Success as a Woman, In a Man’s Industry

We all have a success story. Mine involves quite a bit of perseverance and a lot of Chinese take-out.

My Deck of Cards

I grew up with my mom, a single parent who worked as many hours as possible to put food on the table. I began working the day I was old enough and never stopped. I never even thought about the possibility of college, because it wasn’t an option for me. I knew I’d have to find success without it.

“Life isn’t fair, so you have to play the best game you can with the cards you’re dealt.”

― Marta Acosta, Dark Companion

Immediately after high school graduation, I landed my first real job as a secretary, while bartending on the side a couple of nights a week downtown. One of the guys I knew from selling take-out at a local Chinese restaurant in high school suggested the position to me. The job was with a recruiting firm that specialized in commercial real estate and construction. Since I could type faster than a bat out of hell, I applied.

Within a few months, I wondered why only women were secretaries, and only men were recruiters. I didn’t think the jobs the men were doing were any type of rocket science, so I approached the President of the company. I told him that I could be successful as a recruiter and asked for the opportunity. He said the guys were highly knowledgeable and trained, and they read books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effectively People. He was proud and pompous and displayed a few more books from the collection. I made a mental note of all of them, and as soon as I left work that day, I bought every one of the books. By the end of the following week, I had read and summarized each book and wrote a presentation of how I was similar and why I thought I could be successful as a recruiter.

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Rejection Sucks

He did not give me a chance. He told me that the men had skills that I did not possess. He also said that he liked me too much, and he didn’t want to see me fail. I called him every name in the book, under my breath. That day, I knew I had to find another opportunity.

Over the weekend, I noticed a job advertisement looking for a receptionist for the Trammell Crow Company (a name I recognized from the recruiters). I called and got an interview. The man was kind and asked me if I would be happy long-term in this position. I tried to maintain my professional composure and not be too forthcoming or scare him away from hiring me. However, I did say no; I wanted to learn and grow in my job. To me, success was bigger than an entry-level position!

I listened and learned. Within a few months, I was taking classes to get my real estate license. I ran into an old friend walking along Grant Street (the main road through our CBD), who I knew from selling Chinese take-out. (Remember that job from high school?) I told him what I was doing, and he shared with me that he was sharing space with another law firm and needed to move into his own office space. I told him I could help. (I had heard the pitch time and time again from listening to my bosses’ calls.) We set up a time to meet at his office to further discuss his office space. I pranced back to my office, beyond excited to tell my boss that I landed my first deal.

“If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control — myself.”

― Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

He let me work on the deal with him and represent my first client. He gave me a chance.

Sometimes all we need is an opportunity.

I learned through experience and began to understand the value I created. I hit the phones and started cold calling. We hired a receptionist. I was able to quit my evening/weekend job bartending. I never looked back.

Believe While Others Are Doubting

I’ll never forget the elevator ride with a top industry executive. He asked if I was interested in being a commercial broker. I looked at him and said, “Absolutely!” He smiled and suggested I look into Property Management, which might be a better fit. I was furious. I couldn’t understand why people kept doubting that I could be successful. Then it dawned on me. I was a woman. Well, damn it, I set out to prove him and everyone else who doubted me, wrong.

“Courage isn’t absent of fear, it is the awareness that something else is important”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Success Is a Two-Way Street

I began getting involved with local industry organizations and, before long, was asked to be on the Board of Directors of a local organization called Pittsburgh Women in Commercial Real Estate (PWCRE). I became Chapter President and led the organization to become CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Pittsburgh, serving a four-year term. About ten years later, I started the Pittsburgh Chapter of CoreNet Global as the Founding President.

Our company moved just north of the city and began a massive development project called Cranberry Woods, a 326-acre Class A mixed-use project. Our office grew. I attended every industry event I could, and most of the time was the only woman in attendance. I built relationships and volunteered my time. I didn’t just show up at events; I ran the event. I didn’t just sit at a table; I organized and decorated the tables. I didn’t just meet five new people; I wrote a handwritten note to each of them. I learned how to lead.

“Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Before I knew it, I was landing national clients and traveling the country. It was quite awkward since I wasn’t old enough to rent a car. The car rental company had to call my boss for permission and his credit card. I was promoted to Vice President and admitted into the Circle of Excellence. (Less than 6% women nationally held that honor, at the time.)

Relationships Are Gold = Success

I began calling on more prominent companies to broaden my client base. One call, I will never forget. The head of real estate picked up the phone, and I politely asked if I could assist her with any of their upcoming lease renewals or expansions. The woman abruptly said, “No, we are fine,” and hung up the phone. I sat staring at the receiver because her name sounded familiar. I dialed her back, and when she picked up, I asked if she used to live in Emsworth. She hesitated, but responded with, “Yes, why?” I was beyond excited and quickly replied, “It’s Kimmie from the Chinese restaurant.” She replied, “Oh my god, Kimmie? How are you?” Our conversation and a business relationship began. Success is all about relationship!

“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

In 2009, I started my own commercial real estate agency. I became the Managing Director of Cresa Pittsburgh, where I spent ten years helping to grow our tenant representation practice. In 2016, I launched a boutique practice called Found Advisors, recently rebranded as Rise Pittsburgh, exclusively representing tenants.

Success at the ioi Summit Pitch Battle
2019 ioi Summit Pitch Battle — Kim Ford, Pitching to Thousands

In 2018 with a long-time friend, we launched a PropTech startup. We quickly grew to over 200 US markets and became part of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Second Century Ventures, inaugural Reach Commercial Accelerator Program. I sold my shares in 2020.

In 2022, we launched Ghost Technologies, transforming the commercial real estate industry by providing a data-synthesized interactive experience for corporate decision-makers evaluating space. Our proprietary algorithm FITScore curates, measures, and scores property and community features, to match businesses to their perfect talent-centric workplace.

A few fun recent wins (I won’t list the losses):

  • Official Member Forbes Business Council
  • Host of Rise | Evolve Leadership – streaming on YouTube (video) and Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts
  • 2022 Keynote Speaker at MassimoCon
  • 2022 CREi #14 Top US Influencer LinkedIn
  • 2022 CREi Top Twitter Influencer
  • 2022 CREi Movement List of Influential Women
  • 2022 Vice Chair, Innovation & Technology Committee, SIOR Global
  • 2021 CREi #30 Top US Influencer
  • 2021 Otso Top Woman Influencer CRE
  • 2021 SIOR Top 50 Office Deal in the US
  • 2019 Business Journals Influencer CRE Award
  • 2019 Globe St. Elite Woman of Influence Award
  • 2019 SIOR Office Lease of the Year
  • 2019 Tech50 Finalist
  • 2019 CRETECH The Hot List
  • 2019 NAR REACH Commercial

I did not wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to find success in Commercial Real Estate. I did not graduate from high school, excited to go to college to study real estate or even business. I followed the path, which led to an opportunity. I dedicated myself to my mission and was determined to succeed. I faced opposition and, instead of backing down, stood firm. I plowed full speed ahead, always giving 120%. I never stopped taking the time to learn. I listened, I grew. I did not write this for me, I wrote this for you. I wrote this to hopefully give one single person the hope or motivation they need.

My journey continues to be an amazing ride where I’ve made amazing friends and built relationships that will last a lifetime. Every once in a while, I even stop for some Chinese take-out.

Updated November 2022.

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