Margaret Caldwell recently took three women on the cusp of their careers to dinner. One of the young women, fresh from graduation at UC Berkeley, asked Caldwell what the most important part of her career has been. Her answer?
“While I could talk about all of the successes and deals I’ve closed in the last 22 years – which total around $17 billion – the most important time in my career was the first five years,” notes Caldwell, managing director and partner at Stan Johnson Company in Atlanta who specializes in the sales of multi-tenant retail shopping centers. “That’s when I learned the skills I needed to be successful.”
Caldwell began her career as a financial analyst at Legg Mason in Washington, DC, before being recruited at age 25 to be a producer in the firm’s Charlotte office. She remembers being told on her first day that she’d be responsible for generating her own production with no support.
“I felt like I had been dropped in the deep end without water wings,” she says. But in hindsight, “this was one of the best learning experiences ever for someone with my personality. The word ‘no’ from potential clients made me work harder.”
The experience taught Caldwell to cold call, network and establish the foundational relationships that would be crucial to her later successes at firms like Binswanger, Cushman & Wakefield, JLL and now Stan Johnson Company, where she’s been for almost three years.
Caldwell acknowledges that “every day in this business is a challenge,” but says her ability to solve problems quickly and on her feet, coupled with strong math and writing skills, have helped her stand out.
“When I started in this business, for many years there were very few women,” she says. “I have enjoyed training other women on my team about the business, and now a good number of my clients are women. The numbers of women in commercial real estate are significantly increasing – and the proof was all of the successful women in the room in Deer Valley at the Women of Influence conference.”
Her advice for young professionals starting off on their commercial real estate career is direct and straightforward: build on your skills. And if you don’t have a skill, “you need to go get it or surround yourself with a good team,” she says, adding that ultimately, success comes from within.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would pick the same career path,” Caldwell says.
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