As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Sarah Kwon, an associate in Schenk Annes Tepper Campbell Ltd.’s (SATC) commercial real estate and business law practice groups. She concentrates her practice on commercial real estate transactions, including acquisitions, dispositions, leasing, zoning and development. Kwon also focuses her practice on business law matters such as business formations and corporate governance.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I’m a peculiar transplant to the Windy City. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. For undergrad, I went to UC San Diego where I double-majored in art history/criticism and economics. While in San Diego, I met my fiancé, and we moved to Chicago to pursue our education. I graduated from Loyola’s part-time JD program while I worked full-time as a legal assistant at a mid-sized firm in Chicago.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer and then a CEO (hence the economics degree). After becoming disenchanted with economics and uncertain about my professional career, I interned with the AmeriCorps’ JusticeCorps program during my senior year of college and assisted self-represented litigants in navigating the court system. The JusticeCorps experience reignited my interest in the legal field, and it became the impetus for my career.
How did you get your start in the industry?
By the time I started law school, I already knew that I wanted to do transactional work, so I took every opportunity to learn as much as I could about the transactional realm. In service of this goal, I worked as a student clinician with Loyola’s Business Law Clinic and as a legal extern with Intersport. After passing the bar exam, I was hired by my current firm, SATC, and quickly became inducted into their strong commercial real estate practice. It must have been fate because my passion for the industry has only grown since.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I took a non-traditional route to becoming a commercial real estate attorney. I worked as a legal assistant/paralegal for nearly ten years, including through law school. My work experience has proven invaluable because I was able to learn from so many successful attorneys. Among those, I was particularly lucky to work for a strong female mentor who helped me develop the foundational skills that I utilize every day. I always admired her drive, charisma and meticulous attention to detail, and I strive to adopt those characteristics in my own work style. Since arriving at SATC, I look to my colleagues for their support, guidance and their expertise in the commercial real estate industry.
What does a day in the life of Sarah Kwon look like?
I start each day by listening to the local and national news while I catch up on emails because I like to stay abreast of current events that may impact my professional and personal life. Work-wise, each day varies, and I love that aspect of my job. To effectively deal with that variety, I like to set aside some time in the morning to plan and structure the rest of the day. Because I am most efficient when I have an action plan for the day, I create one when I first get into the office. The rest of my day may involve telephone calls, drafting correspondence, reviewing and preparing documents, consulting with my colleagues and attending meetings or closings. Finally, I believe making connections is incredibly important, particularly in this industry, so I make sure to commit to at least one networking event each week. I also make it a point to follow up with the people I meet at networking events or through other contacts over a coffee or lunch date at least once or twice a week.
What do you like most about your job?
I very much enjoy the general atmosphere and attitude of cooperation that accompanies most of my real estate transactions. After working in litigation for several years, I became tired of the procedural and adversarial aspects of litigation. In stark contrast, I aim to make my real estate transactions feel like a team effort. I find that when using an integrative negotiation strategy, there is a shared sense of accomplishment among all parties at the end. It’s always better for business when everyone can get what they want, but I won’t shy away from playing hardball if the situation calls for it.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
My career is just starting, and there is still so much I hope to achieve. Call it high hopes, but I would love to work on transactions involving the skyscrapers that make up the beautiful Chicago skyline. In addition, I am excited to see how I can contribute to the innovative trends in real estate, such as experiential retail, novel entertainment venues and chef-driven food hall and restaurant concepts.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
Chicago is an amazing city with so much to offer in terms of culture. When I can, I spend most of my time out of the office with my fiancé or friends exploring the myriad activities Chicago has to offer, including attending art exhibits/museums, festivals and live performances.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
The most memorable place I’ve ever traveled to is Tanzania, Africa. I went on a safari tour through the Ngorongoro Crater and visited the beautiful island of Zanzibar off of Tanzania’s coast. I would like to visit Tanzania again in the future to experience a safari tour through the Serengeti during the great migration. As for my more immediate plans, I am very much looking forward to my trip to Oahu next year for my destination wedding.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
One of my mentors, Alex Norlander, with SATC.