For many women-owned commercial real estate firms, becoming certified as a Women Business Enterprise, or WBE, can open doors to Fortune 500 companies that might otherwise be locked.
Lynn Drake, owner of Compass Commercial LLC/ITRA Global, a firm that represents only tenants and users of commercial real estate, recently discussed the benefits of attaining WBE certification and its importance to women-owned real estate businesses.
Q. Why did you decide to seek WBE certification?
A: There is an organization in Detroit called the Center for Economic and Empowerment Development, or CEED. When I was in a regular brokerage house, I would go to their meetings because I’m a female and CEED has business with an average revenue of $11 million. So it’s a great place to network to pick up business. When I decided to open my own firm, I was going to join because I met a lot of great people.
Certain corporations would come to the CEED meetings and you would get interviews. So I thought if I got my certification, then I could go to what we call the “match-making sessions” and I can meet these corporations that are looking to hire minority businesses. That was why I initially went and got my certification.
Also, President Obama changed the law in the first quarter of last year that reinstated women as a minority because we have not been a minority for many years. Now there are even more corporations interested because we are a certified minority. Most Fortune 500 companies have a minority diversity department, and it is their job to find minorities.
The government also came out with another certification last year. It’s called Women Owned Small Business. What happened in real estate was that about 40 percent of the brokerage houses were owned by women and 60 percent were male, which would not be a big deal, but when they looked into the revenue, the men were making 80 percent of the revenue and the women were making 20 percent. That got the government’s attention, so the government said if you’re going to do any federal work, you need to have 5 percent of your business with a firm that is certified.
Q. What is the process for becoming certified?
A: By going to http://www.wbe.org , they’ll send you to a person in a certain region because it’s different across the country. There is a three-page analysis form. You have to give financials, proof of ownership because you have to be 51 percent female owned and all of the legal documents for your business. Then all of that goes to a committee, and they review all of the documents to make sure all of the information is correct. Once they’ve reviewed that, they assign a person from that committee to come out and interview on-site because they want to make sure that you’re really the president of the company and not just some figurehead that was stuck in there to get these contracts. Once you’re certified, you have to resubmit your corporate papers and financials every year.
Q. How has the certification benefited your real estate business?
A: For us last year, (certification) meant that I had invitations to meet with 30 Fortune 500s. I had been a broker for years, and getting appointments like those are not appointments that I could just call up and get. There was a national meeting in Las Vegas last year, and I had over 30 invitations to meet with these large corporations. Some of it was business that I wasn’t interested in, so I turned it down. Some people think I’m nuts, but we only do tenant representation. We do consulting and we do office, industrial and land.
Wal-Mart asked us to come and meet with them, but we don’t do retail. I’m not an expert in retail, and I don’t want to sell myself as an expert in something that I’m not. So we have had some conference calls and we’ve been told we’ve won some major business from that conference last year.
All (certification) does is open a door. We still have to sell ourselves. We still have to be the best, and we think we are.
Q. What advice do you have for those who want to become certified?
A: If you’re 51 percent female-owned, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t. My advice would be, find a local organization, fill out the paperwork, and then before you send your paperwork in, ask to meet with somebody on the committee to review your paperwork. It will speed the process up, and once somebody has reviewed the paperwork informally, send it in. It’s going to take somebody anywhere from four to six hours to gather the paperwork, and some people will get frustrated, but where can you walk in and get appointments with these Fortune 500s.