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On May?8 CREW Pittsburgh Events Director, Jenn Pavlik with DLA+ Architecture & Interior Design, was interviewed regarding how COVID-19 will change the future design of office space.?See the video here.
By: Kelly Kusevich
I want to make clear before I answer the specific questions that I did not start this business. The company was 25 years old when the founder retired and I bought the business.
How did you get started?
I began at CreditVest directly out of college. I knew nothing about commercial real estate, but it sounded interesting.? I’ve always loved understanding how things work and have a very logical mind, so this field was a great fit. Through underwriting we get to see all the details of how a property functions from a financial perspective. Over the years, I worked with a number of different clients and found a niche in underwriting large, complex transactions. In 2014, I became vice president in charge of our private sector clients.? In this role, I discovered that I also really enjoyed teaching others and helping them to succeed.
It was never my intention to own a company, it actually wasn’t even on my radar! However, I believe through the skills gained in my various positions and my natural talents that God had prepared me for exactly this role. In 2016, I was given the opportunity to buy the company and take it forward into a new chapter. The past couple years have been full of transition, but also excitement as we all look forward to what the future holds.
Please explain what CreditVest does.
CreditVest is a third-party underwriting and due diligence provider serving banks, government agencies, and other investors and lenders. CreditVest has worked on commercial real estate transactions all over the United States in all property types. We have been hired to consult on transactions ranging in size from $1 million up to $2 billion.? Typically, these organizations hire CreditVest to do all the detailed heavy lifting behind the scenes to ensure that as lenders, they know everything they need to know regarding the loans they are funding. CreditVest digs into all the finer details of a lender’s transaction to find any hidden issues or risks. Further, CreditVest often generates the loan packages that these lenders use to present to loan committees for funding approval. While we do significant work on the origination side of transactions, we also perform reviews of existing loan packages, manage rehab escrows, perform B-buyer due diligence and perform various other financial analysis functions related to commercial real estate.
Why do you think it is difficult to find good female candidates to hire for your company?
As we typically hire young people with little to no real estate experience, I am answering this question from that perspective.
I think one reason is a lack of awareness that our piece of the industry exists.? The average person does not realize the complexities behind the commercial real estate all around them. The analysis involved in financing or investing in a commercial property is so much more in depth than most people realize as their only frame of reference is a single family home. Due to this, I think it is also harder for young people to grasp what the job would actually entail. I think by nature women are less likely to pursue an opportunity when they don’t fully understand what the position is and it may be a career path that they had never considered. This is my best guess at this point, but I am currently getting involved in reaching out to colleges to actually meet students and gain a better understanding of why and how we can change it.
What qualities do you look for when hiring?
We are looking for people who are detail-oriented, with good problem solving skills and a desire to learn. If someone is hard-working and has these characteristics, we can teach them about commercial real estate. There is also an aspect of customer service to the job, as you have to regularly communicate with the client about the property you are underwriting. So, we look for someone that has a desire to serve others and work together toward a desired outcome.
What is most challenging for you about leading an organization?
Because I did not found the business, one of the challenges is finding the balance between preserving the many great things about the company and making changes that I think can make it even better and take it into the future. Also, it can simply be a difficult industry in which to lead an organization as so many factors of our business are beyond our control, so determining when to take a risk versus acting conservatively has been a learning experience.
If you could give one message to fellow CREW members who want to start their own business, what would it be?
While I can’t speak specifically to starting a business, in general I’d say be open to opportunities. What you expected from life and where it takes you may be two very different things. Don’t be scared to step out as you might find that starting a business or taking a new position or whatever other opportunity arises may be exactly what you were gifted and skilled to do.
Tell us about your networking within CREW Pittsburgh.
I’m an introvert by nature and therefore networking is not easy for me. However, I have found CREW to be friendly and open and always willing to help. I look forward to continuing to get to know more people!
Autumn R. Harris, Past-President of CREW Pittsburgh has just started her own business – Rose Finance LLC. We had dinner as we talked about her journey to this point in her life.
Autumn always knew she wanted to be in business for herself and was always willing to work hard - starting with her double major in Real Estate and Finance at Temple University. She interned and then was hired fulltime at a boutique commercial real estate investment bank in Philadelphia in 2003 and earned her Real Estate Salesperson license in 2007.
After 10 years in Philadelphia she moved to Pittsburgh in February 2009 to continue “training with the best” and became involved in Pittsburgh’s buildout by working for PNC Bank’s Institutional Commercial Real Estate Lending department.
