Eyes on the Prize: Growing the CRE Talent Pool

At ICSC's annual New York Deal Making event, IKEA's head of U.S. real estate offers insights into attracting diverse talent, as well as a lesson in tenacity.
Angele Robinson-Gaylord, president of U.S. real estate for IKEA

How can senior real estate professionals add much-needed growth to the industry’s talent pool? Teach, coach, volunteer, for starters.

That was a key part of the message Angele Robinson-Gaylord brought during her opening address at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual New York Deal Making event this week. Robinson-Gaylord brings blue-chip credentials to any discussion about retail real estate: president of IKEA’s U.S. property group, International Council of Shopping Centers trustee, and a long legal career, not to mention degrees from Stanford and George Washington University. 

Speaking on Dec. 4 at the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan, Robinson-Gaylord offered uniquely personal insights into expanding the industry’s talent pool and the unwavering commitment required for success. She reminded her audience of several hundred real estate professionals that the path to entering the business is often narrow. “The chances that you’ll major in commercial real estate are few and far between,” she observed, noting that only 65 institutions of higher education in the U.S. offer degree programs in real estate.

Opening the door is often particularly challenging for professionals of color, whose entry points into real estate tend to come later than for other professionals, Robinson-Gaylord noted. Besides mentoring, senior professionals should also “look for inspiration, not just in real estate, but in other areas outside our industry,”  she said. “We have to adapt to remain relevant.”

To address these issues, she would like to see the industry increase its entry points through expanded internships. Another high-potential strategy: broadening the scope of colleges targeted for recruitment.

Reaping the Rewards

REAP program alumni gather at ICSC’s annual New York Deal Making event.

Robinson-Gaylord drew on her own experience to explore these issues. She began to consider a lateral move into real estate partway through a 15-year legal career. She spent several years after law school as a litigator for a big firm, but, she recalled, “I was miserable.” Despite her legal experience, academic record and determination to make the change, getting her foot in the door took about five years.

Her transition started when she went to a four-person boutique firm specializing in commercial real estate. A major turning point arrived in 2009, when Robinson-Gaylord was accepted into REAP, the intensive training program for minority professionals seeking a transition into real estate. The program went a long way toward opening the door; as Robinson-Gaylord put it, “REAP helped me change my litigation spots to real estate stripes,” she noted.

Robinson-Gaylord first worked in McDonald’s Corp.’s property management department, later moving to IKEA, where she served as a real estate manager and vice president of real estate management and development. In her current role, she oversees a national 48-store portfolio that will expand to 50 in early 2019 with the addition of new stores in Norfolk, Va., and San Antonio. On Dec. 3, the home furnishings giant announced plans for small-format stores in major cities.

Throughout her journey, Robinson-Gaylord has been guided by the principles of curiosity, persistence and perspective. Those habits enabled her to keep her eyes on the prize in the face of obstacles. “Your curiosity is something you can tap into,” she advised those looking to enter the business, or who are facing hurdles to advancing. “Be curious to become conversant in the language of real estate,” she urged her audience. “Tell everyone about your hopes and dreams.”