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Women in Real Estate Spotlight: Linda Bolan, Columbia Property Trust

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Editor's note: This is the first post in an ongoing series featuring influential women in commercial real estate.

As the Senior Vice President of National Property Management and Sustainability for Columbia Property Trust, Linda Bolan is responsible for developing and overseeing the national property management and engineering operations, capital improvement projects, and financial activities for the company’s assets located primarily in San Francisco, New York City and Washington, DC. She is directly responsible for more than 9 million square feet of office space.

Prior to joining Columbia Property Trust in 2015, Ms. Bolan worked for JLL for 22 years in a variety of leadership roles. Most recently, she served as International Director and Regional Manager in the Atlanta market, where she was responsible for overall property management business operations, client relationship management, business growth and employee development. Her tenure at JLL involved assignments in New Jersey, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville. She was the Executive Co-Sponsor of the Atlanta JLL Women’s Business Network, as well as the National Executive Co-Sponsor of the JLL Veteran’s Network. Prior to JLL, Ms. Bolan was a junior military officer recruiter and commercial banker. Before starting her civilian career, she was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Supply Corp.

Ms. Bolan is a member of BOMA, NAIOP and CREW and holds the LEED Green Associate accreditation. She is an eight-year member of the Southface Institute Board of Directors, serving as Board Chair from 2014-2015. She serves on the Women’s Leadership Advisory Board of Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. She also is a member of BOMA International’s National Advisory Council.

We got a chance to catch up with Linda to talk about her career path, advice for women in commercial real estate, and industry trends impacting asset management in the next 5 to 10 years. Here's what she said:

Q. How did you get your start in real estate?

A. After college and a 6-year career as an officer in the Navy, I transitioned to the corporate world, first as a commercial banker and then a military officer recruiter for corporate America. I just happened in to commercial real estate and property management. A friend had recently been hired by JLL in property management and it sounded intriguing and a good fit operationally, as well as from a management and leadership perspective. After nearly 15 interviews, I started as an Assistant Property Manager in Montville, NJ then serving later in NYC, Washington, DC and Atlanta. I have remained in property management with a focus on industrial and office product in both the 3rd party and owner operator environments.

Q. What are 3-5 leadership principles that you have discovered and executed and have contributed to your success?

A.

1. Hopefully not a secret, but the basis of success is attributed to relationships on a variety of levels. Establishing collaborative relationships across all levels and departments in your organization is absolutely critical to success.

2. When working with subordinates, I always encourage them to say that you “work with me and not for me”. And that is how I treated them.

3. I also learned early in my career that not everyone is a “star” in all areas. Team members may have different strengths and together are a much stronger team. I equate it to my early days in the band in middle school. You needed the oboe player, just as much as you needed the more popular first chair flute!

Q. What advice would you pass on to women earlier in their careers in CRE?

A. I would definitely find a sponsor or mentor that can share their stories of success, as well as challenges and that can help guide your career. Even if your firm has no formal mentor program, you can still seek out a sponsor or ally. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman. There are plenty of incredible men that are happy to do the same.

Q. How do you see property management evolving in the next 5 to 10 years?

A. As long as office buildings are filled with human tenants, the relationship management function of property management will always exist and remain vital in tenant satisfaction. But with the changing workforce, technology will need to keep up to satisfy the technological needs for the new generations. Given the past 10 years of advances, things will continue to grow and change in this regard.

Q. It's no secret that the number of building technologies (i.e. PropTech) on the market has skyrocketed in recent years. What advice do you have for companies who are just starting to evaluate technology solutions?

A. I would be patient and thoroughly vet all platforms through research and soliciting input from current clients. For smaller companies, enlisting a consultant or working with some larger providers (JLL, CBRE, etc) would be very helpful. It takes a good deal of time, knowledge and expertise to sort through all of the providers and their applications. Even then, it can be easy to choose an application that could be obsolete in only a few years.

Q. What are still some of the areas where technology could be implemented or improved in your business?

A. The tenant experience is an area that has a variety of providers and start-ups. Some applications only solve for certain areas. Having one provider with one application that can solve for all of the areas would be fantastic (i.e. access, food orders, concierge services, work orders, emergency prep, sustainability).

Q. What would you be doing if you weren't in real estate?

A. There was a time at the start of the First Gulf War, when I was still active in the naval reserves and considered leaving my commercial banking position and returning to active duty. Patriotism was at an incredible high at the time. I know I would have been very happy to do so, had things worked out that way.

 

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