CREW Member Spotlight
Edith Hewitt, Vice President, Asset Management, Triovest Realty Advisors
Education: UBC Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting
Real Estate Division, White Spot Group of Companies
- Acquisitions and new store development, redevelopment projects
Director of Marketing, Novam Development
- Leasing and marketing for redeveloped heritage properties
Drink of Choice: Prosecco
Favourite Pastime: Travel, with reading mystery novels as a close second.
Interesting Hobby: Cooking – Edith has an Eastern European background and loves to cook Hungarian food.
Q Tell me about your role at Triovest. How has your career evolved to your most recent role in asset management?
My title was Vice President of Asset Management for the BC region, responsible for a portfolio in excess of 40 properties of approximately 4.3 million square feet. The role was an evolution with the growth of the business, and the types and needs of our clients. The company targets pension funds that require an on-the-ground service provider. The companies I had been with (which evolved into Triovest) had backgrounds as owners or developers of their own real estate, so this brings the landlord mindset to the table. I think that’s the very important distinction between Triovest and what perhaps other companies do, and clients value this approach to their real estate.
My background followed a bit of a different route than today’s asset managers might follow. When I started, I worked for a project management company in accounting and finance while I finished my degree. I also took some real estate courses that appealed to me. My first industry job was working with White Spot’s real estate group in BC, which owned a lot of real estate in the province. They wanted to maximize these sites by redeveloping them to have other uses in addition to the restaurants, so they became early pioneers in mixed-use developments. This experience gave me an insight into development and how to add value to an existing property and I decided to pursue a career with a commercial real estate developer. However, not having much experience at the time, I approached it from a marketing perspective, creating the concept or brand and working on the promotion of the assets. I found Novam (a Triovest predecessor company), a private company that was retrofitting and redeveloping older buildings in the late 80s, early 90s. Novam would take these older, under-performing buildings that other developers weren’t interested in and retrofit, re-brand and re-lease them to new users. I was the Director of Marketing there for 17 years, involved in all the leasing and marketing of these “heritage-style” assets. At this time, Tonko Realty, a public company from Calgary (a Triovest predecessor company), bought Novam. They acquired the management team together with the properties that Novam owned at the time. From there, it evolved into the client service side as Tonko built their business by providing third-party asset management to pension fund clients. This was a growth business at the time that’s seen more players enter the market, so today there are more opportunities at various companies for someone to pursue a career in asset management.
Q What skill sets do you think are most valuable to professionals in asset management?
Having well-rounded real estate knowledge is important. I believe that the industry now values people with analytical skills, which typically comes from those involved with appraisals, acquisitions or financial analysis. If you have that background or training, that’s a career asset because the performance of the asset is paramount. Owners are focused on valuations, returns, and maximizing cash flow, and in order to monitor that and produce results, you need to be very analytically minded.
However, the drivers of those numbers are the fundamentals of the asset, so you have to understand the functioning of real estate. Both leasing and property management experience are valuable for an asset manager because then you understand two critical sides of the equation, which are maximizing revenue and efficiently managing expenses. While it’s essential to also understand the competitive market and its opportunities and risks, there’s a need to understand how to manage the property itself. You have to understand how budgets come together. If you have either an operations or a leasing background, or ideally, both, and then obtain experience in valuations or acquisitions that would give you the most well-rounded background as an asset manager.
You can get this experience in a number of ways – that’s the beauty of real estate: there are so many facets to it, so depending on your skill set and your interests, you can find a position that really drives you. However, once you get into the realm of managing for large funds and sophisticated clients, you need to have a very diverse real estate background. You can do a segment of the role very successfully, for example, be a specialist in valuations or a great property manager or leasing representative, but if you want to climb higher to a senior position, you need to have more depth in all the above.
Q How has the real estate industry in Vancouver changed since you started?
The Lower Mainland in general, and Vancouver in particular, has become a hyper-competitive market. In the late 80s or early 90s, the company I was with was dealing with real estate that nobody else would touch, although those retrofitted properties eventually ended up trading to institutions. The typical profile for desirable property used to be Class A, centre ice, trophy assets that Canadian institutions would seek out. Now foreign investment has entered the market, and pension funds have had to become more creative and nimble. The scope has expanded far beyond typical assets to incorporate new asset classes, such as server farms and agricultural real estate, in addition to the new standby which is developable land. This was a big change because institutions weren’t typically developers of real estate. Now building business parks and mixed-use through their service providers and joint partners is part of their standard practice. There’s much more onus on the service provider to bring the client either off-market or non-traditional types of opportunities to help support the client’s growth and return requirements,
There’s more competition in the service industry. More and more companies are broadening their service platforms. Companies such as JLL evolved from brokerage and now offer a whole menu of services to their clients that overlap with those offered by traditional asset management companies.
