by Dan Rafter
Lynn Schenck, managing director at the St. Louis office of JLL, recently announced her upcoming retirement. Schenck has spent more than 38 years in commercial real estate, and started her career during a time in which few women worked in commercial brokerage. Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with Schenck about her long career and the plans she’s made for her retirement life.
Midwest Real Estate News: What led you to a career in commercial real estate?
Lynn Schenck: I was first interested in investing in multifamily. I started my career by selling small apartment buildings. That is what first interested me. I was working with a lot of investors, but I wanted more of a Monday-through-Friday type of job. That is why I made the transition from multifamily to commercial real estate in general.
MREN: What has kept you in the business for so long?
Schenck: Every day you face something different. I also love the chase of tracking down business. I love the strategy involved in negotiations. And I really love the thrill of closing a deal for a client.
MREN: Commercial real estate is still mostly a male-dominated field. But when you started, this disparity was even greater. What was it like being a woman in commercial real estate back then?
Schenck: That was very challenging. I remember there was a gentleman in this business who called the first broker who hired me. He told my broker that he was making a big mistake because women can’t succeed in this business. It was openly discussed back then whether hiring a female broker was a mistake. Those are conversations that, fortunately, we no longer have today.
MREN: How did you fight against that kind of thinking?
Schenck: I never took the attitude that I was an outsider. I always took the attitude that I belonged in this business as much as anyone. And then I just worked hard for my clients. I grew up in a household of three older brothers. I was used to being the girl among all the boys.
MREN: Things have obviously changed since you started your career. But what kind of challenges do women still face in commercial real estate?
Schenck: It can still be difficult for women because this business requires so much networking. Sometimes, entertaining clients is more difficult for women than it is for men. I’ve always said that I never will be able to be in that locker room on a Saturday morning with the guys in the club. From that perspective, it is different for women in this business. But the business has changed in so many positive ways since I started. Women have a better opportunity than they did when I first started. There are more women in the business, and more of them are in leadership roles. The sourcing of our business is different today, too. So many of our major corporations have preferred service providers. Decisions are not necessarily made on the local level.
MREN: What steps have you taken during your career to remain so successful for so long?
Schenck: Being a real estate broker is not rocket science. A lot of your success is about building trust and gaining the confidence of your clients. You have to become a market expert so that you can advise your clients appropriately. Secondly, you have to do what you say you are going to do. You communicate any problems that might arise as soon as you find out about them. It’s all about communication, just like so much of life.
MREN: What traits do you need to succeed in this business?
Schenck: You have to be outgoing. You have to be inquisitive. You have to be sincere and respectful.
MREN: What will you miss most about this business?
Schenck: The people. I will miss both my colleagues and my clients. I really have looked forward to going to work every day.
MREN: Why is now the right time to retire?
Schenck: That is a good question. I have seen a lot of real estate brokers work beyond their point of relevancy. My husband and I are blessed that we have the financial capability to retire and pursue a lot of our other interests that we have. It is time for the next chapter in my life. There is more to Lynn Schenck than Lynn Schenck the real estate broker.
MREN: What are your plans for retirement?
Schenck: We travel quite a bit, so we will continue to do that. I am teaching yoga and snow skiing, too. I’m also involved in several philanthropic organizations.
MREN: When you look back at your career, what are some of the accomplishments of which you are most proud?
Schenck: There are a couple of things. One would be helping to start the first CREW chapter in St. Louis. Being the first female president of SIOR is another big accomplishment. I’m proud that I became a partner in the firm that I was with prior to JLL. The capstone was being able to head up the JLL office in St. Louis and grow that office. This office has more than tripled in size in the eight years since I’ve been here.
MREN: What advice would you give to younger people just starting their CRE careers?
Schenck: It’s all about honesty and reliability. Don’t make promises that you can’t fulfill. The other thing that is so important is perseverance. This is not an easy business to get into. You have to learn from every transaction. When I started, no matter how small the deal was, I treated it with respect. Some of those little deals turned into big deals later in my career. Also, treat your competitors with respect. You will collaborate with them on a daily basis.