Alison lives in Upper Lonsdale, North Vancouver, with her husband of 20 years, and her 13 year old daughter and 6 year old son. Born and raised in North Vancouver, she is a first generation Canadian to Argentine parents. Vancouver has always been home for her despite living for a short time in the United Kingdom and Alberta during her childhood. She has a passion for travel which was created at a very young age being the daughter of an airline executive and having family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She attended Crofton House School for Girls in Kerrisdale for most of her junior and high school years and attended the University of Victoria for post-secondary school.
Her career in real estate began with Marathon Realty Advisors, which prompted her to go back to school to obtain her DULE (Diploma in Urban Land Economics). Her knowledge, experience and career growth was further advanced while working for Oxford Properties, Morguard Investments, Tonko Realty Advisors (now Triovest) and Grosvenor Americas, where she currently holds the position of Vice President, Investment. Alison is currently working on several significant repositioning programmes as well as the development leasing for Grosvenor Ambleside and Connaught on the North Shore. Her passion for the business is driven as much from the work as it is from industry colleagues and professionals that she gets to interact with on a daily basis. Her career accomplishments are the result of hard work, seeking opportunities and a great deal of family support to help juggle work and home priorities.
1. Tell me about your role at Grosvenor. How has your career evolved to your most recent role in Grosvenor?
Despite being an international company, Grosvenor’s Vancouver office has been able to respond quickly to market conditions. In order to protect the Grosvenor Family Trust during the economic downturn in 2008, several assets that I was working on were sold, including The Grosvenor Building and South Point Exchange. Taking advantage of the weak economy across the border, Grosvenor invested in multi-family residential assets with value-add opportunities. My then solely commercial portfolio shifted to contain several US multi-family properties in Washington State, all of which underwent significant repositioning programmes over the years. Further, with the limited supply of acquisition opportunities in Vancouver, Grosvenor then increased its development pipeline (if you can’t buy it then build it). I am currently actively focused on the development leasing for the Grosvenor Ambleside development in West Vancouver and Connaught in North Vancouver. We are taking a thoughtful approach to the retailers that we engage for these developments and have chosen not to enter into an exclusive listing agreement with a brokerage house and I am performing this role in house on behalf of Grosvenor.
2. How has the real estate industry in Vancouver changed since you started?
One major shift that was a turning point in my career was when several of the major pension fund advisory firms with head offices in Toronto decentralized Asset Management across the country in an effort to have local Asset Managers that were experts in their respective marketplace. This led me to an opportunity in a junior Asset Management role with Morguard Investments. Another notable change was seeing more women entering into the real estate profession and advancing to executive level positions. There was also a shift towards transit oriented design with successful developments/redevelopments such as The Rise, Marine Gateway, Brentwood and Metrotown. Further, we have seen a shift in offshore investment from residential investment to becoming major players in the commercial acquisition and development fields. What was once a predominantly pension fund playing field has now expanded to include high net worth individuals and offshore investors, thus increasing the demand on the already limited supply of acquisition and development opportunities. Lastly, in the multi-family housing market, we have seen a dwindling supply in the face of increased demand from new immigrants and downsizing baby boomers. The baby boomers are equity-rich looking to downsize into large one-level low-maintenance apartments. As such, we are now seeing high-end multi-family residential developments coming to the market, such as Grosvenor’s developments: Grosvenor Ambleside and Connaught and Cressey’s developments: Ridge, Stirling and McKinnon, to name a few.
3. What career advice would you give to young professionals trying to enter the field as well as mid-level professionals trying to reach the next level?
For young professionals, I think that the key is relevant education from a reputable school. For example, the SFU and UBC Sauder School of Business that offer certificate, diploma and degree programs in real estate are two local reputable schools that provide a wealth of industry related information designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge required to enter the field. Young professionals should also have realistic expectations about their careers; they must put in the work to earn the positions they aspire to. There is a lot of competition in this industry so commitment, dedication, continued learning and having a good attitude will take them a long way. Also, creating industry contacts through organizations like CREW that connect real estate students with industry professionals can lead to opportunities and help to get your name out in the industry.
For mid-level professionals, I think that it is extremely important to take risks, to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and to defend your ideas. By doing this, you will prove your initiative and increase confidence in yourself and from others. You will learn a great deal as you overcome new challenges and garner more respect from your peers by defending your opinions. I learned this directly when I proposed and undertook an $8.2M redevelopment of Broadmead Village Shopping Centre in Victoria, which was originally developed by Grosvenor in 1991. It was a substantial undertaking with limited internal resources. It required a lot of time management and forced me to champion my ideas.
