The following profile was created and conducted by ULI Toronto members Andrea Bogar and Robyn Brown.
Merrie S. Frankel is a big believer in window periods: “In terms of career transitions,” she explains, “you have to take advantage of them, with thought of course, because that window might not open again.” For someone who has had six careers, Merrie would know something about transitions. “I didn’t plan it. It was simply evolutionary.” Merrie started out with a law degree and an MBA, and knew she wanted to be an attorney, but assumed she would eventually become a business person.
It may not have been a straight path to get where she is now, but for the last 15 years Merrie has been a REIT Analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, the global rating agency, where she currently holds the position of Senior Credit Officer/Vice President in the Commercial Real Estate Finance group. Here she is responsible for a ratings portfolio of real estate investment trusts (REITs) and real estate operating companies (REOCs) in the United States and Canada where she interacts daily with senior management at issuers, institutional investors, and investment bankers. Previously, she worked at Salomon Brothers, JP Morgan, Cushman & Wakefield, Ernst & Young, and the Argo Funds.
She believes recession periods are part of the reason you don’t see as many women in the upper levels of the real estate industry. Women tend to be weeded out during recessions, and when there is a recovery, they don’t necessarily come back. They go into other businesses like marketing and advertising, or other parts of Wall Street.
On discussing success for young women in the industry, Merrie stresses that it’s not only hard work, but also finding what you are good at. Young people early in their career need to be constantly learning: “Be a sponge soaking up all the info you can,” she stresses. “You need to constantly learn or you will fall flat.” In the end, she believes, there are no shortcuts.
Merrie acknowledges that a challenge for many women at the senior level is their inability to have their voice heard. She recalls a bright colleague who didn’t speak up in an important meeting, and let everyone else talk. “I took the woman aside afterwards and told her to make sure she doesn’t walk out of a room having not said something ever again.”
“Don’t just talk the talk either. Say something succinct and logical, but you have to have your voice heard. It’s part of the game,” she says. It also helps to have a sense of humour. “Women in particular tend to put their heads down and just work, but you also want people to want to work with you.” A sense of humour will also help with clients, warding off a difficult situation, or cutting through things with a laugh.
Merrie is also active and passionate about teaching. She started ULI’s UrbanPlan program in New York City and is a professor at Columbia University where she teaches a graduate real estate capital markets course. ULI’s UrbanPlan is a month-long real estate course that is integrated into 12th grade high school economics where students redevelop a site while learning to balance public and private interests. “It’s one of the best things I’ve done. I love watching the light bulbs in their minds turn on.” For ULI, she has been the chair of the New York District Council, chaired the product council UDMUC-Gold, been a council counsellor, and is currently the Outreach Chair for WLI. She is also active in a number of other organizations such as Women Executives in Real Estate (WX) and the Financial Women’s Association of New York (FWA), where she currently co-chairs the Directorship and Corporate Governance Committee.
The growth of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) at ULI Toronto has been a real source of pride for her. “Seeing it flourish, how it’s changed, and is still growing especially as it evolves in different regions… it’s often really different than we had initially imagined, but each District Council utilizes the parts that work for them.”
In discussing the evolution of her careers, she confesses she would not change anything about her path. “Every move made sense at the time, and I’ve learned something everywhere I’ve been.” These lessons have proven useful and been especially beneficial to her clients.