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Secrets To Success: How CRE Executive Kate Waggoner Forged Her Own Career Path

In this month’s executive Q&A, Jana Turner, a CRE veteran passionate about creating meaningful change for women, and principal at RETS Associates (RETS), a national real estate recruiting firm, connects with Kate Waggoner, a CRE operations leader with nearly 15 years of industry experience. As one of RETS’ recently placed female executives, the two discuss Kate’s new role as chief operations officer at CRE energy advisory firm Energy Real Estate Solutions (ERES), how her interest in CRE began as a child, and career advice for women and young professionals in CRE.

Jana Turner: How did you get started in the commercial real estate industry, and what are some of your secrets to success?

Kate Waggoner: My father worked in commercial real estate, and growing up we spent many weekends touring development sites together—so I had a lot of exposure from a young age. It’s an incredible, dynamic, challenging and rewarding industry to work in—from changes in local and global economies, cross-border capital flows, social-demographic shifts and technology innovation. All of these factors have major implications for our industry, clients and product types. In order to have success, you have to be a daily student by continuously observing and learning about what is happening in all market sectors and geographies.

JT: I couldn’t agree more. So, you recently accepted the position of chief operating officer at ERES. Can you share how you found and secured this opportunity?

KW: I was contacted by Jessica McNaughton, the recruiting director at RETS, who introduced me to the opportunity at ERES. I was excited about this role from the outset and knew it would be a great career move. I had worked with the company’s owners in the past, Mike Elliott and Tom Bradley, so I already knew the type of supportive and visionary leaders they were. Our discussions felt more like strategic planning and brainstorming for the future than actual interviews.

JT: Congratulations on the new position, by the way. In making this career move, what was most important to you?

KW: Early in my CRE journey, someone told me that, if you were part of a truly great team a couple of times throughout your career, you were lucky. As I’ve had these experiences before, I was seeking it again. I wanted to work with really good people to accomplish really big things. That sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to find. Also, a couple of years ago I completed a post-graduate program at Stanford on Corporate Innovation. Ever since studying the start-up mentality, I wanted to take my Fortune 500 experience to an entrepreneurial environment. After three months at ERES, I am having a lot of fun doing just that.

JT: Tell me about your role and responsibilities as ERES’ COO.

KW: It’s an incredibly exciting time to be at ERES. The company has been very successful, and we’re expanding all of our business line activity. We recently even opened an office in Argentina! I see my role as our company’s “integrator” driving results for our business, supporting all of our employees, identifying opportunities for innovation and ensuring we are delivering excellent outcomes for our clients in everything that we do, and everywhere that we do it.

JT: What are your goals with this position, and how do you hope to accomplish them?

KW: My initial focus is to create the operational infrastructure needed to support the rapid growth we’re experiencing. Finding great talent is also a top priority. We have a strong culture at ERES, and I hope to help expand upon that by providing the leadership and management necessary to ensure we also have the best resources, training and systems in place. Another one of my priorities is to ensure the execution of our key strategic initiatives. It’s my job to help marry strategy with execution.

JT: CRE is known nationally as a male-dominated industry. As a successful woman in the field, what does career support look like for you?

KW: I’ve been in CRE for 15 years and have had the full spectrum of experiences as a woman in this industry. At the one end, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had some great mentors and career support along the way, and this now includes my boss and our CEO at ERES. When I worked at CBRE, Ray Pittman and Tim Swan were two of the most important people helping me shape and advance my career. Now that I’m further along, I love being a mentor to young women. They give me a lot of inspiration.

JT: What advice do you have for young CRE professionals?

KW: When making any career decision, the person or team you are going to work for is more important than any title or compensation package. Make sure that you are choosing to work for good people with strong ethics and a true belief in and understanding of inclusive leadership. Don’t work for someone with a known reputation for a lack of these qualities. It makes all the difference.

JT: That’s great advice. Is there anything else you would like women or other CRE professionals to know or remember?

KW: There’s no substitute for hard work. Also, be very intentional about the reputation you’re cultivating. For me, I want to be known as an effective and empathetic leader and teammate. Beyond that, my two big pieces of advice are: don’t be afraid to make mistakes and volunteer for projects far outside your job description. These two actions will enable you to learn and grow much more quickly, both personally and professionally.

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