Development of women leaders in the real estate business was the theme at the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) and Larson Leadership Initiative Luncheon during the 2019 ULI Spring Meeting in Nashville. Bethany Logan Ropa, managing director at UBS Investment Bank, interviewed Karen Hutton, president and CEO of Hutton, a diversified real estate development and construction firm based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Hutton talked about lessons learned while working for her father, her first redevelopment project (a vacant Walmart), and ways her experience playing sports taught her to stay tough in a male-dominated profession. She noted that earlier in her career, “mentorship was the last thing I did, and it should have been the first thing I did. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Mentorship in any part of life is really key. I now try to listen a lot and take a lot of notes.”

She advised attendees to believe in themselves. “You have to find your place, figure out what you want to accomplish,” she said. “You also have to be able to laugh at yourself and be your own best advocate. If women do that, it shows your ability to be assertive in the right way. The more we encourage that, the better off we’ll all be.”

Her enthusiasm for the development of not only properties, but also people, was evident as she encouraged young women to be strong and confident and not to temper their assertiveness.

“At Hutton, we’re internally growing women,” she said. “We’re taking risks with women and developing their skills. The gap in the development industry is a huge opportunity for women to jump in and share their knowledge and opinions. Women are willing to juggle and handle a lot more stress than the guys are, I’ve found. I hope to encourage them to take a leap and become leaders in the real estate industry.”

The discussion was moderated by Kelly Nagel, incoming WLI chair and regional vice president of development at Aimco. “The idea behind this lunch is that we get a fantastic, inspiring woman to give us some nuggets of wisdom,” said Nagel. Speakers were introduced by the first person to have chaired WLI, Kathleen Carey, who is community impact leader at Gensler, the luncheon’s sponsor.

Eric Larson, a ULI trustee and ULI Foundation governor, noted, “I think WLI is one of the best examples of ULI thinking differently.”