ADVANTAGE BUILDER: BETH HALVORSEN
Early in her career in real estate Beth Halvorsen found herself leading a contentious meeting of professionals hired to turn an old savings and loan building in Portland into a multi-tenant office building.
Beth, who worked for the Property management company responsible for coordination of the renovation and repositioning on behalf of the owner was surrounded by architects, designers, contractors and engineers, (all men) arguing about change orders, costs and deadlines. “They needed decisions to be made to set direction for the entire group, recognizing that there were a lot of differing opinions in the room” Beth recalled. “I’m a firm believer that every challenge has a solution. I didn’t have the experience most of the people in the room had, but I wasn’t afraid to ask questions - so I kept asking questions, kept challenging assumptions until we found a solution and it became clear what needed to be done. It felt like I was being a roadblock and they were not happy with my approach.”
But after the meeting, the President of the management company, who had been observing from the back of the room, met with her. “He said, ‘Don’t let them wear you down. It’s okay to push back and to keep asking the tough questions. I didn’t hire you to win a popularity contest, I hired you because you get things done.’ It was a pivotal point in my career. I felt like someone had my back. I felt empowered.”
At the end of the day, the repositioning was a success, the project finished on time and on budget, and won a number of awards. Beth learned she could “go way out on a limb, take big risks and really push for excellence,” she said, and she learned the value of mentors.
Beth still drives for excellence in her role as the Managing Director for Asset Services, responsible for the Seattle and Portland markets. She supervises a portfolio of over 47 million square feet of institutionally owned office, industrial, retail and medical office assets and manages more than 300 people, including property managers, engineers and administrators.
“Our clients set a high bar and the industry expects exceptional results from our managers,” she said. “My job is to hire the best people and deploy CBRE’s culture and platform to ensure the real estate investments meet and exceed our clients’ objectives. I like strategizing and solving complex problems. There may be multiple solutions to every problem, but people who do well enjoy the diversity of the responsibilities, and have the clarity and ability to take a position on one strategy and see that across the finish line.”
“Surrounding myself with smart people and encouraging them to contribute their greatest strengths to their fullest potential is very rewarding.”
That might mean renovating a building, repositioning an asset, completing complex budgets and monthly financials, or helping a tenant with a problem. “I’m always looking for problem-solvers who are analytical, customer service-oriented and enjoy big challenges, and I enjoy mentoring emerging professionals in our industry” Beth continued. “Surrounding myself with smart people and encouraging them to contribute their greatest strengths to their fullest potential is very rewarding – but you have to be willing to work hard and deliver.”
Beth grew up the third of four children in a small town in central Oregon, known for ranching, farming and the timber industry. “My dad loved to hunt and fish, she said, I think there were more pictures of the catch of the day in our photo albums than there were of us kids,” she said with a laugh, “It was a pretty simple life - but my dad had a small business, and we all worked for him after school to make money. We learned how to work hard, and we learned how to ride dirt bikes and to hunt and fish. We’d get on bicycles and go where ever we wanted. We were doing stuff we shouldn’t have been doing, but we all survived.”
Beth’s parents didn’t go to college, and to pay for tuition to go to a community college, she planned to work “There were kids applying to schools like West Point and Stanford, which was way beyond my family upbringing,” she said.
A counselor encouraged Beth to apply to four-year private universities, and helped her with financial aid paperwork and filling out applications. “I’ll never forget him – he didn’t need to, but he changed my life”.
Lewis and Clark College accepted Beth and offered financial aid. “I always considered that education like the Willie Wonka Golden Ticket,” she said. “There were plenty of obstacles, but I was so excited to be there I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.” She became the first in her family to get a college degree, earning a bachelor’s in communications.
Needing a job right out of college to make ends meet, Beth signed on with a job agency that placed her at the front desk of a small commercial real estate firm. “I didn’t know what the industry was all about, but two women ran the property management group and were my early mentors – they said, ‘You’d be really good at this and we’re going to help you learn it,’” she said.
“My mentors put me in roles of responsibility and I showed them I could deliver. They gave me a lot of really great advice and they opened doors.”
With their encouragement, she earned her real estate license, eventually going on to earn her CPM, and her CCIM and moved up quickly in the business. “My mentors put me in roles of responsibility and I showed them I could deliver,” she said. “They gave me a lot of really great advice and they opened doors.”
During her time in Portland, Beth had a tragic loss of her husband, catapulting her to another phase of life, and changing her perspective. Several years later on a trip to Boston for a conference, an old friend set her up on a blind date. They hit it off and began dating long distance.
“Then 9/11 happened and travel was halted,” Beth recalled. “When we finally got to see each other again, we decided I would move to Boston and we would get married”. Beth took a risk, quit her job, and moved to Boston.
“I was much more open to the idea of ‘what do I have to lose?’ because I’d already been through loss,” she said. “Anytime you suffer an unexpected loss, it cannot help but change your perspective, and you have a responsibility to honor what you’ve learned.”
Eventually Beth took a role in the occupier environment, working on an outsourced account for Fidelity Corporate Real Estate. “It was a great opportunity to take what I’d learned and apply it to the owner side of our business.” She also started their family and learned what it was like to be a working mother of three small kids. She moved on to an institutional investment company as an Asset Manager, running a 7-million-square-foot real estate portfolio in 6 markets. When her husband’s company was acquired by a Seattle firm, the family relocated, “back to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to family and raise our children”, and she joined CBRE. In 2015, she was named Market Leader of the Year for Asset Services and in 2016 received a Top Talent Award.
VALUE IN AUTHENTICITY
Beth now lives in the Seattle area with her husband, Patrick and three middle-school aged children. She is active as a Regional Field Delegate for the CBRE Women’s Network, is part of the IMPACT2 program with CBRE. She recently served on the local BOMA Board of Directors and is also on the Board of Directors for the Bellevue LifeSpring, a local charity serving children in the community who fall in the gap between public assistance and government funded resources for food, clothing and education.
“My message is you work hard, do a good job so you can be counted on, find mentors, ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to take a risk, even if that means reinventing yourself a couple of times.”
“I don’t mind sharing my story and I enjoy mentoring others. Sometimes people think the path to success is really glamorous or that there is career “nirvana”,” she said. “My message is you work hard, do a good job so you can be counted on, find mentors, ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to take a risk, even if that means reinventing yourself a couple of times.”
Most importantly, be authentic. “I spent a lot of my career trying to be someone I thought I should be, rather than myself. I want to be known as someone who is transparent and open and willing to be vulnerable, and show people it’s okay to be yourself. I love leading teams toward solutions and bringing people together,” she said. “CBRE’s RISE values really resonate with me: Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. You can solve every problem if you’re working with those values in mind.”
As a woman with 30 years of experience in the industry, Beth feels a deep social and personal responsibility to be a custodian of her current role and reach down to lift up, to be approachable, transparent and vulnerable to show young women that they can persevere.
“CBRE’s RISE values really resonate with me: Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. You can solve every problem if you’re working with those values in mind.”
“Your personal brand is what you carry with you throughout your career, it is how you are identified. What you endure and survive can shape you but how you respond and how you deliver on your commitments is what can propel you to leadership and growth,” she said.
“I am teaching my children that they have a responsibility to be kind. And I tell those that I can mentor to protect their personal brand and when the time comes, be kind, reach down to lift up those that are in your care and give back."