The WLI Talks to Nina Gruen, ULI’s First Female Trustee

Nina Gruen

Nina Gruen was ULI’s first woman trustee, elected to that post in 1982.  She currently is the Principal Sociologist in charge of market research and analysis at her firm, Gruen Gruen + Associates, since co-founding the firm in 1970.

Tell us about your career path with ULI.

In the 1960’s, my husband, Claude and I worked for Arthur D. Little, where we developed store location strategies in Southern California for a major department store.  We published research based on our analysis and founded our own firm in the early 1970’s.  I first joined ULI in 1971 and was the first woman member on a housing council.  By the late 1970’s I became the first women’s council chair of the Development Regulation Council, and by 1982 was appointed to Trustee. I remained a Trustee for 15 years and was keen to sponsor women’s receptions and provide strong mentorship throughout that time.  The friends and network I developed during my ULI leadership years were most important to me. In particular, Leanne Lachman was appointed Trustee not long after my appointment and we both worked closely with the male trustees to provide that female point of view.  I was co-chair of the Housing Task Force with Leanne during this time, where we influenced local and national policy on economic development and neighborhood revitalization issues.

Today, I am involved with ULI on a local level, working on a district council.

What other organizations have been important to your career?

I have been a member of the International Women’s Forum and past president of the Womens’ Forum West, the Bay Region affiliate of this organization.  This is an association of preeminent women leaders throughout the world in a wide variety of industries.  I am also a member of Lamda Alpha and Commercial Real Estate Women.

Describe your most recent research and share some eye-opening details.

“Boomers and Echo’s: Generational and other Structural Shifts and Their Impacts on Future Demand for Real Estate in the Coming Decade” is the title of my most recent research.  I co-authored this piece with Alan Billinglsey, formerly Head of Americas Research at RREEF.  The Echo’s are by far the largest segment of the population today and people just don’t appreciate how quickly society is changing!  Did you know that only one-third of this group plans to have one child?  More than 50% of all children borne today have a mother on Medicaid.  Fifty percent are borne to single mothers.  Our population is changing dramatically and the way real estate is used will change just as dramatically with that shift.

As is well documented, many in the younger generations prefer to live in urban, mixed communities with high density a plus.  The popular housing stock is transit oriented, with smaller living spaces more popular.   Age groups will mix and match, with no desire to segregate by generation.  Echo’s and Y’s have seen how their parents age and they do not want any part of it!  Doesn’t that sound familiar to the Boomer generation?

Office space will be collaborative.  Retail space will need to provide an experience beyond mere shopping, since every product can be found on line.  The need for medical clinics and healthcare facilities will continue to grow.  The general educational and social changes in our society will manifest themselves through our real estate usage.

What advice would you give to young women entering the real estate field today?  What advice would you give to those in mid-career?

My best advice is to move where the action is!  Check out San Francisco, Austin, Raleigh-Durham.  Be flexible, be global.  Change is happening rapidly and you must adapt to that change or you will be left behind.  Pay attention to demographics and figure out what different ethnic and population age groups desire.  This will lead to good development and investment in all real estate categories, whether housing, retail, office or specialty types.  Women today have far more opportunity to progress in the real estate, male-dominated environment.  But we must continue to work smarter and harder to get ahead.  The next 20 years will be most exciting.

Nina Gruen has worked extensively with public and private clients, as well as municipal clients.  She has also authored more than 60 articles (with her husband and son, among other co-authors).  She has served on the faculties of the University of Cincinnati and the University of Kentucky at Covington.  She has served on policy groups at other educational institutions.  She earned her B.A. with high honors at the University of Cincinnati and a M.A. awarded jointly by the departments of Psychology and Sociology at the University of Cincinnati, plus she has attended the University of California at Berkeley for post-graduate studies.  She is an avid art collector and lives in San Francisco.

This interview was conducted by Peggy DaSilva, Managing Director at The Rockefeller Group.

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