Event Recap – Commercial Real Estate Trailblazers in the Industry

Commercial Real Estate Trailblazers

l-r: Brandi Hanback, Executive Vice President, The Rockefeller Group; Peggy White, Principal, Axiom Engineering Design, LLC; Joan Renner, CFO, The Brick Companies; Krista Di Iaconi, Principal, JBGR Retail; Kim Hogan, Property Manager, Cushman & Wakefield and CREWBaltimore 2014 President

Forty-five CREW members and guests gathered at the Hotel Monaco in Baltimore on Thursday, April 10 for CREWBaltimore‘s “Trailblazers in the Industry” event.

Panelists included Brandi Hanback, Executive Vice President at The Rockefeller Group, Krista Di Iaconi, Principal at JBGR Retail, and Peggy White, Principal at Axiom Engineering Design LLC, with Joan Renner, Chief Financial Officer at The Brick Companies, as moderator of the discussion.

Joan Renner

CFO, The Brick Companies

Joan Renner, CFO of The Brick Companies, a privately held company which owns, develops, and manages commercial, residential, and recreational properties in and around the DC, MD, and VA, footprint, was the moderator of the event.

Joan’s Thought-Provoking Questions

Was the path you embarked to get where you are today more like climbing a ladder (straight and narrow) or climbing a jungle gym (winding and complex)?

What lessons have you learned throughout your career? Does Work – Life balance exist?

How important is the role of sponsorship/mentorship in developing your career?

How has CREW or another organization helped you?

Joan on CREW

Joan also provided great insight from her own experiences throughout the discussion, adding that CREW helped build her network in Baltimore and has given her a foundation, friendship, and confidence.

She reminded that audience that “we are 1 of 8,000 members — utilize it!”Joan’s lesson to everyone was to speak up for what you want and not be afraid to tell your peers or your superiors where you want your career to go.

Brandi Hanback

Executive Vice President, The Rockefeller Group

Brandi Hanback, a new CREW member, took the “jungle gym” approach in career advancement from working for the state department, to trade associations, to a public accounting firm and various other positions before settling into her current role as EVP of Industrial Development and Head of FTZ, Trade & Logistics for The Rockefeller Group.

Brandi’s Background

Brandi is responsible for The Rockefeller Group’s port strategy and works directly with tenants and clients on FTZ, customs, and supply chain requirements. She was interested in the concept of combining trade and business. Her hardest lessons learned in business surrounded patience and timing. She stressed that we are not always turned down due to being wrong, but that sometimes poor timing is the issue. She advised the crowd to keep challenging ourselves.

Brandi on Work-Life Balance

In response to the moderator’s question about successful ways to juggle tasks and maintain work/life balance, Brandi stressed the importance of being able to multitask and prioritize what is the most important at that particular time. She strongly advised everyone to utilize their allotted vacation time, stating no one will remember years from now if you were dedicated enough not to take it — but on the other hand, you will remember the vacation memories years down the road.

She did not feel that having mentors was as formal of a concept when she was coming up, but she “formed alliances” that proved valuable in bouncing ideas off of. Her advice of how to know when to move on to the next job was simply to avoid having tunnel vision and always being open to opportunities.

Krista Di Iaconi

Principal, JBGR Retail

Krista Di Iaconi of JBGR Retail is a friend and former colleague of Joan Renner.  She started as an accountant and worked her way up at Beers & Cutler. As an introvert, she planned to stay as an accountant.  JBG was a client of the firm and she ended up joining JBG in 1994.  Soon after, the firm merged with Rosenfeld Realty, thus creating JBGR Retail.

Krista’s Path to Success

In the early dot-com days, Krista worked at a real estate dot-com that failed after two years.  She rejoined JBGR and built on learning the development/investment business.  When the new retail group started, she offered to start back at the bottom as an analyst in order to learn the business. With a 50% pay cut and more admin role, she took the job.  She has since worked her way up in development/investment and is now a principal on the retail side.

Krista on Overcoming Challenges

Krista has had a number of informal mentors but no formal mentors. She has overcome her introverted tendencies to become a principal of her company. She claims that work-life balance does not really exist but in her new role she has more balance than ever before.  Her organizational method is to look at all the tasks she has to do and figure out what she can delegate to allow her to focus on the big picture. She has learned to take on new assignments without full knowledge and still master the process.

