March 6, 2020
Authority Magazine’s “Women Leaders Of Real Estate” With Jessica Miller Essl
Jason Hartman of Authority Magazine recently interviewed Jessica Miller Essl as a part of his series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry:
“Do not ask for a seat at the table. Rather, prove why you need to be there. Generally, in real estate, colleagues, your boss, or other stakeholders will not make room for you. There have been many times where I have seen my counterparts get upset with a promotion they didn’t get or a raise they wanted or an assignment someone else was chosen for. Prove why you deserve that, focus on that, and eventually, if you keep getting passed up, you are at the wrong company.”– Jessica Miller Essl
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Miller Essl.
Jessica is the co-president of M2G Ventures, a commercial real estate investment, development, and consulting company based in Fort Worth, Texas. Guided by the leadership of Jessica and her partner, Susan Gruppi, the fast-growing company carefully invests in distinctive, mixed-use, and industrial development projects primarily located in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
Jessica was named Top 40 under 40 by the Fort Worth Business Press for 2017. She also serves on the Board for the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth, the Board for the TCU M.J. Neeley Entrepreneurial School, the Small Development Council for Urban Land Institute, and the UT Southwestern Greater Fort Worth Strategy Advisory Committee.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
Susan and I — we are identical twins — grew up in an entrepreneurial household where our parents did real estate. They worked from home primarily, mom really focusing on the look and dad really focusing on the deal. They involved us five children in pretty much every decision they made so we grew up from a young age speaking about business and talking about real estate.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I can’t really think of anything particularly amusing, but I can think of several instances where I came ready to attack a negotiation and my former boss would tell me, “Jessica, put the knife on the table.” That stuck with me. I was so eager to get to a result, and still am, that sometimes you need to be reminded that time and patience is usually on your side in a negotiation.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are fortunate enough to be working on several projects right now that are particularly exciting. The first is a legacy project, the redevelopment of the Fort Worth Stockyards with Majestic and the Hickman Company. It is a $200M redevelopment of the 180,000 SF former horse and mule barns. We are filling it with legacy brands, such as Lucchese, Stetson, King Ranch Saddle and some of the best entertainment and chef driven restaurants I’ve seen in a collection. The project will also house the national headquarters for American Paint Horse Association and Simpli.fi, a 77,000 SF digital advertising company, and a 220 room Autograph Collection hotel, the Hotel Drover. It’s truly one of a kind in this world and I can’t wait to see how people interact with it.
The other thing we are particularly excited about is growing our team at M2G. We have had exponential growth since we started our company in late 2014, and while that can be challenging, it has also put us in a spot to hire really talented people to help mold the future of our company.
If I had to pick one more, I would say it would be our current partnership with UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Moncrief Cancer Institute, where we are raising $1M over three years to bring the Center for Depression Research & Clinical Care to Tarrant County. We are particularly passionate about mental health and changing the system in which people and their families are currently treated, which starts with better understanding the issue.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our mission is to inspire evolution through impact and innovation. We look at challenges differently than others: we think quick change is what breeds a space where a lot of people may miss an opportunity, but we see it and we take it on. We believe everything can be innovated. Take our project in north Fort Worth, a 640,000 SF ground up light industrial project. Some people would say, “why are you getting into such a traditional part of the real estate sector?” To us, we are focused on getting goods and services to consumers, and industrial real estate is a major part of that. We see tweaks to the business model that will allow the consumer and retailer or wholesaler to play in the same physical space. Innovation does not only belong in some conversations; you can apply the principle to everything.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say Susan and I have been particularly lucky in having great mentors. We listened and questioned them a lot and were fortunate to have people who were willing to teach two very inquisitive pupils. It started with our parents, who we owe the foundation of our journey to. They taught us from a very young age that you can do or achieve whatever you set your mind to, so long as you are willing to work hard for it. I can without a doubt say that our work ethic is a crucial piece to our success today. Each place Susan or I worked, we always sought out a mentor. At Trademark, it was the CEO, Terry Montesi. At Open Realty, it was Johnny Siegel. Both of them taught us so many things that I would need a whole page just to tell about that. We were also fortunate to work with brilliant colleagues and direct bosses who never tired of our curiosity and ferocious desire to figure out a different way to do something. It goes without saying, but we are most fortunate to have each other. You have your biggest cheerleader and antagonist along the way with you, telling you, “You can do it! You can do better!”
