As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Christine Kolb associate vice president, development at Focus. Kolb joined Focus in 2013. Her first project was to manage development and design of a 239-unit, class-A luxury apartment project in Glenview, Illinois. She also represents Focus as a member of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning housing committee and she is president of Real Estate Finance Forum.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in the western suburb of Warrenville—now famous as the home of Two Brothers Brewery. After high school I decided to head west for college, and attended the University of Oregon (the Pacific Northwest is an incredibly beautiful part of the country and I recommend a visit to anyone who will listen.) After graduation I backpacked through Southeast Asia, India, South Africa and parts of Europe, then moved back to Chicago to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
In elementary school I wanted to be an astronaut (my parents worked at FermiLab and I grew up surrounded by science and astronomy). That changed several times with interests in anthropology, biology and writing. At some point I think I wanted to be president—now that i’m president of REFF I’m checking that box!
How did you get your start in the industry?
I was always interested in the history of cities and patterns of development in urban areas. I studied economics and policy, and initially my career took a policy direction through work with philanthropies and think-tanks on issues of housing policy and community development. I uncovered the importance of real estate as the underlying condition shaping community development while working at the Urban Land Institute alongside private-sector real estate experts to provide solutions to land use challenges.
It was through my work at ULI that I realized real estate development was the most tangible way to impact the urban fabric, so I transitioned to private-sector development. In the last 5 years I’ve managed over $350 million of residential and mixed-use projects, and worked with partners, investors, municipalities and residents to create impactful developments in the suburbs and downtown.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
My go-to mentor is my husband, Mike Eizenga—he has incredible business acumen and is also in the industry, so he has great insights to the problems we solve on the development side. I should also acknowledge David Galowich, the RE veteran who introduced us!
What does a day in the life of Christine Kolb look like?
No two days are the same, but every morning starts with a walk around the block with my adorable puppy, Harris, which is a great way to wake up. I try to fit in a morning workout, then it’s off to work for a combination of advancing existing projects, evaluating new deals and networking to expand the opportunities that come our way. There’s typically an appearance at an industry event or rendezvous with friends before I head home to relax with Mike.
What do you like most about your job?
I like that the learning curve for development is long and that no two deals are the same—the combination requires quick, creative problem-solving and constant learning. I also like the comprehensiveness of my work, to see a project through the entire development process from site selection and entitlements through design, construction and ultimately disposition. I work with a great team at Focus and appreciate the company culture our founder, Tim Anderson, has created. I respect the tangibility of the industry and the ability to influence the built environment.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I’d love to find a way to creatively embed affordable housing in market-rate developments. It’s a pressing policy issue that’s critical for the health of our city, and the solution has to be something that’s championed and implemented by the private sector.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
My entire family is in Chicago, so I spend a lot of time with them in Lincoln Square and Printers Row. I love reading, travel and music, so I try to get in at least a handful of new books, destinations, and good concerts every year.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
My family is from New Orleans, so that is my home-away-from-home. Internationally, I recently visited and fell in love with Madrid. I’m hoping to see Ecuador next year, to coincide with a good friend’s new Foreign Services position in Quito.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?