Leading the way for other women, Karen Simon, a three-decade real estate professional, has been fostering growth at Emersons Commercial Real Estate. Exhibiting sheer brilliance as the President and Managing Partner at the company, she started her career in the real estate industry at a time when few women chose the profession.
Karen now specializes in leasing and sales for the office, retail, industrial and land sectors. She was the first woman in Tarrant County to practise industrial real estate and the first female broker to become one of the department’s top producers in the entire state.
In August, Karen achieved the recognition of “Businesswoman of the Year” when she was acknowledged to the famous Marquis Who’s Who biographical directory. This honour was given in recognition of her position, notable achievements, exposure, and importance in the industry.
Emersons Commercial Real Estate is a skilled group of real estate experts committed to giving its clients all the advantages of an internal real estate management operation without the usual overhead, costs, or problems related to hiring their own employees. Its skilled team provides owners, developers, and tenants with expert property management services.
In an exclusive interview with Insights Success, Karen shares her journey as a woman in the real estate industry, the successes she experienced and the challenges she overcame.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief us about your career path as a woman leader up until now to your current position at your organization. What were the challenges you had to overcome to scale your progress?
The Henry S. Miller company was the largest real estate company in Texas. They had no women filling roles as the chairperson of any department within the Miller organization other than its residential department.
I accepted their offer to start and chair an industrial and land division within the Henry S. Miller office in Tarrant County, specifically Fort Worth, where I live, the largest city in Tarrant County. Part of the opportunity of chairing that department was that they were willing to send me to industrial real estate schools to learn the terms and the jargon and get a background in the field that I was going to attempt to grow for them. I held that job for six years.
In the late 1980s, the real estate market took a tremendous fall. Because I was a female and women and minorities were given opportunities with the federal government, I founded a company called the Ari Group Advisers, Inc, known as “The Real Estate Group,” and got to have a lot more opportunities to do business for the federal government when it came to the disposal of all the foreclosed assets.
Another position I held was the head of the industrial department for the Woodmont Company, a large regional firm. In 2003, I was asked to start a commercial real estate office for the Bradford company in Tarrant County, and I held that position for the next 12 years. Ultimately, in 2016, I met the owners of Emerson’s commercial real estate, and they were looking to open an office in Tarrant County. One of them was from Fort Worth. They founded the company in 2004, and in 2016, we became equal partners in the Tarrant County office. That is where I am, the office I manage within their organization, and it has been a very fulfilling role.
At what stage did you realize that you were on the right track regarding your career?
I decided I was on the right track for my career when I opened the office for Bradford, which was for a 12-year stint and was a normalizing experience. At Miller, I was actively in business, but then all of a sudden, we were no longer in business. With the real estate group, I knew that we had some time expiration because we were operating the way we did because we were primarily representing the federal government.
Bradford was a full-service company. We did management, sales, leasing, and consulting. We covered the waterfront of commercial real estate. Every day was different. I realized how much I enjoyed the fact that I had been given the opportunity to do something I love. I wasn’t completely satisfied when ownership was not available. Bradford is a highly well-run company. It’s run and owned by one individual. And although we got management participation in fees when our offices were successful, we were not partners. We might make suggestions, but we really had no serious input in the decisions as to how it was run.
Karen, can you tell me, being a woman, how difficult it is to survive in real estate?
Well, when I started in the industrial real estate business in 1983, I was the first woman in Dallas or Tarrant County. I was the first female to head an industrial or to head any commercial department within the Miller organization. When I walked into a room, people knew who I was because I was the only woman.
The first time I went to an industrial real estate school, there were 32 men and me. At the second one I went to, a year later, there were approx. three women out of 42. I played a role in the establishment of the first commercial real estate women’s organization in Tarrant County, and that was in 1987. So, we began to make some progress.
I learned that clients did not resent dealing with a woman at all. What they wanted was someone who was concerned about their business, was willing to say that they didn’t have an answer, but they would try to find out, and someone who was willing to work longer than from 9:00 to 5:00 if it was a requirement to get a job done within a specified time period. So, although I was the first, I always felt that I was pushing the envelope and that there was progress.
What strategies do you implement to promote gender diversity for various leadership positions in your organization?
I think within Emersons, gender has not been a significant issue because when I came to work for them, they already had a woman who was in a leadership role on the accounting side. They also had women in other leadership positions within the organization. Gender has never been significant within Emersons, nor has racial ethnicity. Emersons is a very diverse group. If you were to see the members of Emersons and their co-partner, you would see that it crosses all racial and ethnic lines. It’s nothing I ever had to work for. That opportunity existed on its own.
What values do you incorporate to enhance the work culture at your organization?
Well, some of the people who worked with us during the worst part of COVID wanted to work remotely. And I understood that. A couple of them still work remotely. I don’t consider it ideal, but I do respect the fact that they feel more comfortable and choose to do that. They come together with us when we have company meetings a couple of times a month. We try to allow people to work to the best of their ability within the framework that they feel comfortable working.
Do you feel in recent times that there is a difference in opportunities for women in real estate?
Well, women are still sort of recognized as being a minority as far as roles in commercial real estate. But there are a great many women today that play essential roles within their own organizations. I would venture to say that in the last 30 years, women have made leaps and bounds in recognition within this industry.
What do you believe is the significant factor for women in the business arena, and what is the most critical aspect of your success in adhering to these fundamentals?
I think women need to be able to say, as should men, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but it’s a good question, and I will find out.” I think the humility of recognizing that you can’t be the best at everything and have all the answers is essential.
The willingness to go the extra mile, I think, is significant. The willingness–– for example, if someone can’t see a building on a Monday through Friday and you feel an obligation to make it available on Saturday, you should be willing to do it yourself. You don’t necessarily need to “send someone.” You need to show that a client’s interests are vital enough to you to put yourself out.
What could be the next significant change in the modern business arena?
So much has gone digital that it has changed the way we do business in considerable measure. But we are still required, in my opinion, to meet a client face to face to show a property as opposed to telling someone that there is a lockbox and here is the combination, and you can get the key. I mean, I think we cannot push that envelope so far that we have a total disconnect from human contact. I sometimes feel that my younger associates are not practicing the art of conversation. They almost do everything by text or email. I don’t think that is the best method of great success. I think you must show a personal interest and participation.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders willing to venture into the modern business arena, especially in a real state?
I would say, among other things, don’t allow gender to be an active part of your transaction. In other words, if you’re dealing with someone who is courtly and wants to open the door for you, let them do that as opposed to pushing back for a total lack of involvement from the feminine perspective. Be natural, be normal. But at the same time, be the best-educated person in the room. Be the person who is willing to go the extra mile. At the same time, don’t be disruptive because general behavioral patterns are such that we live in a society in which men generally do open doors or at least offer to do so.