Krista was less than clear on her next step but is sure to keep busy in her jobs as principal, wife/mother, and chief procurement officer.

Peggy White

Principal, Axiom Engineering Design, LLC

Peggy White is the owner (Principal) of Axiom Engineering Design, LLC. She is a 9-year veteran on the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association Board of Directors (MNCBIA) and has chartered the Professional Women in Building Council under MNCBIA in 2013, currently serving as president.

She is on the Board of Directors of Lambda Alpha International (real estate association), and has served an impressive number of years as a member of various CRE professional groups to include HBAM, CREW, ULI, NAIOP, SAME, CASHE, MSS, and ASCE.

Peggy graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering. She is a Professional Engineer, licensed in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. She has been a design consultant for more than 29 years.

Peggy’s Unique Path to Success

Peggy got where she is today by originally following a boyfriend to college and choosing a major in Engineering. Along the way she claimed, “It wasn’t easy. I had to keep telling myself I’m not a quitter. I’m going to make it.” She is a professional engineer, but with owning her own company, she has become a salesperson as well.

Peggy’s Advice

Her best advice to the audience was to have partners as “It’s lonely at the top!” She encouraged that as a trailblazer you can’t share the blame or be someone’s best friend — you have to lead. Peggy stressed that it is okay to hear “no” and not to let that deter you from your final goal; simply allow yourself to find an alternate route.

Additionally, when asked about lessons learned Peggy shared, “I like to talk a lot, and something I’ve learned is that you have to listen. Know when to be quiet…I’ve been accused of being brutally honest, and I’ve learned to not [be so blunt].”

Peggy on CREW

Through her career, Peggy has had the opportunity to be on both the mentor and mentee side of the equation. Peggy encouraged everyone to use CREW to their advantage. She advised the audience to go to the convention and be active in the organization. She enjoys CREW because this is where her friends are but also recognizes that CREW members can relax, enjoy a safe harbor and still be working at the same time. Her opinion is that women need a place to network and be comfortable with one another.

Another CREWBaltimore Success!

This was another inspiring event with strong women in the commercial real estate industry reminding us that our success relies on our own efforts. If you are interested in the CREW mentorship program — either becoming a mentor or gaining a mentor — visit https://www.crewnetwork.org/c-suite.aspx.

Member Spotlight – Brenda Bodian

BJB Realty Advisors' Brenda Bodian

Brenda J. Bodian, President, BJB Realty Advisors, Inc.

Brenda J. Bodian

President, BJB Realty Advisors, Inc.

How long have you been a CREW Member?

Since September 16, 1985 = 28.5 years

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to join CREWBaltimore? Was there someone who influenced you to join?

I attended a meeting of a group of women planning to create CREWBaltimore patterned after CREW-DC. That was before I was in commercial real estate and mentoring a woman transitioning from academia to commercial real estate.

We loved the concept and particularly enjoyed meeting the dynamic group of women there. Coincidentally, a terrific boss taught me how valuable it is to fully participate in business organizations—to not just be a member, but most importantly, to participate on committees. Years later when I started in CRE, I knew I had to join CREW!

CREWBaltimore positions held or committees you have been part of:

You asked!

National Network of Commercial Real Estate Women

Board of Directors, Director of Finance, 1998. Member of Finance Committee, 1999.

NNCREW Foundation

Treasurer, 1998. Co-chair of Grant-Making Committee, 1999.

Commercial Real Estate Women-Baltimore

Board Member: 1987-1998. Served as President, Vice President, Treasurer, National Delegate, Corresponding Secretary, and Recording Secretary. Served on Program, Education, Community Action, and National Network committees. Served on CREW Careers™ and UCREW Committees, 2006- 2011. Serving on Awards Program Committee, 2013-2014.

CREWBaltimore Fund

President of Fund, which granted college scholarships and raised funds for non-profit organizations that serve the community (e.g., Women’s Housing Coalition, Project Fresh Start, Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital), 2001-2003. Vice President 1997-2000, President 2001-2005.

