Chip Clarke, president, Americas, with commercial real estate services firm Transwestern, says he leads the company by focusing on building solid relationships internally to help drive consistent interactions with clients. The Houston, Texas-based, privately-held firm was recently ranked as number 70 on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Workplaces for Women. To come up with the list, Fortune and its research partner surveyed 135,689 women at 637 companies, discussing topics such as fairness of promotions, access to information and level of support for employees’ personal lives.
Women make up 44 percent of all employees at Transwestern (total number of employees is 1,919), 56 percent of managers and 15 percent of top executives at the firm.
Clarke is careful to point out that women are not the only benefactors of Transwestern’s company culture—the firm was also ranked as number 25 among 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials.
In addition to organizing multiple social events and running a mentoring program for new employees, Transwestern recently created an internal women’s empowerment group to help women employees build on their natural strengths and skills to further their career development. In the upcoming months, the group will work on bolstering recruiting and business development efforts. Members will also develop a network to help prepare more women for leadership positions.
Clarke himself is responsible for growing service lines in markets Transwestern targets for expansion and handles the creation and management of strategic initiatives with international partners in North and South America. Although he’s a big picture man, with eight regions reporting to him, he is also charged with managing the Transwestern team on a day-to-day basis.
NREI recently interviewed Clarke about the Fortune ranking and how Transwestern promotes an environment that has helped so many women reach managerial positions.
NREI: How did you become involved with the Fortune ranking?
Chip Clarke: It’s a pretty good metric to win the best places for women to work in such a major market and be recognized [among] the best workplaces for Millennials and women. Talking about how we can make our work culture optimal is a foundational part of our firm, as well as bringing unique talent to make our work environment feel different than our competitors’. We are intentional about the way we work. Recognition like this is meaningful for us—to have a good report card.
NREI: What is something one would notice if they were to walk into your offices and observe a typical day?
Chip Clarke: If you walked into our headquarters office, you would see a bunch of happy people. I know it might sound simplistic, but it’s a natural teaming and collegial environment. You would see people gathered in open areas and other groups working together. The founders have always been intentional [about keeping] it a private company, which is different than public national competitors. We focus on people first.
We have a diverse set of staff, from property managers to brokers to building engineers to support staff people. Some are celebrating their 20 years with the firm. In an industry with so much natural turnover, we keep people meaningful.
NREI: In addition to the team-building, what other perks do you offer employees and specifically women to keep them at Transwestern for the long haul? And what advice would you offer other companies in the industry?
Chip Clarke: Don’t put blinders on talented people. We don’t make anyone stay in the [same] swim lane. Example after example shows someone starting out doing one job and switching to something different than what they were hired to do. It’s empowering for people to see they have options and no supervisor has a myopic view of an employee’s career. We are a results-oriented firm and serve clients at a high level, which is why people stay.
I’m a great example of someone who started in one job, as a third person on a leasing team. I was a project leasing agent who moved up a few times within the company. Now, 24 short years later, I’m the president of the America’s.
NREI: Not a lot of women embark on a career in commercial real estate and remain in the field. How do you attract women and help them get promoted? Fifty six percent of managers at your company are women, which is quite a high number. How do you retain that percentage?
Chip Clarke: Anybody can come into Transwestern and take their career in many directions, which is empowering. We are fortunate to have lots of great women in leadership positions. We also take a longer-term view of employees to help them shape and develop their careers.
NREI: Like many other real estate firms, you are lagging a bit in the percentage of women in executive positions, at 15 percent. Is Transwestern taking any steps to increase the number of female executives?
Chip Clarke: You will see that number grow for us most definitely as the firm continues to expand and we round out our platform. Our new women’s initiative involves increasing the number of women in key leadership roles to not only create a more balanced and diverse senior leadership group, but also provide a means to increase our recruitment and retention of strong female contributors.
NREI: Who was one of your most influential mentors as you were climbing the ranks in the industry?
Chip Clarke: I was fortunate to work with Anne Sperling for many years. She was a huge influence on my personal life and my career. She was one of the senior partners at JLL and became their CEO back in Denver. As a young leasing agent [at] all of 22, I gravitated towards her. Even when I left, I stayed in touch.
NREI: What qualities did she possess to inspire you and what made her such a successful female leader in the field?
Chip Clarke: She took on many different kinds of leadership positions in the firm. Her style was naturally engaging, she was smart, and when an issue came up, she took it on directly. She told me that whenever I could, to make sure to meet people in person. Don’t rely on letter writing or the telephone. “Get in front of people and do it as often as you can,” she said. I took that to heart.