Lizanne Galbreath, who serves as managing director of Galbreath & Company, spoke recently at a ULI leadership event in Columbus. Her grandfather, John W. Galbreath, founded the John W. Galbreath Company in 1921, which eventually became one of the largest development companies in the United States, and was also a founding member of ULI.
During a Voices of Leadership series lunch program, Galbreath shared her personal philosophies, inspirations, best practices, and life lessons before sitting for a question-and-answer session moderated by Don M. Casto III, partner of CASTO, a Columbus-based real estate services firm.
“I am here today to tell a little bit of my story but also to support ULI, which has been a very important part of my real estate career,” Galbreath said. “It’s an amazing organization that has provided me with very important mentors—and it’s fun now to be in a position to be able to give back.”
She describes real estate and ULI as two of her four pillars, alongside family and the city of Columbus. Before it became such an important part of her life, Galbreath said she appreciated the fact that she was not pressured to go into real estate—a fact that shaped her career by way of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was lucky growing up with no expectations,” she said. “And that’s a big reason why I ended up going to business school is I felt like I needed to gain credibility within the company—to get your own self-confidence, to get your own sense of worth and credibility, and then you bring something to the table when you join your family company.”
Galbreath shared memories of working alongside her father, Daniel Galbreath.
“On the good days, it was wonderful working with my dad—it was fun, it was exciting—and on the tough days I got up and left a meeting and had to walk around the office building a couple times,” she recalled. “We were in conflict several times over what I thought was right and what he thought was right. To me, there’s nothing more important than family—there were times when I didn’t agree with his business decision, but I let it go.”
She was working alongside her father when the recession of the early 1990s came along and left an oversupply of real estate in many American cities. Many developers didn’t make it through, Galbreath recalled, and Galbreath & Company was in a tough spot.
“It was a really, really tough time, in the industry, and also personally for our family,” she told the audience. “I look back on that and I learned so much from that experience, seeing my dad go through a time that was terrifying—it was a time unlike any other in the real estate business.”
The mid-1990s brought on yet more challenges. Her father found out that he had cancer and passed away in 1995, when Galbreath was raising a seven-year-old and a four-year-old.
“I was expecting another 20 years of working with him,” she said.
The Galbreath Company, which had grown to become the 15th-largest property management services company in the United States, needed additional capital and began searching for an investment or a merger, which Ms. Galbreath called a “really interesting process.”
In 1997, Galbreath, then chairman and CEO of the Galbreath Company, oversaw a merger with LaSalle Partners of Chicago.
“It turned out to be a spectacular deal for us,” she recalled. “We filled in holes they didn’t have.”
She stayed on for three years before realizing she was more entrepreneurial than she thought, and decided to move on. Around that time she had her third son.
“It also gave me a chance to kind of pause in my career, to raise family,” she said. “But I knew I wanted to stay involved in the industry.”
Galbreath, speaking to a theme of women in real estate, shared a favorite “war story” with the audience involving a lesson in confidence.
In the 1990s, she was working on a high-profile project in New York. Five minutes into one meeting, Barbara Corcoran, the longtime New York City real estate broker and now a TV personality and entrepreneur, who also was involved in the deal, opened the door. The meeting briefly came to a halt—but not because she was rudely interrupting.
“She walked in with such confidence,” Galbreath said. “The meeting went on and that was the end of it. She walked in with such confidence and just owned the room.”
Today, Galbreath finds herself in a career stage where she is able to take time to give back. She serves on the executive committee of ULI and on the boards of Paramount Group, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Rare, the Nature Conservancy/MT, as well as the President’s Leadership Council at Dartmouth College.
She even owns a rodeo bull named Viper.
“You’ve got to have fun in life,” Galbreath told the audience. “If you work really hard and have the opportunity to give back, you’ve got to have some fun along the way.”
Galbreath noted that ULI plays a critical role in the movement to have women in leadership positions. In 2012, only 13 percent of district councils were chaired by women, she said. By 2019, that figure had risen to 35 percent.
“One of the things WLI [Women’s Leadership Initiative] does is increase the visibility so that there’s no excuses anymore about, ‘We can’t find women on panels,’” she said. “It’s our responsibility now as the old people in the room to go and do what’s right, and to find women, and to populate and to get diversity—because diversity around the table makes the table a more interesting table.”
Galbreath identified Jim Klingbeil, chairman and CEO of Klingbeil Capital Management and another ULI leader, as a key mentor in her life.
“I challenge the men in the room to help and support and mentor—and women mentor each other,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have mentors help me get here.”