By Meghan Hall
The commercial real estate industry is at the cusp of a lot of change as it embraces technology, diversifies, and responds to changing economic conditions. As the sector evolves, so too must brokerages. The Registry spoke with Colliers’ new managing director Kitty Aguilera about her journey from law into commercial real estate, and the changes she’d like to see in the industry moving forward.
Kitty, please tell The Registry a little bit about yourself. What initially drew you to the commercial real estate industry?
My entry into the real estate industry in 2010 was quite serendipitous. At the time, I was living and practicing law in Madrid, Spain. I had recently earned law degrees in both California, my home state, and in Spain, a place I fell in love with while traveling after college. I applied for a position on the legal team in JLL’s Madrid office but quickly learned the role had been recently filled. I was, however, offered a role on the tenant representation team, which I jumped at and never looked back! I was fortunate to have a fantastic director who helped show me the ropes and I dove into the practice of tenant representation headfirst. I quickly realized I had an affinity for the work and was energized by the ability to connect face to face with clients and share in the excitement of helping them establish a space of their own. I remember my days of running around the Madrid CBD, hopping on and off the metro for site tours, with great fondness.
How have your previous experiences (not just in CRE, but in law, and in markets outside of the United States) prepared you for your new role as Managing Director at Colliers?
My diverse career path has given me exposure to many different market practices, client organizations and networks, and I have learned so much from each different role. I have accumulated a global perspective on the practices of business, law and real estate that enables me to think more strategically and broadly as I approach a new business pursuit or client problem statement. I have learned there is exponential value that comes from building relationships and sharing knowledge from one area of the business to the other and across client organizations. I am eager to bring that same integrative approach to how Colliers operates so that our clients can benefit from the full breadth of our expertise and resources.
Part of your role will be supporting brokerage operations and expanding business development. From your perspective, what aspects of brokerage are most critical to success?
I believe the most critical aspect of brokerage, and any business for that matter, is the people. Understanding what it takes to develop, support and motivate our people is fundamental to our success. My goal is to enable the individuals that make up our brokerage operation with the training, mentorship and any other resources they need to do their best, most inspired work. If our people are taken care of, our success will follow.
I also believe that harnessing the power of the data that comes from our brokerage business is crucial – data on market dynamics, occupancy benchmarks, shifts in labor pools. It’s all powerful. Given we now live in a world where we know massive disruption may be right around the corner, we need to do more to leverage our data and bring predictive insights to our clients to allow them to stay one step ahead of the next risk.
What excites you most about your new role? Why?
I am thrilled with the opportunity to build upon an already successful business and leave my fingerprints all over the culture, management style and strategic direction of Colliers in the Bay Area. This role provides me the ability to contribute to the positive change I’d like to see in the real estate industry, which has traditionally lacked diversity and strong female leadership. I am extremely honored to be a part of Colliers’ commitment to increase our employee gender diversity to 40% female overall and in management roles or higher by 2025. I am also excited by the massive learning opportunity this role provides and am eager to immerse myself in sectors of the real estate industry that Colliers does extremely well in, such as industrial, multifamily and retail.
What aspects of the role do you think will be challenging, and how will you work to overcome them?
I think one of the greatest challenges stems from the fact that the real estate industry has been turned on its head over the last few years. The way society interacts with the built environment, be it for work, social activities, shopping or commuting, is forever changed and we have a lot of work to do to adapt to this current reality. Our clients’ needs have also changed significantly. More than ever, clients are looking for a provider that can support far beyond their transactions needs and address their broader business goals. It will be a challenge to evolve our business and service offering to keep pace. To mitigate this, Colliers leadership is laser-focused on expanding our talent base and curating a diverse combination of skill sets among our broker teams that will enable us to expand our value proposition and meet these new demands.
When it comes to Bay Area real estate, what fundamentals are you watching most closely, and why? What do these factors indicate about the health of the local CRE market?
I am keenly interested in the patterns of employee behavior as companies move further into a hybrid working environment. I am curious to understand the trends in key indicators of productivity, employee engagement and, conversely, attrition as those factors will speak to potential long-term changes to the real estate market and overall demand. Likewise, I’m watching the changes that emerge in how occupiers are using space and what new types of space they require. Keeping our finger on the pulse of these trends will help us understand how we can better serve our occupier clients as well as keep our landlord clients abreast of strategic investments they should be making into their assets to maximize their value.
The Bay Area is an extremely active market; in your opinion, how does commercial real estate here compare to other major markets in the United States and abroad?
The Bay Area has long been considered the epicenter of innovation, both in terms of intellectual property but also in how real estate is developed, designed and utilized. I think of examples of how companies like Google, Apple and Facebook completely elevated the standard of campus design and the amenities employers are expected to provide in their spaces, or the meteoric rise in prominence of coworking space, which arguably started here in San Francisco. What happens in the Bay Area often sets the trend for many major markets around the U.S. and the globe. It is so cool to step back and appreciate the fact that we are working at the ground level in one of the most innovative geographies in the world.