Commercial Real Estate Women-National

Founding Member to the precursor to CREW Network, an international non-profit organization to further the professional development and expertise of its ~9,000 members.

How does CREWBaltimore support your career?

I cannot imagine my career without CREW. The two are inextricably intertwined!

CREW is my university of Commercial Real Estate. I can call on people from a variety of disciplines around the country and in Canada or attend programs to learn about something not familiar to me or get updates on the market—both casually and formally.

I learned to read blueprints, about the elements of successful landscape design for commercial projects, about energy-efficient and LEED buildings, and about commercial financing, etc.

At more than 20 conventions I attended, I took advantage of the amazing educational offerings, but also met people who became resources for me or clients down the road.

A speaker in Houston connected me with the right person at the Resolution Trust Corporation, so, after months of dead-end searching, I learned who was servicing a loan the RTC took over from our bank. I met a broker in Miami casually who years later shared a simple template that was a very effective tool to help clients narrow their choices. I met lenders who helped me understand underwriting parameters for loans. I met asset and property managers who helped me build better management systems.

And the list goes on!

Have you done business with another CREW member, locally or nationally?

Absolutely. I worked on many transactions with people I got to know through CREW. This did not happen immediately, but developed with exposure to lots of talented people (the power of networking).

I first built working relationships with other members in committees and on the local and national board—a terrific venue in which to learn about their talents and skills that would be helpful to my company or clients. I found my go-to people for any questions I had about any aspects of CRE. In time, we cross-referred one another to clients and others.

One person I knew from a committee referred me to one of the best jobs I ever had! One year, 95% of my jobs involved one or more CREW members—attorneys (title, contract, bankruptcy), accountants, brokers, property managers, lenders, appraisers, architects, engineers, and more.

I found talented women to assist on projects from our directory, impressing my boss and clients with my national reach and the wealth of information I could get quickly. For an assessment of a military base in Los Angeles for redevelopment, I used the directory for contacts to gather most of my data. Of all the people I called, CREW members were the most generous with information and their time.

Has CREW Baltimore contributed to your leadership skills and experience?

On committees, I tried out new approaches to working with people that I could then apply on the job and for other non-profit organizations. I was given the opportunity to test my leadership abilities and to gain confidence in them.

Being President of CREWBaltimore led to having a delegate position at NNCREW, then Director of Finance, and then, service on the NNCREW Foundation that supports studies to understand where women stand in our field, encourages the next generation of women in commercial real estate with direct education and support, and generally makes this a better world for women and girls.

All in all, having leadership positions in CREW has been a rare opportunity and one that I would encourage all of you to aspire to.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in business and how did you overcome it?

Weathering three recessions was made significantly easier by staying connected through CREW and a few other organizations, but particularly CREW for moral support, to continue to build and sustain relationships, to learn skills and tools useful as the market began to improve, not to speak of having an early window on changes for the better in the market.

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)?

I love going to movies, concerts, and art exhibits. Baltimore has a vibrant arts community, so it is easy to participate in something arts-related once or twice a week.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about providing a high level of service to my clients and to non-profit organizations where I volunteer.

What is your dream vacation spot?

Any place I’ve not yet explored—hill or dale, sea or lake, new city or old, any country. Some favorites—hiking in the rain forests of Costa Rica, camping across New Zealand and the U.S., visiting ancient sites around Oaxaca, and enjoying city life in Istanbul, Sydney, Sienna, and Chicago.

March 11, 2014 Event Recap – Tech Toolbox

Commercial Real Estate Social Media


Commerical Real Estate Social Media Update

On March 11, CREWBaltimore members and guests attended another in the series of Tech Toolbox- Conversations over Coffee.

The event was held at the COPT building in Columbia, MD with breakfast provided by Charm City Concierge. Panelists were Kathleen Schindler, Vice President of My Cleaning Service, Inc and Gina Ramsey, Director of Adventure Web Productions, both known social media gurus in the real estate industry.

After breakfast and networking, attendees split off into two groups; one with the intent of focusing on the basics of the social media outlets and the other looking for a more advanced session geared towards making their social media efforts help them become more successful in the commercial real estate market. Each panelist conducted their presentation tailored to the experience level of their group.

