. Clients are looking for that fresh perspective. When we look at potential office locations now, we’re getting more questions about what the retail mix looks like, how the residential feels, the whole live-work-play aspect.
M&N – What are you seeing right now as the one thing tenants have to have?
NS – Amenities as a whole. It’s the overall experience – “quality of life” extends to the workplace now. That means, yes, there is a café on-site, but is the food any good? The building has a conference center, but is its design flexible and attractive? It’s the difference between having amenities to “check the box” vs. amenities that are really going to add to the energy and functionality of the workplace. That’s a big part of the current shift that’s happening.
M&N – How about downtown Tampa, what do you think needs to happen?
NS – We’re in a very exciting time for downtown Tampa and Westshore. New construction is finally going to happen! The density change is what I believe is going to make downtown more successful, as it becomes more of a 24/7 community. Starting to see new retail peppered in, the grocery stores and bars, things that will make downtown a more dynamic environment all the time. That is what is going to take this city to the next level. So it’s not just people coming in to work and then getting in their car and commuting back home. They are staying, they’re going to happy hour, going somewhere for dinner. That’s going to be the key.
M&N – So, how do you do it? What do you do to keep your head on straight?
NS – I wake up like this. [insert laughter] I’m just kidding. I always like to start my day out intentionally before things get busy, and start my week out intentionally with objectives for the week. I don’t like the term work-life balance because that makes it seem like you’re putting on two separate hats and I have found there can be a struggle in that. I’ve found that what helps me is more of work-life integration. I love my work, I love the people I work with, and I don’t just turn it on and off but I do try to take a little quiet time each day for myself. Brokerage is a 24/7 business. You might go on vacation but you never really completely check out. Finding that ability to integrate my work and my life somewhat seamlessly is important.
M&N – Can you tell us about a time at work that you completely face-palmed?
N –That is such a hard question because I probably just blocked it from my memory. I can’t think of anything specific, but I will say that I have learned how important it is that when you mess up, you admit it and you be transparent about it. People respect your ability to have that humility and it establishes trust, which is really the goal with a client, to be a trusted advisor to them.
About the Interviewers:
Michelle McMurray is an analyst for the Tampa Bay markets with Cushman & Wakefied’s Florida Research Team. She is also the co-author of the Millennials on Millennials (MOM) blog. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemccre.