CPE’s Stars to Watch 2018, Part 3

Ten of the industry’s top young professionals who are achieving success while making a difference for their companies.

Commercial Property Executive highlights the industry’s top 10 professionals under 40—innovators and natural leaders who are transforming their companies and making a mark in the real estate industry. Some have grown up in the business, while others developed a passion along the way. Ranging from entrepreneurs and architects to specialists working in development and financing, they have persevered to build successful business stories. 

Xinyi McKinny, 35

Senior Managing Director, Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
Joined the company in 2016

Xinyi McKinny
Xinyi McKinny

Ever since she was a little girl, Xinyi McKinny wanted to be an architect. Growing up in China, she remembers living in an apartment community with no heat or air conditioning. Her family had to share a community well and bathroom with other units. “Since then, I knew I wanted to become an architect so I could design houses for people in less fortunate communities,” McKinny explained. At the time, she didn’t know what real estate was or the role architecture played, but she did know she wanted to make an impact.

She moved to the U.S. in 2005, became a licensed architect and got her first job: at BWG Architects in Denver. Through the recession, she credits Don Grody, a partner at the firm, for teaching her about business relationships. McKinny says that even through tough times, Grody made sure to treat both clients and employees with the same importance, creating a strong work culture based on loyalty, something she brought with her to Cushman & Wakefield.

McKinny oversees China direct real estate investment and development projects within the Bay Area and Los Angeles. She also manages valuation and advisory, capital markets, agency leasing, project and development services as well as asset services. “She’s a liaison with overseas Chinese investors, and she has a knack for that. Without going into a lot of detail, she’ll know what you’re after,” said Caesar Ho, principal at HGA Architects, who worked with McKinny during her stint at DES Architects in Redwood City, Calif.

For McKinny, though, the last three years have represented her biggest challenge to date, as she’s juggled a career change, having children, returning to school to earn her MBA and working on her own personal development. Looking ahead, McKinny wants to become a business leader in commercial real estate. “As a minority woman, there isn’t much presence in the industry. Education is the key to empower women, and I would like to lead by example,” she said. Along with her Berkeley friend Lena Pan, McKinny is working to establish a group called Ladies with Pearls—a network for minority women in real estate and for those looking to get into the industry.

Advice for the Next Generation: “Don’t let your college major, previous work experience or money define your career choice and path. Take the time to reflect on yourself, pause and think about what direction you want to take.”

Top Goal for 2018: Participate in the Alcatraz Crossing, a two-mile open-water swim across San Francisco Bay, from the mainland to Alcatraz. —I.R.

Laura Sagues, 30

Senior Vice President, CBRE 
Joined the company in 2010

Laura Sagues
Laura Sagues

“I feel I got lucky,” says Laura Sagues of her professional trajectory. During her college years, she became interested in the real estate industry. A class in real estate law and professor Asuka Nakahara’s popular lectures at the University of Pennsylvania whet her appetite for brokerage. She credits Nakahara, also a developer, and CBRE veterans Barbra Emmons Perrier and Darin Bosch for offering guidance as she followed what is now an eight-year-old career in retail brokerage with CBRE. Sagues increased her activity by roughly 50 percent last year, earning a promotion to her current role.

Her job adds up to more than percentages, as Sagues insists she wants to focus not only on growing her team—now totaling five members—but also on the depth of its practice. “Obviously, I will be involved in and working on projects and deals, but I think it’s really important to take some time and be able to think critically about what’s changing, not just be caught up in the day-to-day of executing,” she told CPE. In fact, one of Sagues’ top goals for 2018 is related to time management: “The main one for me is being more deliberate about the way that I spend my time. That is both professionally and personally,” she added.

She attributes her success to a simple yet effective mantra—follow up and follow through—along with “on the ground” experience. Sagues’ portfolio includes leasing work for the iconic Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco (now 98 percent occupied, up from to 40 percent when Sagues took over leasing efforts in 2013), as well as Oakland’s new Uber headquarters. In the future, she will be involved in the Navy Shipyard/Candlestick Point redevelopment in San Francisco.

The CBRE senior vice president acknowledges the importance of a good start, so she tries to connect recent graduates with professional opportunities in the industry through her work as chair of the company’s Brokerage Advisory Board Hiring Subcommittee.

Advice for the Next Generation: “It takes a lot of hard work, and if you’re not willing to stick it out for at least a couple of years, then don’t start.”

Top Goal for 2018: “I would like to grow a few more people to take more of a leadership role in what we do and I’d love to spend even more time on the ‘thought leadership’ side, which is one of the things I enjoy the most.” —A.P.

