Tracy Murphy, cofounder and president of IQHQ, a life sciences REIT, speaking with Ellen Klasson, chair of ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and managing director of RCLCO, at the 2022 ULI Spring Meeting.

Tracy Murphy, cofounder and president of San Diego–based IQHQ, the life-sciences-centric real estate investment trust (REIT), has a drive and a hunger for success that cannot be stopped as the audience at the “WLI Presents: A View from the Top” at this year’s ULI Spring Meeting learned. IQHQ was founded around two years ago and has already become one of the largest property owners in the sector that she describes as “a sweetheart of a space.”

“We’ve kind of coined what we do as life science districts where lifestyle meets life science,” Murphy says.

Her company raised $3 billion in two years and has four offices and 75 employees, half of whom are women, a deliberate move on her part. “There are a lot of really talented women out there, but I will say I’m not like some raging feminist,” Murphy says. “I have a lot of value in balance in male counterparts, and I was reared and supported largely by men, so it’s not lost on me. For me, it’s a meritocracy.”

IQHQ is also leading the development of the $1.6 billion Research and Development District that will significantly alter downtown San Diego.

The REIT acquires, develops, and operates life science properties in San Diego, Boston, San Francisco, and the Golden Triangle in the United Kingdom. IQHQ has 10 million square feet (929,030 sq m) in development program in those markets.

“We’re moving into the London market,” Murphy told the crowd. “Believe it or not, it’s a whole different language even though they speak English, but it’s hard to find American developers there. Our audience being life science really likes to have a familiar label to work with in all of the markets, which is why we’re there.”

No Road Map

Murphy exudes confidence and that has served her well. However, working in commercial real estate was not her goal. In fact, she says there was no original plan.

“I moved here, had $8,000 to my name,” Murphy recalls. “I had a basic business degree, and I didn’t know anybody here. I just knew Wisconsin wasn’t going to work for me long-term.”

After graduating from college, she packed up a U-Haul. Then, she decided to head West. “The joke in my family was I had to stop when I hit the ocean, which was sort of as much planning as I put into it,” Murphy says.

She landed in San Diego and found a job at a marketing firm, but described her coworkers at that firm as being more introverted, often surfing for two hours at lunchtime, and her social life boring.

Finding Real Estate

Having put herself through college bartending, she decided to resume that on the side. Murphy worked eight hours at her marketing job, then changed clothes in her car and headed straight to bartending. It was through bartending that she met John Frager, now an executive managing director at CBRE, who was running a small brokerage shop. After seeing her “assertively” handle some brokers in the bar one evening, Murphy says he struck up a conversation.

“He was like, ‘What do you do for a living? What are you doing here? You really ought to consider commercial real estate,’” Murphy says. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m making a lot of money with what I’m doing.’ It wasn’t on my radar at all, but true story. John Frager gave me his card and was like, ‘You ought to call me,’ and that’s the beginning.”

Murphy began working in marketing and became a broker at Grubb & Ellis-BRE Commercial. She also participated in Frager’s Leadership Training Group program. It consisted of reading stacks of books he recommended, making presentations to peers, meeting with life coaches, and learning to identify different skill sets. It also included Taekwondo with male colleagues, most of whom were at least six feet tall, she explained to moderator, Ellen Klasson, chair of the WLI Executive Committee at the Urban Land Institute.

“I can remember beating a couple of very proven brokers a lot bigger than me, and it was mortifying for them but to get in the ring for me was the hard part,” Murphy says. Once you were in there, that competitive urge kind of takes over. It did teach me a lot.”

She plans to build something similar to groom young talent. Murphy also previously ran leasing for BioMed Realty and was executive vice president of life science at Kilroy Realty Corp.

Taking a Risk

“Once I did what I said I was going to do for the board there, I left,” Murphy says. “I spent 60 to 90 days kind of thinking about what I was going to do, and one of my first calls was Alan [Gold] and John [Bonanno], and here we are.” Gold and Bonanno, who both worked at BioMed in the past, are now part of the executive team at IQHQ.

She said her stay-at-home husband wondered whether she had lost her mind. While she knew it was risky and had a mortgage to consider, she made the tough decision.

“It was terrifying, but it did teach me some very important things that have sustained throughout my career, which is: you can only eat what you kill, and you only focus on the deals that you know are going to turn over or convert,” Murphy says.

She also believes in encouraging women not to beat themselves up. This is especially true when focusing on their careers.

“The gift I’m trying to give women is avoid all the crap I’ve dealt with, which is, if I’m at home, I feel guilty I’m not at work,” Murphy says. “When I’m at work, I feel guilty I’m not at home, and that ping-pong game, unfortunately, I have not mastered. I get better at it. I give myself a little bit more leeway.”

Murphy points out the good news is a shift is occurring with more women in the workplace. However, her philosophy is that everyone at work should surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.

“They’re good at things, you are good at things,” Murphy says. “If you can admit where you stop and someone else starts, you’re a lot more productive.”

In 2022, ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary. Learn more about WLI