Eva Stevens considers herself a teacher at heart.
That’s fortunate: As the new executive vice president and chief operating officer of Minneapolis-based United Properties, Stevens will have plenty of opportunities to teach.
That suits this commercial real estate veteran well. Stevens said one of her most important goals at United Properties is to develop the next generation of leaders at the development company, a task that she’ll rely on her teaching skills to accomplish.
“It gives me pleasure to see other people begin to more thoroughly understand what they are doing in this business,” Stevens said. “I like that part of my job. I like mapping out a path for the people working here, to help people understand where their strengths are, to help them sort out how to succeed.”
This approach — mentoring others — has been a successful one for Stevens, helping her to build a successful career in the competitive world of commercial real estate. She has worked at United Properties alone for 14 years, previously serving as executive vice president of asset management for the company.
When Paul Hawkins, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Properties, announced that he would retire in June, Stevens became an obvious choice for someone who could take on more responsibilities at the company.
United Properties also promoted Eric Skalland, who is taking over the role of vice president and chief accounting officer at the company.
The importance of teaching
Stevens is committed to United Properties, of course. But she also devotes time to the commercial real estate industry as a whole. She is an active member of NAIOP, for instance, serving with the association’s developing leader mentorship program.
She meets monthly with young commercial real estate professionals to discuss a wide range of issues, everything from how new brokers can gain confidence to the challenges of gaining clients to the issues that women face in an industry that is still dominated by men.
During these meetings, Stevens again relies on her teaching and mentoring skills.
“I never use language that insinuates that someone has made a mistake,” Stevens said. “I prefer using language that indicates we are having a learning experience. My team is a safe place. We’re welcome to try new ideas, to stretch our understanding of a situation. That makes us stronger.”
Stevens, of course, tackled many of the same challenges that the young pros she mentors once faced. When she first entered the commercial real estate industry, there were not many women in the profession, especially in investment real estate.
Stevens rarely saw women at industry functions, either.
She didn’t let this slow her, though. Instead, Stevens and her fellow female real estate pros in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region formed their own networking group. The group was a small one, with about 10 members. But these members supported each other and became each other’s mentors.
Most impressive? The members still meet on a monthly basis. Stevens has watched these peers change jobs, get married, get divorced, have children and celebrate the arrival of grandchildren.
“I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys. It never occurred to me that as a woman I didn’t belong in real estate,” Stevens said. “Back then, the women I knew in this business created our own mechanisms for success. We didn’t let being women matter. We didn’t let that become barriers to us.”
A career that is also a passion
Stevens didn’t initially plan a career in real estate. She graduated college with a degree in accounting and went to work as an entry-level auditor. But once there, she quickly migrated to the company’s real estate team.
“I don’t know if it was the real estate that attracted me or the fact that the leader of that team was such a high-energy, inspiring person,” Stevens said. “But there was something about real estate that grabbed me. I discovered that I really enjoyed working in real estate.”
It helped that one of the first real estate projects on which Stevens worked was helping to build the financial model to facilitate the bond sale that helped make Minneapolis’ Metropolitan Stadium – former home of the Minnesota Twins – a reality.
That stadium, of course, is now being demolished for a more modern, high-tech sports stadium in Minneapolis. But Stevens gained a taste for using her number skills for forecasting the future instead of analyzing what has already happened.
“Each piece of real estate to me is like running a small business,” Stevens said. “That is very appealing to me. So I’ve stayed on that path over the course of my entire career. I’ve always wanted to do something with numbers, real estate and investment. That has always been interesting to me.”
When she looks back at her career so far, Stevens points to several traits that have helped her succeed. She has a natural interest in understanding how things work, and the same natural type of interest in teaching.
Just as importantly, Stevens seeks new challenges. In commercial real estate, new challenges are always waiting.
“I think that the most important thing for me is always being open to learning something new,” Stevens said. “There is always something changing in this industry. A building is aging. Tenants are leaving. Something is always happening. Being open to that learning has been really beneficial to me.”
Stevens also understands the importance of balance. When she’s not working, Stevens prefers to spend time with her spouse of 38 years and her family. She’s active, too, a fan of everything from hiking to snow-shoeing.
Then there’s her horse. Stevens spends plenty of time at her barn with her horse to relax and ease the stresses that sometimes come with a career in commercial real estate.
“At the end of the day, I look forward to the quiet time,” Stevens said. “You need that time with your spouse and your family. That’s what it’s all about.”