Keith Wasserman, 33

Partner & Co-Founder, Gelt Inc.
Founded the company in 2008

Keith Wasserman
Keith Wasserman

Entrepreneurial at heart, Keith Wasserman began his business journey during college, when he ran one of the top eBay stores in the nation. In 2008, most companies were trying to keep afloat, but Wasserman believed it was the best time to get started. “Prices were extremely low and rents didn’t really drop that much, so I saw the opportunity to invest money and earn a very significant return on that money,” he recalled.

He partnered with his cousin, Damian Langere, to found Gelt Inc. The two focused on acquiring, renovating and selling middle-income assets in Southern California. The first property was a small four-unit apartment building in Bakersfield, Calif.; it had previously sold for around $500,000, but Gelt snagged it for $150,000. The company worked on 14 of these four-unit buildings and quickly grew from there. The hardest part for the duo, according to Wasserman, was convincing investors to partner with them during one of real estate’s darkest times.

After many refusals, the company finally got its break with the addition of several investors, including Alan Kau—owner of The Search for Value, an investment consulting firm. “I’ve learned a lot from Keith, even though he’s a lot younger than me,” said Kau. “He takes the time to explain what their thinking is in terms of acquiring properties, what to do with them, when to sell them. I find it extremely refreshing.”

Over the last 10 years, Gelt has grown from one startup to four major organizations. Earlier this year, Wasserman launched the Gelt Foundation, a public non-profit that provides rental assistance in the form of grants and loans to residents at risk of eviction. Gelt’s other two projects are a financial technology company called Demuso, which provides residents with financing for rent and move-in payments, and Happy Home Communities, which acquires and manages mobile home parks across the U.S.

So far, Gelt has acquired more than 7,000 apartments and mobile home sites valued in excess of $1 billion. When tackling 2018, Wasserman said he wants to grow the company’s portfolio to more than 10,000 units.

Best Advice Received: “Time and inflation are real estate’s best friends,” as well as “I’d rather regret not buying a property than buying one that was a bad investment.”

Where He Sees Himself in 10 Years: “We’re in 10 states now, so in 10 years I’d like to be in 20 states, in most of the major markets across the U.S. Also, our only office is in Southern California, so I’d like to have more regional offices.” —I.R.

Jessica Wolters, 39

Managing Director, JLL
Joined the company in 2015

Jessica Wolters
Jessica Wolters

Jessica Wolters grew up with business in her backyard. From a young age, she worked on the family farm, which provided for their agricultural company. That taught her the importance of customer service, community and hard work. A degree in real estate finance from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and an internship with Glaser Financial Group cemented her career path in the real estate industry.

After more than 15 years in origination and underwriting multifamily and senior housing, she now has $2 billion in debt transactions under her belt. She used her expertise to start a dedicated senior housing finance team at JLL, which she joined through its acquisition of Oak Grove Capital. In 2017, Wolters co-led the JLL team that secured $975 million in financing from Fannie Mae for Brookdale Senior Living. “The best part of the experience was my team’s determination and JLL’s commitment to execute on the client’s terms regardless of the short timeframe,” she said of the 49-asset deal.

Her clients acknowledge her commitment and determination. “Her understanding of the various agency financing products, along with her understanding of our organization, basically adds another person to our management team. I can tell you that if Jess is involved, we at the Palace Group feel very comfortable that the loan, along with favorable terms, will get done,” noted Oscar Roiz, CFO of The Palace Group.

Wolters credits her mentors at JLL for challenging her, motivating her and teaching her about strategic thinking, altruism and the importance of culture. Her peers describe her as a true leader. “I think good leaders lead by example; I think great leaders empower others,” she said. Like her parents, she would love to pass on what she learned to future generations.

Wolters’ job got personal two years ago, in the midst of a financing deal for Koelsch Communities. “In August 2016, I closed a bridge loan for Koelsch on a tight deadline. Within minutes of closing the loan, I went into labor with my daughter, who was born less than two hours later,” the working mother recalled.

Mentors: Her parents and uncle. “At JLL, David Williams and Kevin Filter have been incredible mentors for me.”

Goal for 2018: “My No. 1 goal for 2018 is to help strategically build out JLL’s multifamily and senior housing platform.” —A.P.

Meet the rest of CPE’s Stars to Watch for 2018, Part 1 and Part 2—commercial real estate’s top young talent.

You’ll find more on this topic in the March 2018 issue of CPE.