Autumn has been establishing long-term relationships with capital providers since 2005 through active involvement with CREW Pittsburgh and CREW Philadelphia, NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, the Urban Land Institute, and the International Council of Shopping Centers.
She’s been on both sides of complicated CRE transactions and learned about the needs that must be satisfied to move a project forward. “Training reduces the risks of jumping into a new project” this “risk-averse” person insists.
CREW’s regional leadership summits and national conventions have given her “confidence and maturity.” Having “phenomenal mentors” and positive role models in CREW has shown her how to deal with situations where “you cannot do everything yourself. You learn how to care about people and that leading is not just about business.”
Autumn describes being involved in CREW Pittsburgh, especially as President-Elect and President, as “coming in as a bull in a china shop and leaving with compassion.” Attending national and regional CREW events taught her how to build and use a network and she feels that her friends and contacts are among the country’s strongest and most successful professional women and men.
Autumn was the only woman to speak at BIZNOW’s inaugural “State of the Office” event in May at Nova Place and she was on CREW Pittsburgh’s Finance Lunch Panel the year before. She encourages CREW members to try out small speaking engagements and sees this as one way to “give back to the community.” ?
Now she’s merging her institutional banking experience with her success at arranging debt for a private commercial real estate developer to start her own business – Rose Finance LLC, a commercial real estate mortgage brokerage committed to assuring its clients maximum capital for their projects and properties.
Her past experience managing a debt portfolio (loans from $5MM-$150MM) of construction project loans, property acquisition loans, and refinancing and oversight of existing loans in a 70+ property portfolio will be put to good use.? Familiarity with Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) and the bank’s syndication department also help distinguish her from other financiers.
By now you should have gotten the idea that it’s not easy to keep up with Autumn – especially Autumn, the runner. She trains and participates in charity as well as competitive runs with the Run for a Cure for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as her main charity event.
And her personal motto? “Get the hard stuff done first.”
You can reach Autumn at aharris@RoseFinanceLLC.com.
Autumn, when she was President, with Mimi Fersch, when she was President-Elect, in 2016 at our Property Tour.?
Autumn Harris, Owner, Rose Finance LLC.
Autumn with Jeff Burd of Tall Timber Group at CREW Pittsburgh's 2018 Holiday Party.
Interview with Stacey Weniger, owner of San Marcos Construction: Building Her Legacy
by Shannon McGuire, Communications Committee
Although Sentinel Construction is in its second full year of operations, owner Stacey Weniger is no stranger to the construction industry. Originally from Texas, Weniger moved here for the great opportunities Pittsburgh has to offer and she sees these opportunities as different from anywhere else in the country.
With 16 years of construction finance experience in her back pocket, Weniger left her finance job to start Sentinel Construction, a construction management firm.??? She wanted to take a different approach to general contracting by being more consultative, integrating Sentinel into the developer’s team and focusing on team success which is inclusive of all parties involved in the project.? She truly believes that it is important for everyone to succeed on the job if a project is to be successful.
Weniger was able to take her background as a commercial real estate lender and transition it into the construction numbers and marketing needed to build her new company. She believes that focusing on what she likes to do contributes to her success.?
One of her favorite points in the construction process includes literally watching the project come out of the ground and the walls going up.? Stacey’s excitement is evident in every project, “I am a part of this project which is a really cool feeling.”
With Pittsburgh’s continued growth in the education and medical industries, she believes this provides a stable economy which makes it a safe place for her to build her company. ??
As we all know, real estate doesn’t happen overnight and with that comes the many diverse challenges one must face in growing a successful company. Weniger’s biggest challenge will be wearing the many hats it takes to build a project pipeline in a well-respected and older industry.
Weniger’s love for Pittsburgh can be seen when she recalls how warmly she was welcomed to the real estate community upon her arrival.? Those relationships and the support she received across the board have only strengthened her belief that Pittsburgh’s community is different.?
Although there is currently a focus on market growth, Weniger has made it very clear that the culture and well-being of her employees is always at the top of her list. “If I hire you, I want to keep you,” she stated as she addressed the obstacles she will ultimately face.
The flexibility she seeks for her family and the legacy she will be creating for her children will always be her biggest motivating factors.? While she hits the ground running in this new adventure, Weniger never strayed away from saying she will always be there for her employees and to protect her company. “This is a family company” she proudly says as she explained the loyalty they will all have towards one another and the real relationships she plans on establishing in the years to come.