4. What skillsets do you think are most valuable to professionals in both commercial real estate and, more specifically, in your area of expertise?
Having an open mind and being prepared for change is important, this will allow you to embrace new experiences even if they feel foreign to you and will encourage you to learn as you go. Having the ability to work well in a team is valuable as you will glean knowledge from others and be able to expand your own ideas with input from other perspectives. Working in a team will also help you to build your internal and external relationships and to become recognized as a respected ‘voice’.
One of the most valuable tools that I would recommend is for professionals to find themselves a mentor, someone who they highly respect in the industry. Meeting regularly with a mentor provides you with a great opportunity to add to your skillset by absorbing their advice and guidance and applying it to your role. While not officially holding the title of ‘Mentor’, I have had several mentors along the way in my career that have guided me and supported me to where I am today.
5. How long have you been involved with CREW and how has your involvement with the organization helped in your personal and career growth?
I have been involved with CREW ultimately since its inception in 1995 as a member. With some industry colleagues that I call friends as founding members, it was an easy decision to get behind and champion this organization. I was always supportive of the idea and vision for CREW and have thoroughly enjoyed seeing it evolve and develop into what it is today. Being a member of CREW has been beneficial to me personally through the incredible networking opportunities offered. I have met new people and formed numerous relationships with people from other industry sectors that I may otherwise not have met if it weren’t through CREW.
Being part of CREW provides access to a wide range of local and international industry resources through the ‘CREW Network’. For example, if Grosvenor were to enter into a new market and need consulting from a professional in that market, I would immediately research the CREW Network to identify an individual CREW member that I could reach out to. These CREW resources are invaluable to members.
After being on the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) Whistler Planning Committee for approximately eight years, the latter two years holding the position of Co-Chair, I decided to dedicate my volunteer time to CREW and serve on the board, which I joined in 2015 as a Co-Director of Sponsorship. I had wanted to get involved with CREW for several years but wanted to fulfill my commitment to the ICSC Whistler Planning Committee first so as not to dilute my energy to any one organization by taking on too many volunteer roles. Also, in 2015, I applied to take part in the CREW mentorship program and was paired up with a mentee. I learned a lot during the program through sharing my experiences and ideas and creating business connections for my mentee that I hope has helped in the career development of that individual. I signed up again this year and have been paired with a new mentee.
6. How do you find female leadership is promoted through corporate policy at Grosvenor?
All Grosvenor employees are encouraged to always be and do their best. We have cultivated a learning environment which encourages our people to grow by sharing knowledge and being open to taking more risks. Instead of being protective of our roles, we know that there is room for everyone to grow and earn advancement at Grosvenor by having open streams of communication. Proving yourself by working hard and expressing your interests and passions leads to new opportunities and responsibilities. For example, a female colleague was recently promoted from a coordinator position into a newly created management role. The new role capitalizes on her strengths, and fills a previously existing gap that existed within the company. By communicating her goals, seeking relevant education and sharing her expertise, her talents were recognized by senior management and rewarded accordingly. Lastly, Grosvenor recently conducted an audit of its equality, diversity and inclusion practices holding one-on-one assessments with individuals to ensure that all members of staff are content. It is this kind of positive attention from a corporate level that allows all members of Grosvenor staff, especially women, to speak freely about their experiences in the workplace and to suggest change if needed.
About Grosvenor Group
Grosvenor Group has 17 offices in 11 countries and assets in 17 countries. The Group has regional investment and development businesses in Britain and Ireland, the Americas, and Asia Pacific. The Group recently launched Grosvenor Europe on 1 July 2016, previously known as Grosvenor Fund Management. It also has indirect investments, managed centrally. Unusual for a private company, Grosvenor publishes a detailed reporting suite - Annual Review, Financial Statements and a Non-Financial Data Report - available at: www.grosvenor.com.
Grosvenor Americas aims to become a market leader in select geographical areas and sectors in Canada and the USA through focused, strategic expansion. Grosvenor Americas uses their knowledge of the cities they work in and their property skills to develop projects that contribute to the vibrancy and attractiveness of those communities. With particular interest in retail, residential condominiums and apartments, and mixed-use sectors, the Company currently operates in Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Calgary. As at 31 December 2015, Grosvenor Americas had assets under management of $2.7B USD. For more information, please visit www.grosvenor.com.