August 19, 2015

Amanda Ventura

AZCREW: CREW Network Pays it Forward

A lot can happen in 15 minutes. Advice can be offered. New appointments saved. Minds can be changed. Coffee can be retrieved between meetings. For many executives, time is priceless.

Time is how many members of AZCREW “pay it forward” these days, through mentorship programs and networking functions. However, AZCREW’s national parent, CREW Network, has been, quite literally, paying it forward since 1998. Awareness and donations are rising among CREW chapters, according to the 2014 CREW Foundation annual report, which illustrated a record-breaking year.

“We’re very proud of our foundation,” says Maureen Anders, the founder of CREW Foundation and its chair in 2004. She is part of a group known as the Women of Vision. Each member has personally given $10,000 to CREW Foundation. Anders has given four times the minimum entry.

“We regrettably find women don’t hear about careers in commercial real estate unless their families or someone they knew (worked in the industry),” says Anders.

Current CREW Foundation President Gail Ayers is also a “woman of vision” and says the scholarship selection committee has nearly 40 chapters represented. Many of the chapters are also donating more to the cause of funding young women’s pursuit of a commercial real estate education.

“The foundation’s role is to ‘pay it forward’ and encourage more women to get involved in the commercial real estate industry,” says Christie Veldhuizen, president-elect and Foundation Champion for AZCREW, and designated broker of operations at DTZ.

AZCREW’s chapter goal for 2015 is to get 50 percent of its membership to donate to CREW Foundation, she says. AZCREW is a silver supporter, meaning it donated between $5,000 and $9,999.

In addition to scholarship opportunities, Ayers says, members sometimes will host CREW Career workshops for young women, where they can learn through a project development simulation about the different roles available in commercial real estate.

You can never make connections too quickly, Anders adds.

“I’ve been a (CREW) member since 1988 and would continue forever,” she says. “My success was the fact that I was so well-connected. Anytime my company needed anything in the country (I could call on CREW). Law enabled me, but mostly CREW.”

Samantha Pinkal, senior pre-development and marketing manager for Weitz, has been a member of AZCREW for two years and chairs the programs committee. She says her career was greatly influenced by female mentors in college, including Jokake’s Rozlyn Lipsey and Caliente Construction’s Lorraine Bergman.

“(It’s valuable) for women, especially young women looking at their career options, to see role models,” says Pinkal, who mentors Arizona State University students and interns at Weitz.

Pinkal, who graduated with a degree in construction management, began her career at Weitz as a project engineer. She said it was through the mentorship of project managers that she realized she wanted to shift into business development.

“They helped me do a lot of personal development coming out of college,” she says. “They really helped guide me to this position that suits me better.”

Pinkal recommends other young professionals also build alliances with senior managers who can see and build upon an individual’s strengths often before she knows what they are.

“Without mentors, you have no light down the path you’re going down,” says Pinkal. “You’re just following this path you’re going down. … They offer you advice, (such as) ‘Here are your strengths and things I recommend you explore,’ rather than learning the hard way.”

When CREW was founded, Anders says, it was to create a solid entity through which members could share, mentor and give back.

“We provided many ways for the women to give back,” Anders says. “They do it anyway, but we wanted to have it more organized in CREW. You can either give to the foundation monetarily or you can become directly involved like UCREW or CREW Careers. … I love helping other women succeed. So … every dollar I have given them was extremely well-spent. … Paying it forward is essential, but I’m still available whenever…if (mentees) need something, they call me. It’s about always being there.”

It’s not hard to sell the executive salary, which, according to CREW’s most recent benchmark study, falls around $175,000. In 2013, more than $120,000 was donated to yield $50,000 in scholarships. CREW has worked with more than 60 scholars, and every graduate has had a job. Many of them end up working after an internship.

“Look at what we can accomplish when we put 10,000 women’s focus in one direction,” Ayers says.

That said, men are the fastest growing sector of CREW. There are currently two male presidents of CREW chapters. Gail even hints that she has bought up a few domain names in case the group becomes more gender neutral.