WLI Interview with Alexa Arena of Forest City

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The ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative recently spoke to Alexa Arena, Senior Vice President of Forest City in San Francisco about fostering healthy and fruitful work environments, mentorship, and enriching local communities.

What is your first rule in business?
Hire great people.

What do you value most from your colleagues?
Steadiness, intellect, and creativity. Those three qualities in combination are so important and critical in our industry because we are thrown so many curve balls.

What do you feel is most over-rated in the workplace?
I hesitate to say this, but there is a certain type of charismatic personality that frequently overshadows less emphatic personalities. Great ideas come from varying perspectives – often from where you’d least expect. The best developers are those who synthesis all views into a common goal. The best developers, in my opinion, are the best listeners.

What type of culture do you like to foster where you work?
Openness and fearlessness.

How do you encourage people to work together towards a common goal?
See previous answer. In addition, helping people recognize that their skill sets are different from their colleagues’ skill sets, and to play on their own strengths while respecting the strengths of others. Essentially, we’re all here for a common vision to improve cities.

Whom do you mentor? Who mentors you?
I learn a lot from people and they learn a lot from me. There is a little bit of mentoring that happens among the entire [Forest City] team.

How did you go about getting a mentor?
Once I figure out what someone is really proficient in, I ask many questions to dive into their perspective and try to understand their process for reaching conclusions. Additionally, I find the best mentors are the ones that know you very well, personally. They understand you on a deeper level – what motivates you and the nuances of your personality – and shape their advice accordingly.

How can women better enrich their communities?
That’s an interesting question just for women. I don’t think it’s any different for men. There’s a generation – both men and women – that have separated its personal values from work life. I don’t do my professional work and then do my volunteer work; I integrate both into the same program. I find this produces much better results holistically and for the community.

If your career story were a movie, what would be the title?
Ha! It’s the end of a Monday…that’s tough. I’ll get back to you.

This interview was conducted by Dana Van Galder, Manager at ULI San Francisco.

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