CRG, the real estate development and investment arm of Chicago-based Clayco, has retained Jennifer Nichols as senior vice president and general counsel. With 15 years of legal experience, Nichols will join the firm’s senior leadership team and oversee an in-house department handling all legal, compliance and risk management as the company continues the strategic growth of its national platform.
Nichols is CRG’s sixth new senior executive hire in the past 12 months to support its strategic growth plan. Since 1993, the firm has developed more than 200 million square feet of industrial, institutional, mixed-use, office and multifamily assets exceeding $12 billion, and is launching a number of new initiatives for 2021, including regional expansions of the industrial platform and a $1 billion commitment to develop multifamily “Essential” housing across the country.
“We were thrilled to meet Jen after an extensive national search. She’s an excellent addition to our leadership team,” said Shawn Clark, president at CRG. “Jen brings deep experience with a range of ground-up development asset classes and investment structures. Her exceptional reputation, direct in-house legal experience and quick intuition make her a perfect fit at CRG.”
Nichols joins CRG from Harsch Investment Properties in Portland, Oregon, where she was vice president and general counsel. Prior to that, she was deputy general counsel for Banner Real Estate Group and an attorney with Ginsberg Jacobs LLC, a real estate boutique firm in Chicago. She has also held positions with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.
“I’m excited to join CRG at this point in its history, because Shawn and the leadership team have a proven track record and an inspiring vision for where they want to take the company,” said Nichols. “They’re grounded in Clayco’s decades of success but have their own entrepreneurial culture, with tremendous energy and new ideas. I’m happy to be part of an innovative and growing company that is also focused on strengthening communities and creating opportunities for women and minorities.”
Nichols is the first person of color to join CRG’s senior leadership team, and she will work with the firm on its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. She was instrumental in establishing diversity-focused programs at Harsch in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020 and has spoken professionally on race and gender issues.
“The Clayco enterprise has a long-standing commitment to diversity, inclusion and, most importantly, equity,” said Nichols. “CRG is a place that values diverse voices at every level. Our industry has work to do to even the playing field, and the initiatives that Clayco and CRG have put in place to help get there is a big part of why I’m here.”
CRG’s parent company launched Clayco Rising in December, a comprehensive diversity and inclusion program across the enterprise built to offer meaningful opportunities and structural change for employees and minority-owned and women-owned business partners.
“We have to help build the pipeline of talent for this industry,” said Chris McKee, chief development officer at CRG. “We want to develop the communities in which we live and work, not just the projects that happen to be located there. But that commitment starts internally, so it’s important for us to have voices like Jen’s on our leadership team and throughout our organization.”
Nichols is a member of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law, a group of female attorneys dedicated to fostering career advancement and professional development for other women attorneys. Although in recent years the number of women in law school has outpaced male enrollment, there is still large inequity in firm partnership and senior in-house counsel levels.
Nichols holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where she focused her studies on real estate, management and organizations and marketing. She also has a Master of Science of Taxation from Grand Valley State, a law degree from Boston College Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in both finance and Spanish with honors from Michigan State. She has been admitted to state bars in Oregon, Michigan and Illinois.