• 08 MAR 2023| Source: BISNOW

Not So Lonely At The Top: Why Miami Real Estate Is ‘Very Much Ahead’ On Elevating Women Leaders

When Julia Tuttle convinced Henry Flagler to extend his Florida railroad down to her
large citrus farm on Biscayne Bay, she was not only the first person to see the value in
the place that would become the city of Miami, she also became — and remains — the
only woman credited with founding a major U.S. city.

More than 120 years later, Miami is flourishing beyond Tuttle’s wildest dreams. Last
year, the Financial Times called it “the most important city in America” as corporate
wealth, and the real estate industry’s attention, has migrated from New York, California
and Chicago.

But Miami commercial real estate isn’t important just because it’s uncommonly
successful, but also because it is uncommonly diverse, especially at the highest levels of
business, local industry leaders say. Some of the country’s most important female CRE
leaders work in the Magic City.

Quest Workspaces founder and CEO Laura Kozelouzek, left, taking a group photo with
Mailyn Francisco-Salazar, Melissa Sterling, and Nancie Dudash at the opening of the
Quest location at One Biscayne in Downtown Miami.

“South Florida is very much ahead of a lot of other markets,” said Stephanie Rodriguez,
Colliers’ national director of industrial services, who lives in Miami. “I think that women
rising to leadership roles in that area is just representative of the landscape of the
region. It’s a cultural melting pot, it’s a place where people can really make their way
and be very successful.”

The women who have left their mark on Miami commercial real estate in recent years
are too many to count, but developers like Avra Jain, Lissette Calderon and Jackie
Soffer, brokers like Rodriguez, Arden Karson, Peggy Olin and Donna Abood and
entrepreneurs like Tere Blanca, Alicia Cervera and Laura Kozelouzek are among the
people, men or women, with the largest influence on the city today.

Across the country, women still make up far less than half of the commercial real estate
industry, especially at the highest levels. CREW Network’s 2020 Benchmark Study
Report found that 36.7% of all industry professionals were women. A Bisnow analysis in
November of 89 of the largest CRE firms found that women held 25.6% of C-suite
positions and 29.6% of board seats.

Kozelouzek was born and raised outside of New York City but founded Quest
Workspaces in 2010 in South Florida. She’s grown it to the largest women-owned
flexible office provider in the country, with 13 locations (and three more under

“I find the culture of doing business is so much more collaborative, it’s less harsh, and I
find that it’s more personal,” she said. “The culture, the way that business is done here.
It’s on a much more personal level, relationships matter much more. That’s something
that women gravitate towards.”

Miami’s status as a magnet for immigrants — where people from all different countries
can come, start a business and make a new life for themselves — is imprinted on its
business community as well.

“Since Miami is so diverse, I feel like women in powerful positions are not only
welcomed but celebrated,” Shoma Group President Stephanie Shojaee wrote in an
email. “Miami has given so many people the opportunity of a successful life. Whether
that’s a young professional entering the workforce or a daughter of working-class
immigrants like me, Miami has welcomed them with open arms.”

Women don’t rise to leadership roles by accident or coincidence — just like their lack of
opportunities in most industries and cities isn’t an accident. Beth Azor and Trish Blasi,
the founder of Borghese Investments, both came up at Terranova Group, where many of
Miami’s female leaders have worked over the years.

Beth Azor with her tenant, Peach Fuzz Wax Bar, in Weston, Florida.
Azor, the founder of Azor Advisory Services, credited Terranova Group founder Stephen
Bittel as a mentor who made sure she had every opportunity to succeed.

“Why he was so amazing was anything you wanted to do, he said I’ll help you,” Azor
said. “He’s the one who helped me go to a bank and co-signed a loan to help me invest in
my first commercial real estate property. I wouldn’t have been in investment today
without that. There was no glass ceiling for him. He ran a meritocracy.”

Blasi was Terranova’s president before leaving to found her own firm. Its president
today, Mindy McIlroy, got her start at the company as an executive assistant in 1997.

“I had no plans to be involved in the real estate business, but the company president
approached me and asked if I would consider transferring to a sales role in the leasing
department. It seemed like a good idea at the time and has proven to be the best
decision I have ever made,” she wrote in an email. “Every day I give thanks for saying
‘Yes’ to the opportunity.”

Still, while Miami might be ahead of other cities in terms of gender diversity in the
corner office, it is far from equality. Continuum Florida President Allie Eichner was
raised in the development world under her father, Continuum Cos. founder Ian Bruce
Eichner, and said that sector of the business is “still a bit of an old boys’ club.”

“As it relates to brokers, for example, I actually think that women are very heavily
represented in Miami, for sure more than in New York,” she said. “But I think if you’re
talking about developers, I am pretty much the only woman in every room that I’m in[in] South Florida, unless it is a meeting with the brokers or a meeting with interior

Quest has a location in New York, as well as locations in Orlando and Tampa, and
Kozelouzek said the cultural differences feel very present in business interactions.

“New York City is more set in its ways. Call it traditional or less entrepreneurial, I think
it’s just because it is an older city,” she said. “That’s not necessarily a beneficial thing.”

Miami’s cultural openness to people from different walks of life was a theme among the
women Bisnow spoke to for this story explaining why it seems easier for them to achieve
than in other cities. Colliers’ Rodriguez got her start in the business in Washington,
D.C., where she worked for six years before moving to Miami nearly two decades ago.

“I came from the D.C. market, which was very conservative, very much business as
usual,” she said. “Miami, because it’s such a cultural melting pot, there are so many
Latin cultures that have created the place where we work and play, it’s so common to see
people hugging. You spend time together and get to know each other while you’re
conducting business and you build relationships.”

Many of those relationships among the women of South Florida commercial real estate
have evolved into business partnerships, in part thanks to Azor. She hosted her third
annual women investor’s conference in Orlando on Wednesday, and told Bisnow before
the event she was expecting 200 women, almost double last year’s attendance.

“I’m not making money out of running a conference,” she said. “I just want to expose
women to other women investors, so that those women see other women investing and
they say, ‘I want to invest, I can do what she’s doing.'”

Traci Miller, the senior vice president of Miller Construction Co., has attended those
conferences in the past and said she has partnered on investments with other women
through connections Azor has helped her make.

“The Beth Azors of the world who talk about raising women up, now all these women,
we’re all investing together and buying apartment complexes or buying retail centers,”
Miller said. “We’re working together to raise each other up, and it’s good stuff.”

Calderon, the CEO of development firm Neology Life, named an upcoming project of
hers in Allapattah “The Julia” in honor of Tuttle, dubbed the “Mother of Miami,” who
Calderon called “a personal hero of mine.”

“Miami is a younger city relative to those other markets, so maybe we’re a bit more on
the cutting edge,” Calderon wrote in an email. Alluding to Tuttle’s founding of the city,
she added, “Maybe it’s also in our DNA.”


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