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“If you can develop relationships with people and see their concerns, you will be an effective salesperson,” Gwendolyn Butler ’84, president and COO of Capri Capital Partners, told Kellogg students on March 3.

Gwendolyn Butler

Real Estate Executive Speaker Series: Gwendolyn Butler ’84

Over lunch with Kellogg students, the president and COO of Capri Capital Partners talks real estate and her rise to the top

By Rachel Farrell

3/15/2010 - Gwendolyn Butler ’84 is a model for African-American women — and anyone who aspires to climb the corporate ladder.

The Part-Time Program graduate began her career as a corporate finance banker, worked her way up at UBS and Bear Stearns & Co., and is now president and COO of Capri Capital Partners, one of the nation’s leading institutional real estate investment management firms.

She is not only the first African-American female to be appointed vice president of commercial lending at Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company — she is also the first African-American female president and COO in the commercial real estate management industry. Among her many accolades, Butler was named to Black Enterprise magazine’s “75 Most Powerful Women in Business” and was noted as one of “100 of America’s Best and Brightest Black Women in Corporate America” by Ebony magazine.

As part of the Real Estate Executive Speaker Series, Butler visited the Kellogg School on March 3 to dine with students in the James L. Allen Center and offer advice on career, professional development and the current state of the real estate industry.

Be open to new opportunities. Butler encouraged Kellogg students to have flexibility in their career and consider opportunities that may deviate from a traditional career path. “Many of the opportunities created for me — including my current role at Capri — were not preordained or planned,” she said. “I was just open to the possibility of [different roles] where I could apply my skill set. And I listened a lot.”

Don’t let difficult people in the workplace derail your success. To illustrate her point, Butler shared the story of a supervisor “who tormented me, was unsupportive and condescended — the worst boss I ever had,” she said. But instead of quitting her job, Butler focused on performing exceptionally well in her role. “You have to persevere as I did,” she told students. “And realize that the way you get your revenge on a [difficult] person is by being successful.”

Use your differences to your advantage. Having a background in investing — versus real estate — has been an advantage for Butler in her current position at Capri. “I come at this from a background as a corporate finance and capital raiser, which makes me sober when looking at an investment,” she says. “I don’t fall in love with a developer; I look at an investment from the client or the limited partner’s perspective.”

You learn how to invest when you learn to fix a broken deal. When the real estate market was strong, “a lot of transactions were based on the value of an asset going forward versus the cash of the asset,” said Butler. Now, times have changed: The weak market is forcing investors to think carefully about where they put their money, which offers “a real learning experience,” Butler says. “They will be better investors going forward.”

A genuine interest in people will make you a great marketer. The money management business is all about relationships, Butler says. “If you can develop relationships with people and see their concerns, you will be an effective salesperson.”

Launched in 2004, the Kellogg Real Estate Executive Series provides an informal forum for students to exchange ideas and ask questions of leading real estate executives. The program is a joint effort between the Kellogg Real Estate Program, Kellogg Real Estate Club and the Guthrie Center for Real Estate Research. Speakers for the 2009-10 academic year include Stephen Quazzo, co-founder and CEO, Transwestern Investment Company LLC; David Crowell, COO, The Rise Group; and Peter C. Roberts, CEO, Americas, Jones Lang LaSalle.