When Julie Hughes first went to work with Minneapolis’ United Properties in 1973, she was a rarity: There weren’t many women in commercial real estate.
On April 1, Hughes officially retired from Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq in Minneapolis as a senior vice president and regional director of property management. And during Hughes’ 40-year career, she saw plenty of changes. None, though, have been as satisfying as seeing a growing number of women not only enter commercial real estate but make a difference in the field.
“When I started, there were not very many women in commercial real estate,” Hughes said. “Most women chose to work in the residential end of real estate. That has definitely changed in the past 40 years. And that’s a wonderful thing to see.”
Being a woman, though, wasn’t the only challenge that Hughes faced. She was also young. And she came to United Properties — which eventually reorganized into four companies, including what is today Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq — with little experience in the career world. As Hughes said, she came to the company “pretty much right off the farm.”
So why did Hughes succeed? First, she displayed a natural talent for the commercial real estate industry. Secondly, she learned as much as she could, something that was helped along by the considerable number of commercial real estate courses she took.
Then there were the mentors.
“I was surrounded by people who were so supportive,” Hughes said. “I didn’t feel like an anomaly. I never felt out of place. Everyone made me feel like I was part of the team. And they tossed me right into the education. I really didn’t have time to think about the fact that there weren’t many women in the business.”
As she ended her career, Hughes was the one who served as a mentor. She supervised 20 property managers and 12 million square feet of office, industrial and retail properties.
She also notched a series of firsts. She was the first woman in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region to earn the Real Property Administrator designation from BOMA and the first woman to earn the Certified Property Manager designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management.
Hughes also, because of her four decades in the industry, survived five real estate cycles, including one of the worst downturns right at the beginning of her career.
“The story is pretty much the same for all of the cycles,” Hughes said. “There is overbuilding and over-leveraging. And the market slowly absorbs the product and the developers are licking their chops to get back into the business. Getting through them is all about management of expectations and good planning. It helps, too, to understand the cycles and be ready for them.”
Hughes’ colleagues at Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq said that the industry veteran’s absence will be felt.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have Julie on our team for all these years,” said Lisa Dongoske, executive vice president of occupier and investor services for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, in a written statement. “We wish her nothing but the best, but we’ll miss her intelligence, her deep knowledge of the industry and her commitment to outstanding client service.”
Hughes, too, says she will miss commercial real estate. But she is also looking forward to retirement. She plans to travel and spend time with her five grandchidren. She’s an avid bicyclist and plans to spend as much time as she can on her bike. She’s also ready to volunteer, to give back to her community.
“Then, I’ll probably clean my basement,” Hughes joked. “I think it’s about taking every day as a gift.”
— Dan Rafter