Real Estate Gives Back: The Goldie Initiative Helps Women Rise

A Chicago brokerage legend assists female up-and-comers by finding them mentors and training them in the skills needed to hold high-level CRE positions.
Goldie Wolfe Miller

Eleven years ago, renowned Chicago real estate broker and entrepreneur Goldie Wolfe Miller launched The Goldie Initiative to help young women in real estate. Today, the former owner of the largest female-owned commercial real estate firm is building a formidable platform that incorporates scholarship, mentoring and networking to help more women in the industry reach leadership positions.

Miller, who sold the tenant representation firm she founded in 1989 on the New York Stock Exchange in 1998, after closing approximately $3 billion in commercial real estate deals, knows firsthand what it takes to make it to the top job.

The Goldie Initiative began by providing scholarships to women enrolled in real estate Master in Business Administration and Master of Science in Real Estate programs at her alma mater, Roosevelt University’s Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate.

The initial goal, says Miller, was to create more women CEOs by supporting women who had already established themselves in real estate. The financial support through the scholarship, thanks to Roosevelt University’s recommendations, quickly expanded to include mentoring and networking.

Today, The Goldie Initiative operates as a 501(c)(3) with a volunteer board and a full-time executive director and serves nine universities in the Chicago area, including The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering, DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, the University of Wisconsin-Madison James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the University of Illinois, University of Notre Dame and the Chicago Kent College of Law.

Goldie scholarship requirements include excellent grades, recommendations, outside activities and personal interviews, each one of which Miller, who serves as founder & chair, is personally involved. And the group works with CREW, ULI and other organizations to match the scholars with mentors that have comparable interests in the real estate industry. Most mentorships have worked out for the nearly 100 women who have gone through the program and some mentor-mentee relationships last beyond the formal two-year time frame, according to Miller.

“I found out that the mentoring was more important than the money or the networking,” she said, adding that the scholars like having someone they could pick up the phone and talk to. Last year, marked the largest class ever with 20 Goldie scholars. 

The non-profit also just inducted its first male co-mentor, Bentall Kennedy Executive Vice President Paul Boneham and, Miller says, the board, which is currently led by Libertyville Bank & Trust President & CEO Steve Madden, seeks and receives the support of the entire Chicago commercial real estate community—women and men.

The 2018 Goldie Gala



Networking on Steroids 

In 2017, the Goldie Initiative held a 10th Anniversary Gala that raised $300,000 and was attended by over 500 from the Chicago commercial real estate industry. “At our second gala – now an annual event — in September 2018, The Goldie Initiative raised $425,000 and welcomed 600 attendees,” said Executive Director Megan Abraham. “We also honored our first industry ‘Shero,’ Sheli Rosenberg, former president and CEO, Equity Group Investments.”

The 2019 Goldie Gala will be held Sept. 12, 2019, at Wintrust’s Grand Banking Hall, honoring CIBC President of U.S. Commercial Real Estate Karen Case. The non-profit hopes to raise $500,000 to reach even more schools and scholars and expects more than 650 attendees this year, according to Abraham.

But the annual event is not a “sit-down chicken dinner” by design. “I call it a network on steroids,” said Miller. The idea is that the scholars, most of whom are just starting out in their careers, are able to engage in meaningful networking that connects them with community leaders and potential opportunities.

The efficacy of the scholarship program is demonstrated through the success scholars, Miller maintains, noting that one heads up all real estate for Chicago Public Schools. And it’s not uncommon for a scholar to leapfrog over others to reach management.

Part of being a Goldie Scholar, in fact, entails attending exclusive leadership training classes, which in the past have included a program on how to deliver a two-minute elevator speech by former U.S. Commerce Secretary under Obama and PSP Partners founder Penny Pritzker.

Although there still aren’t many women in leadership positions in the commercial real estate industry, Miller said, programs like The Goldie Initiative, which exposes women to people who are willing and able to help them achieve their dreams, are a “real plus” for the industry. “If we’re giving these young women opportunities, that’s all we can ask for,” she says.