Gina on LinkedIn Success

Gina worked with the first group and focused most of the discussion on building an effective LinkedIn profile and the importance of doing so to promote yourself and your business.

LinkedIn Recommendations

Gina stressed the need to have at least three recommendations and that “the best way to get recommendations is to give recommendations.” Always consider who is recommending you before you accept it.

Connection Requests

When asked about whether or not to accept connection requests from people you don’t have a relationship with, Gina responded, “The more people you know, the more people you can potentially know.” She further advised that we should look to turn cold leads into warm leads by using a shared connection to introduce you.

Becoming a Thought Leader

Gina advised to try to set aside 15 minutes per day to focus on social media and either post frequently or at the ideal times of day so your posts don’t get sent to the bottom of the feed. By posting statuses or even links to interesting articles, you become a “Thought Leader.” We were reminded that our employees are our best advocates and that we will reach more people if they are encouraged to expand our posts to their followers as well.

Responding to Negativity on Social Media

Gina also gave some recommendations on how to deal with negative press on the Internet or other social media channels. It was advised that anyone with a specialty product should be promoting through posting products/project pictures on a visual site such as Pinterest or Instagram. Gina’s closing comment was, “Social media doesn’t replace face-to-face networking. Get your feet on the street.”

Kathleen on Social Media Strategy

Kathleen took lead in the group looking to take their social media strategy to the next level. This group started the session by taking a tip from Ellen at the Oscars with a group “selfie” and encouraging followers on Twitter to retweet.

The Necessity of Social Media

Kathleen discussed how social media is evolving and won’t be going away any time soon. She compares social media to email in the 1990s; it may take a while for everyone to join, but in a few years it will be unthinkable to not have it. We were reminded that “social media is powerful and can be used to influence behavior” — like challenging people to care more about sustainability, recycle more, etc.

Becoming a Brand Ambassador

You should have a social media strategy for both your company and personal brand. Many people who are not posting from the company-branded pages and are using their personal pages for business are known as “brand ambassadors.”

Distinguishing Your Brand

Kathleen stressed that when using social media, you need to determine who your audience is and tailor your posts to achieve your overall goal of positioning yourself as the expert in your industry. Building memorable campaigns, hosting competitions, frequent polling, and localizing posts are all ways to gain a following and distinguish your brand.

Avoiding Common Social Media Mistakes

Kathleen also went over some common mistakes that are easily avoidable, such as taking the time to personally thank followers or mention colleagues in posts rather than sending a generic automatic reply. Also, “don’t forget to listen to your followers and retweet their content — remember, it’s a two way street.” These little things can make a big difference.

CREW’s Own Social Media Success

An amazing 37 tweets using the #TechToolbox or @CrewBaltimore circulated surrounding this event, making CREWBaltimore’s presence known to followers. Everyone was participating and receptive to the panelists’ suggestions and tips, which made this event a huge success!

Thanks to everyone who attended!

Member Spotlight – Angela Banner

Angela Banner

Angela Banner, Account Executive, Douron

Angela Banner

Account Executive at Douron

I help people with space planning, designing their work spaces, and staying within their budget.

How long have you been a CREWBaltimore Member?

I have been a member almost three years.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to join CREWBaltimore? Was there someone who influenced you to join?

I heard conflicting opinions about CREW from people at other networking groups, so I decided to find out for myself and signed up for an event.

I came to a lunch at the Tremont Grand, and I was totally welcomed and put at ease.  Joan Renner was the president at that time, and she was very friendly and down-to-earth.  I think we even sat at the same table during lunch.

I talked to Donna Kolb, who was then Director of Membership, and she was so friendly that I decided to come to another event.  I found the women at the next event to be just as warm and welcoming as the first luncheon, so I decided to join.

List any CREWBaltimore positions held or committees you have been a part of.

Membership Committee, 2012 – present

Programs Committee, 2013 – present

How does CREWBaltimore support your career

CREWBaltimore helps support my career with great programming that is relevant to the commercial real estate industry and current business trends in Baltimore.  It also provides me with a group of positive, business-minded peers that inspire me and make me feel welcome.

I have found friends in CREW as well as women that I look up to.  The atmosphere of CREW compels me to constantly strive to be a better account executive, networker, and a more polished professional.