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
Real estate requires a big time commitment and forward momentum, meaning that you can’t let up, because as soon as you do, there is someone on your heels, male or female, passing you up, doing more deals, developing the next big development. It can be challenging for women who decide to be mothers as well, because that in itself requires you to think about your family and children all the time. I do think there is still an old boys club in real estate, but I see it in on its way out, and it will just take longer to get the balance right. I myself have not had a glass ceiling, but I own my own company. I could see if you were working for someone else, that could happen, if you have to put your children before your career.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
1. Maternity and paternity leave for both parents.
2. A greater blend between family and career. Companies who can embrace onsite child care, flexible summer hours, etc. will create a better environment where employees don’t feel so much friction between home and work life.
3. Transparency in pay between male and female counterparts.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
It is a blessing, but also a challenge: planning and being there for your children and family. I do believe women have an innate desire to be present for their children. That predisposition creates an internal disconnect between leaving for the office or staying home with your sick child. I do know many men who feel that too, but I think women have that feeling more commonly. That feeling forces them to not put their career first sometimes, which trickles down in all things.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
The speed at which it can move is extremely exciting. It is changing drastically before our eyes, which I love predicting. Young people are getting in and figuring it out, which is making for some really incredible consumer-minded innovative developments.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
It’s fragile and no one knows exactly what is going to happen next. What our industry was built on is changing and you have to iterate or you won’t make it. While I personally love that as a challenge, it could be suffocating and you could freeze under the unknown if you aren’t built for it or don’t have an adaptable team. I would pick two things to improve the industry: shocking transparency and predictive analysis applied toward consumer trends and developments. Both of these would remove a lot of decisions based on opinions versus facts and real experiences.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
This is something I work on and struggle with every day. If I had to pick one thing I am working on that I have seen help people thrive is be clear on your expectations, even if it means having hard conversations. People appreciate the insight, and the good ones take it and run with it!
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
1. Career paths are different for everyone. If you want to be a developer, you could start as an analyst, a broker, contractor or an architect.
2. Being in real estate, there is generally no school that prepares you for the career you are about to have. You must have real world application. Every deal is different, which means you are learning every single day. You have to be okay knowing you will not know all the answers, but be adaptable enough to figure them out.
3. Do not ask for a seat at the table. Rather, prove why you need to be there. Generally, in real estate, colleagues, your boss, or other stakeholders will not make room for you. There have been many times where I have seen my counterparts get upset with a promotion they didn’t get or a raise they wanted or an assignment someone else was chosen for. Prove why you deserve that, focus on that, and eventually, if you keep getting passed up, you are at the wrong company.
4. It is equal parts science and art. Take the show Fixer Upper, for example. Do you think they accomplish that aesthetic without a calculated look at the money they have to spend and the outcome they are trying to achieve? Commercial real estate is no different. You have to keep multiple data points in harmony to achieve a successful project.
5. A lot of people get into real estate because they believe it to be mailbox money and not be management intensive. Be careful the kind of real estate you get into, because that is not always the case. Other than triple net (NNN) deals with national companies (which in some cases are becoming riskier than a nimble regional tenant), there is a lot of management that goes into owning real estate.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire a movement where every company wanted to have a social impact in our world. Each company would require that 5% to 10% of their time was focused on the worlds’ issues. I have even bigger dreams of some type of tax incentive structure that would allow this to be a benefit to companies. Think about what could be accomplished if we had all the great minds of the world focused on real world problems during their careers, instead of only in their “free” time or when they retired?
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @M2GVentures or online at www.m2gventures.com.