Technology has been a big evolution. The amount of data and information out there that you have to stay on top of has increased exponentially, along with one’s ability to connect with others. I think people were more embedded in their own specialties before, whereas now, technology has contributed to everyone having to be more broad-based in their knowledge and expertise to keep up with or beat the competition. The more information out there, the more you must disseminate – it’s a bigger job, so you need a bigger team. That’s the reason I think the need for the analytical component has increased because you must be able to sift through all that information to find what’s relevant to you, and you need the resources and expertise to do that.
Q What advice would you give to young professionals trying to enter the field as well as mid-level professionals trying to reach the next level?
In order to be exposed to career opportunities, you have to put yourself forward. The important thing is not to have tunnel-vision about what you’re doing. Of course there’s a requirement to concentrate on your job and do your best to meet expectations and annual goals, but you have to broaden your horizons. Don’t be afraid to say, “I think I can tackle that.” or “Is there an opportunity for me here?” and just keep asking and knocking on that door because companies need people who are confident.
You also have to have the courage of your convictions. If you think something is correct, you’ve done the research, know your data, and you have an opinion, put it out there – and keep putting it out there. Gradually, people will respect that and know that you know what you’re talking about and your opinions are sound. They’ll respect you if you stand up and make yourself heard and stand behind what you’re saying, or if you’re not afraid to disagree with them or be disagreed with.
Q How long have you been involved with CREW and how has your involvement with the organization helped in your personal and career growth?
While I am not one of the original founders, I am an honorary member. I was contacted when someone had the idea for CREW and there was a group of 7 ladies that got together and decided it was time to form a chapter in Vancouver. At the time I was not available to be involved in the original board, but 2 years later I joined and served the board for 4 years and saw a great evolution because we went from about 20 members to over 100 by the time I left the board, and now it’s even bigger.
CREW is not as big as NAIOP or some other industry organizations, so it’s has a more intimate and manageable scale, making it a great forum to connect with people on a one-on-one basis, The [CREW membership list] is a “rolodex”, an immediate contact list. It is huge to have people you can readily reach out to who will respond to you. I’ve had people reach out to me all the time, and it is a great network if you don’t have formal mentorship.
Q CREW is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year. Where would you like to see the organization in another 10 years’ time?
CREW Vancouver has really grown tremendously in terms of profile and awareness in the industry, putting it in a different light with peers industry groups and their members. It was more of a grassroots group in Vancouver, notwithstanding that it is part of a much bigger network in North America, and now people are looking closer at the value of belonging to CREW versus their other memberships, and CREW needs to capitalize on that.
Because of the networking focus at CREW, if you have something to bring to the table people will want to talk to you and learn from you. CREW has to continue to be inclusive and it has to promote that value proposition, especially with senior women, who have to understand that they will get a return from this interaction. Senior women may feel they’ve “been there, done that” in building their careers, but those are the women who have to belong to CREW. These women are the role models and mentors for younger women who can show what the future can hold for a younger person seeking a real estate career.
Q As one chapter closes and another opens in your life, do you have any major plans or things on your “bucket list” you’d like to do in retirement?
If you’re doing a good job and you’re committed, you’re spending a lot of resources on your work, especially as someone who is building their career. But you get to a point where you say “I’ve climbed a lot of mountains, I’ve accomplished many goals I wanted to, and now there are other things in life beyond work”. I can’t really say I have anything major in my cross hairs at the moment. I have some projects and family responsibilities, certainly, and travel and other activities planned. But there have been no great epiphanies as I retire from business. I’m a firm believer in giving my mind some time to think. Work has been such a big focus that now is the time to give my mind some space and let it wander until it lands, recharged, on the next great creative chapter in my life.
Well-connected and strategically driven, Triovest Realty Advisors Inc. (Triovest) is a fully integrated commercial real estate investment and management company. Triovest provides investment and property management services for income properties on behalf of institutional and private investors. Triovest’s real estate portfolio extends across Canada and represents a significant history of successful partnerships with clients.