Has CREWBaltimore contributed to your leadership skills and experience?

CREWBaltimore has helped me be a better leader through working on two committees.  I have had to step up to the challenges of being involved with reaching out to new people and asking them to become CREW members, organizing an event, and doing whatever is asked of me to help grow and improve our CREW chapter.

What do you do in your spare time? Provide a fun fact about yourself.

 I don’t have much spare time, but I do volunteer work with animal rescues. My 11-year-old dog and 17-year-old cat are both rescues. My dog gets me outside every single day — no matter what the weather (Polar Vortex included) — and helps keep me active by taking me for a walk every night. 🙂

A fun fact about me is that I am an adrenaline-seeker.  I love roller coasters, rowdy sports events, and concerts, and I jumped out of an airplane once.

What are you passionate about?

 I am passionate about animal rights and ending animal abuse.

If you could spend the day with one celebrity, who would it be and why?

I would spend the day with John Travolta. I think he has done some amazing things in his career –I LOVE Pulp Fiction! He has also had some tough life circumstances to overcome, like the death of his son and different episodes of the media bashing him. I love the fact that he is still married to the same woman after 20+ years, and I just get the feeling that he is still an approachable, genuinely kind person. I can’t think of anyone else like him.

Howard’s CREWspective

Howard Sobkov

Howard Sobkov, Partner, Cap Ex Management Group

Are guys allowed in CREW?

by Howard Sobkov, HMS Equity, Cap Ex Management Group

I went to my first CREWBaltimore event in early 2012. Three facts jumped out at me at the event.

(1) I was one of the only men at the event. Besides the speakers, there were only two other guys at the 100-person lunch.

(2) Everyone, and I mean everyone, was friendly to me and seemed open to getting to know me and making me feel comfortable at the event, particularly given point 1.

(3) Commercial real estate folks were everywhere, and most that I met were business owners or responsible for their own profit and loss statements.

Why CREWBaltimore?

I have remained in CREWBaltimore because it has helped my business on so many levels, and the mission of helping promote women in commercial real estate remains just as relevant today.

Some of the ways that CREWBaltimore has helped HMS Equity and the commercial property management business will be listed here to explain why CREWBaltimore is the optimal organization for anyone in commercial real estate in the greater Baltimore area.


CREWBaltimore has provided a myriad of leadership opportunities, including opportunities to speak at CREW events as well as follow on speeches at other organizations who heard my CREW talks. Committee work has provided other opportunities to identify areas of growth, lead programs, and have opportunities to mentor younger members and learn from more seasoned professionals.


This happens on several levels and is always an enjoyable experience due to the nature of the membership of CREWBaltimore. At committee meetings, networking happens spontaneously. At CREWBaltimore events, there is always time before and after events to network with both members and guests, including the speakers. Finally, due to the CREWBaltimore membership being focused on commercial real estate, face-to-face meetings have yielded spectacular results due to the shared goal of the success of CREWBaltimore.


Being a member of CREWBaltimore, I have had the opportunity to get to know several business owners who are CREWBaltimore members and have helped my business of commercial property management. Specifically, Kolb Electric owner Donna Kolb has solved an issue with quality electrical help, and Kolb Electric now functions as an extension of my business, as they are prompt, efficient, quality, and competitively priced.

Cardno ATC member Karen Pecoraro has provided property condition and environmental services on several transactions with a first-rate product and service. There are other examples that I am happy to discuss with anyone who is interested.

The other way that CREWBaltimore has helped my business is regularly seeing members who are in commercial real estate in and around Baltimore who I also see frequently in transactions and am comforted by knowing the professionals and principals at the table.


Being involved in CREWBaltimore, I have been very impressed with the character of the members in a business that is not always highlighted by character people. There is an underlying sense of all members to “pay it forward.” The mission and the application process helps to determine that applicants will continue to further the goals and operation of CREWBaltimore.

Men Can Join CREW!

So, yes, men can join CREW, find opportunities as described above, and enhance their businesses if they pay it forward. If you are in commercial real estate in the greater Baltimore area, CREWBaltimore is an excellent organization to consider for your investment of time.

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