2013 ULI Annual Report
At ULI, it is not just the buildings, neighborhoods, and cities we develop that inspire us, it is the people and the lives they create...
Anne Morash’s passion for real estate is apparent. Why does she do it? “I like mining the opportunities that real estate offers.” As Senior Vice President, Multi-Residential at Toronto-based GWL Realty Advisors Inc., Anne is currently responsible for the strategic direction and performance of the Multi- Residential division.
She is happy to talk about the role of women in the real estate industry and why she sits on the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) with ULI Toronto and was involved with Toronto Commercial Real Estate Women (TorontoCREW), where she was a founding member. As a woman who has been in the industry for years, Anne is very familiar with questions like, “How did you get to where you are?” “Would you ask my husband that same question?” she answers jokingly.
Anne recalls one interview early in her career (for a fairly senior role) where the recruiter’s first question was “Who looks after your children?” Anne was flabbergasted, but found herself explaining anyway. She understands why people want to know about her live-work balance, but points out that this isn’t just something that women care about . “We work at balancing busy careers with lots of family activity,” says Anne. “Even with three kids, I don’t think I’ve missed an important family or an important work deadline during my career.” Balance can and does exist for Anne, something she cites as one of her greatest accomplishments.
Anne’s commitment to balance and health is also reflected in her position on the Board of Directors at the West Park Healthcare Centre in Etobicoke. Part of her role is to help formulate a strategic direction to maximize value for developing excess land. “This is a great opportunity for me to apply my real estate and development expertise to better the future of healthcare within the GTA.”
One of Anne’s first jobs was working for Halton Region Police as an urban planner. She began her real estate career at Ivanhoe Cambridge in development and leasing capacities; then became Vice President of Development at Cadillac Fairview for 13 years. Prior to joining GWL, she was part of the executive management committee with Primaris REIT, where she created a development team from the ground up.
“The industry has become much more sophisticated across asset classes,” says Anne, attributing this change to the greater level of institutional investment over the last couple of decades which supports a longer-term view. “This investment shift has enabled the industry to become more sophisticated. The focus in real estate has evolved from chasing money to investment, and using funds to create the highest level of value.”
In turn, this sophistication has attracted higher level talent. Many of the asset managers in her group are highly educated, many with an MBA, CA and/or CFA designations. The industry is buoyant, she notes, with most firms able to pick the cream of the crop, thereby impacting the next generation. “Competition is brisk, and the industry attracts a pool of very educated people, however this is also a reflection of the overall job market and reflective of what people have chosen to do for their own professional growth,” says Anne. She believes it is important for new undergrads to consider an additional degree or taking time off for travel. “Delaying your career for a second degree is a good long-term investment.”
When they finally enter the field, young people need to “go beyond just showing up,” she advises. “They need to get involved in the industry, it adds dimension to you professionally.” Anne’s involvement with the Canadian Institute of Planners, for example, brought her exposure early on, and helped her learn about a variety of career opportunities.
Looking at the future of real estate, Anne sees a role for greater creativity, such as improving buildings and urban design. “Clients are driving the demand for more imaginative urban design and a higher level of customer service. For GWL, it is important that these buildings are ‘future proofed’ by being adaptable and offer leading edge amenities.” Again, the industry is focused on value creation for the long-term.
Though she has been lucky at times, Anne has had a logical career, and her moves have been purposeful, with little she would change. However she does wish she had done a stint in the operations of a shopping centre or an office building, to give her more exposure to the operational side of the business before she took her current role.
She credits much of her success to strong bosses, and the opportunity to learn in each stage of her career. She was lucky to have senior staff – admittedly, mostly men — who recognized her potential and enthusiasm and helped open doors. Nowadays, Anne sees a lack of sponsorship as an industry problem. “We need to focus on finding and devoting the appropriate amount of time to properly ‘groom’ the next generation,” she says. “The challenge lies in running a business while ensuring young professionals have the opportunity to grow by providing them with the experience they need to do so. I strongly believe we have the responsibility to nurture those who follow.”
“You can’t be afraid of asking questions, there is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer,” she says to young professionals starting out. She fondly remembers an old boss who would often say “Anne, I’m confused.” He wasn’t really, but by asking her this, he forced her to answer with a greater degree of clarity. “Asking questions at work is vital: it demonstrates interest and, more importantly, you might be surprised at the answer.”