Great leaders create a culture of success in their organizations. In Canada, many of our corporate leaders are men. What kind of environment do successful female leaders create?
Of course, every woman is different, but here we take a look at the women who run Baker Real Estate, founded by Pat (Patricia) Baker over 20 years ago.
Today, Baker Real Estate boasts nearly $2 billion in annual new home and condo sales. Baker is one of Canada’s most successful real estate companies, focused on pre-construction condo sales and marketing. Currently they have nearly 30 projects in pre-construction, and almost as many under construction.
Builders have put the fate of their projects into the capable hands of the women who run Baker. Yes, three of Baker’s five VPs are male, but add president Barbara Lawlor, and the leadership is split 50/50. In Canada women are still a minority in the top echelons of power, and formidable businesses like Baker with a strong female presence (and president) still bear examination.
We met up with Lawlor and her three top project managers, Kathy Grant, Krista Jackson, and Kimberley Crescini. These women manage Baker’s 30-odd builders’ accounts, balancing each client’s creative agency, public relations firm, and over 100 sales staff currently working at the company.
We wanted to find out how they have shaped their work environment to ensure both personal and professional success, as well as great success for their clients.
Open Communication, Teamwork, Shared Success
In a high-pressure sales environment, some leaders use competition as a motivator. This can be problematic when competition creates jealousy and discourages cooperation and teamwork. The Baker team felt they had a stake in the success of their colleagues. “We create a nurturing environment where it’s one for all and all for one, where Kathy, Krista or Kimberley’s success is the company’s success,” said Lawlor.
In our interview it became clear that the cornerstone of the complex network of relationship at Baker was honesty.
“Here at head office we can all speak openly with one another. We all support each other and take challenges to the boardroom. We brainstorm together and come up with solutions,” she explained.
In fact, Lawlor selects for honesty. Both Jackson and Crescini began in entry level jobs at Baker, Jackson as a “web girl” and Crescini as a part-time receptionist. Both women demonstrated their potential and were given opportunities to advance.
Why did Lawlor take Jackson under her wing? “She has an innate confidence and she’s a straight shooter. She calls it as she sees it,” Lawlor said.
How did Crescini get noticed? “I just kept on pushing, working hard, and making sure I was always available for them.”
According to Grant, the team has chosen to share both success and challenges with their entire admin team weekly. “We go over everything together,” she said. “Everyone is in the know and they all feel good!” There are few “company secrets,” if any.
Mentorship has become another cornerstone of Baker’s corporate culture. It started with founder Pat Baker’s mentorship of Lawlor.
Lawlor was in turn a mentor to Jackson and Grant. Baker VP Debbie Lafave was mentor to Crescini. All the women make themselves available to junior staff in varying degrees.
Although she’s the company president, Lawlor makes herself available to everyone. “Barbara’s also our sounding board. We go to her daily,” Jackson said. “She makes sure we’re okay. She cares, even though she’s very powerful and very busy. She’s an amazing boss,” Jackson explained.
The men who work at Baker joke about being surrounded by women, but the women seem very comfortable with the team they have created. The hours can be incredibly long, with no days off for up to two months at a time. With millions of dollars at stake, and so many variables—balancing the needs of clients, consumers, and all that is Toronto’s condo market—requires advanced people skills.
Both Grant and Jackson have grown very thick skins. The skills their job requires are many: They need to be able to get along with and understand every personality type, take subtle (and not so subtle) cues from the client and become the person the client needs them to be. They must remain flexible and be open to everyone’s perspective.
“I do think women are more willing to be team players,” Lawlor said.
“They try to resolve the situation and make it good for everybody. Women in that way probably are better at it than men in similar situations,” she added, laughing.
Advice for Women Starting Out
“The young people today come out of university with fabulous degrees and they expect that the degree will open the door and give them a higher pay level. Often it doesn’t,” Lawlor said. “I actually feel that, ultimately, practical experience becomes more valuable than higher learning.”
According to Grant, you have to be willing to start low and learn in order to get your foot in the door and prove yourself.
“I think it goes back to what Kimberley was saying. She was recognized because she was available so much and willing to help all the time,” explained Grant.
And of course you have to work very, very hard.
When questioned about their hobbies outside of work there was plenty of laughter. Jackson is busy with her small children and her job. Grant reads all four major newspapers every morning and volunteers on a hockey board. Crescini works-out at her gym. Lawlor reads, practices yoga and listens to music.
“We are all very busy,” Lawlor explained. “When you are successful, it is less easy to maintain a balance.”
Though each woman measured her success differently, the common thread was the success of the Baker team.
“If the agents are happy and the developers are happy, that’s success for me,” said Crescini, and with that they all agree.