Gayle Hunter has a distinguished career in real estate law and has worked at Blakes Vancouver for 29 ½ years. In her role, she works with companies and organizations to help them with legal issues in building, buying, borrowing and leasing commercial real estate; to ensure her clients are documenting the deal they think they negotiated, to bring them to the outcome they want, and keep them away from disagreements, disputes and most importantly, away from the court house!
Gayle is also a founding member of CREW Vancouver, has held a seat on the Board and been an instrumental part of the success of CREW Vancouver. We are so inspired by the experiences and stories that Gayle shared with us in a recent CREW Member Spotlight. Read the full interview below.
How was CREW Vancouver started?
When Susan MacLaurin, who is now an Executive VP with QuadReal moved from Toronto to Vancouver in 2003 to join GWLRA, Colliers organized a welcome to Vancouver party for her and invited women in the industry. At that time there were maybe 20 women in the room. Susan mentioned an organization she had been involved with in Toronto called CREW Toronto, that was part of a bigger North American organization called CREW Network. It sparked an interest in a few of us.
In the fall of 2004, Andrea Wildeman, then a broker at Colliers, and I went to the CREW Network national convention in San Francisco. We were impressed by the sheer number of women in our industry, the collegiality and the focus on finding ways of doing business with each other, as well as the quality of the programs at the convention. I give credit to Andrea for taking the bull by the horns when we got back to Vancouver and bringing together the initial group of women who started CREW Vancouver, which we incorporated as a society on April 1, 2005. I think that first year we had about 25 members.
What have you gained from CREW over the years?
It was very exciting in those early years to be building something completely new in Vancouver to help women advance in the commercial real estate industry. Being deeply involved with the start-up, being on the Board and on committees, travelling to Network leadership sessions and conventions, I learned so much from the incredibly talented, ambitious and visionary women I was interacting with, all of whom wanted women to enter, stay, advance and thrive in the commercial real estate industry.
Over the years since CREW started, it is the relationships I have developed that are the most important take away for me. I have made connections and developed relationships with people from across Canada and the US. I talk a lot about relationships, but that is because I believe relationships are fundamental to the success of each one of us.
Any advice you would pass on to women pursuing a career in real estate law?
My advice applies equally to women starting a career in real estate law and in the commercial real estate industry. First, learn your trade or business, build your skills and become excellent at what you do for a living. Once you've developed that skillset, the relationships are fundamental. Be interested, enthusiastic, take initiative, never stop learning, develop relationships broadly and deeply – with people from all aspects of your role and network. Don't forget your family and friends (and yourself), which is easy to do when you are working hard and trying to advance in your career.
I recently read an article called Let's Stop Talking about Soft Skills: They're Power Skills – the author, Josh Bersin says the skills of the future are not technical, they are behavioural. This is a great quote in the article – "Hard Skills are soft – they change all the time, are constantly becoming obsolete and are relatively easy to learn. Soft Skills are hard – they are difficult to build, they are critical, and they take extreme effort to obtain." I think we all need to remember that our work is not just about that "hard" skillset, but so much about what Josh calls the Power Skills.
Can you describe what it's like to work for Blakes Vancouver?
In many ways, Blakes started out like CREW Vancouver. When I joined Blakes, it was a small Vancouver firm that had just merged with the then 130-year-old Toronto firm of Blake, Cassels & Graydon. We had about 12 lawyers in the Vancouver office when I started and today, we are at approximately 100 lawyers practicing across different business-focused fields (and many hundreds of lawyers across Canada, as well as in other countries). So, in those early years at Blakes Vancouver, I was part of a team that was building something new in Vancouver – one of the first national law firms in Vancouver.
Although every place of employment has its highs and lows, I have stayed here my entire career for many reasons – mostly the people I work with – that includes my colleagues at Blakes, as well as the clients; the focus on excellence and collegiality and the support to be constantly learning. Blakes is a strong supporter of continual learning and hosts regular lunch and learns, training sessions for lawyers, new partner training, video programs with impressive speakers in different offices across the country, and supports employees attending conferences for professional and network development.
Do you have a formal mentor? If so, how did you find one?
I do not have a formal mentor but have been inspired and influenced by many different people. Although I myself am a formal mentor – previously with grade 11 girls considering their education post high school, and now with Beedie Luminaries, a scholarship foundation set up by Ryan Beedie. My mentee or "luminary" is a young woman in her first year of post-secondary education. However, I have found throughout my career that successful mentorship does not necessarily need to be formal – it can be informal and organic.
The person who had the biggest influence on me as a young lawyer was Roger Howay, who was the senior partner at Blakes Vancouver real estate group. By working at his side, I learned the technical (hard) skills required to practice law, but also so many of the power (soft behavioural) skills, such as developing relationships and doing what I could to lead everyone on a transaction to a desired outcome, but most importantly, how to have fun along the way! We spend a lot of time at our work, so my advice is have fun while you are at it.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
I'm not certain of the one piece of advice, as there has been so much great advice received along the way. Some that come to mind – Be Prepared. Perception is Reality. Never stop learning. Believe in yourself. Relationships are key.
What is your favourite CREW event throughout the year and why?
I enjoy the sessions where we learn something new and different. A couple of examples that come to mind are the recent dialogue between Bob Rennie and BC Chief Justice Robert Bauman, which was thought provoking and a very different and innovative event than what we often attend in the real estate industry.
As well, I recall at last year's CREW convention in San Diego, there was a woman who spoke, Alison Levine, who had written a book called On The Edge which shares leadership lessons she learned while leading the first female team that tried to climb Mount Everest. Out of that experience, she distilled business leadership lessons and wrote a book. It was a unique idea for a speaker at a commercial real estate convention and was extremely interesting, and she was only one of many great speakers at the convention.
These days, one of my favourite events though may have to be the holiday party where we have an opportunity to interact with each other, catch up and meet new people.
Any podcast or book recommendations?
Book: Truth Be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law. This is a memoir by Beverly McLachlin, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Beverly came from such humble beginnings on a ranch in southern Alberta, where she was home schooled for a period of time, eventually making it to law school at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, graduating in 1968, when there were not many women in the legal profession. She is very honest in her book about her struggles. It is so refreshing to see that someone that made it to the highest position in the highest Court in the country, experiences the same doubts that challenge most of us. Many lessons to learn about perseverance and resiliency.
Podcast: Advice to My Younger Me by Sara Holtz. Sara's self-described passion is helping women succeed in the workplace and in life, and she brings a variety of guests on to her podcast that provide practical, empowering and inspirational advice.
Finally, I encourage everyone to get involved with CREW, other than just attending events. Volunteer for committees, go to Network leadership and educational meetings and conventions. Work toward getting on the CREW Vancouver Board. Certainly, my early days at CREW and getting it started were some of the best. Like anything, being an active participant is so much more rewarding – there is much to learn from your colleagues in CREW Vancouver and the broader community in CREW Network.
On behalf of CREW Vancouver, we would like to thank Gayle for sharing her insight and for being one of the founding members of an organization that has done so much to advance women in the commercial real estate industry in Vancouver.