CA Search Advisors is excited to continue with our five-part profile series highlighting women in real estate. Each month through September, we will feature an amazing woman in the commercial real estate field exploring her professional journey, inspiration, and advice to students and young professionals looking to build a career in the industry.
As a woman and leader in the commercial real estate industry for over two decades, Jeanne Lazar, Chief Financial Officer with The John Buck Company (JBC), is someone you should know and our second profile in this series. Jeanne has had an impressive career and a track record of affecting positive financial and cultural change within the organizations she has worked. Jeanne is currently based in Chicago, IL and serves as Principal, Chief Financial Officer and Member of the Board of Directors and Investment Committee of The John Buck Company. Jeanne is continuing her 15-year tenure with JBC, where she previously held the position of Principal and Controller through 2007.
If you have the opportunity to meet with Jeanne, you quickly understand why she is one of the industry’s leaders. In addition to being incredibly intelligent, she is quick-witted, laughs easily, has a humble nature and an approachable demeanor.
Jeanne has always been fascinated with the commercial real estate industry and development in particular. Jeanne explains that there are so many moving parts and pieces of the puzzle to figure out and every day is different. Jeanne thrives in change and enjoys the variety so it is no wonder the industry has captured her attention for so long.
There is a theme that winds through Jeanne’s career and the moves she has made: Jeanne is comfortable taking a risk and loves a challenge. She is incredibly talented at setting a vision or strategy and then successfully leading teams through change and challenges. Early in her career when she first joined JBC, the industry was in the middle of a recession and little was being developed. In 2007, Jeanne jumped at the opportunity to move from the Midwest to the West Coast to join The Irvine Company as Senior Vice President, Finance. The company had a portfolio that was four times the size of JBC at the time and had new asset classes for her to learn. Later, Jeanne joined MPG Office Trust, Inc., a publicly-traded REIT in financial crisis, engaging and leading her team through adversity to continued forward progress.
The industry began to recognize Jeanne as a change agent and she was recruited by TOPA Management Company to take on the role of the company’s first CFO for the real estate arm of a family office where she set the strategy, built the team and systems, and found efficiencies that refreshed the organization. Through this success, she was brought into Westwood to modernize the organization and improve processes. Finally, Jeanne moved back to Chicago to rejoin JBC in 2018. Although she had a great first experience with JBC, she never thought she would return, but she couldn’t have imagined a better role than what she is doing today. JBC recognizes Jeanne’s talent, continues to utilize her strengths and challenges Jeanne to take on more.
Jeanne is a true visionary with a curious nature possessing the raw intelligence and experience to know what needs to get done, confidence needed to build executive buy-in, and a collaborative leadership style. Due to her successes, she is often tasked with additional responsibilities and issues to resolve. This is a win for Jeanne because she craves the challenge and stretching beyond her comfort level. Her career achievements have given her the confidence to know she will figure out a way to get it done successfully.
As we talked through the incredible successes Jeanne has had leading through change, she is quick to turn the spotlight to the teams she has built and their ability to partner and work together. Jeanne says her biggest accomplishment has been those teams. She prides herself on her ability to build strong teams with well-rounded, diverse talent. She quickly recognizes the required talents needed to build great teams. Jeanne spends a lot of time working with the team and understanding challenges from each member’s perspective. This is where her humble nature kicks in. She doesn’t pretend to understand every challenge at every level and talks about the importance of gathering input and feedback from each member of the team and how this is essential to implementing a successful strategy. Jeanne is gifted at bringing executives, managers and staff out of their silos to work together. She is mindful not to be the loudest or most forceful voice in the room, but paves a path for others to voice their thoughts and opinions.
Leadership in today’s uncertain times, presents many new and unparalleled challenges. For Jeanne, the biggest challenge has been the lack of in-person interaction with her team. She recognizes that so much happens outside of the scheduled meetings and it’s been difficult for her and her team. Additionally, the lack of information around what is happening next along with restrictions and logistical requirements changing daily for the entire business community present challenges for everyone. Jeanne and her team are still figuring it out.
Because Jeanne has a curious nature and is constantly learning, we discussed what industry publications or news outlets she follows on a regular basis. Jeanne said the ones she follows most commonly were Real Estate Alert, GlobeSt., Real Estate Connect, Bisnow, “Wall Street Journal” and CNN.com. While she doesn’t regularly listen to podcasts, she is fascinated by other people’s stories and has enjoyed listening to “Sunday Sitdown” with Willie Geist and “Great Women of Business,” which takes a historical look at women in business who were trailblazers.
Jeanne’s advice for women considering a career in the commercial real estate industry would be to find a mentor, male or female, and have that person help and guide you. She believes this is especially important for women earlier in their careers. While Jeanne has had a tremendous amount of success, she didn’t have a mentor, but knows what a benefit that would have been as she navigated her career. In place of that mentorship, Jeanne studied different leaders and tried to emulate what was good and avoid the pitfalls of those that made mistakes. She believes that while this was beneficial, having an actual mentor would have been helpful for her. Additionally, getting involved in industry groups and networking is critical. Jeanne believes this will provide you the support system you can turn to when things are challenging or you are looking for input. And, she suggests asking a lot of questions and being open to other people’s opinions. Last, she said, don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s okay to do something; just get it done. Jeanne is a perfectionist and many areas of her position require perfection and perfection is non-negotiable, but she also recognizes that being a change agent requires forward movement. Jeanne has a sign in her office that reads “Done Beats Perfect.” She believes it is important for women to hear that it’s okay to make mistakes, do your best and, most important, GET IT DONE!
CA Search Advisors, LLC is a national executive search firm, focused on the real estate industry. Our managing principals, Katie Becker and Amy Bauer, have a deep inside knowledge and extensive long-standing relationships as a result of working directly in the industries they serve. You can rest assured that you are in good care and in the hands of a firm you can trust. Let us bring the best talent to you!