Mary Ann Wisinski-Rosely and Hillary Taatjes Woznick aren’t biological sisters, but professionally, they might as well be twins.
The career paths of the two commercial real estate game-changers feature strikingly similar trail marks. Both are Grand Rapids natives. They were born to two of the most important names in West Michigan’s commercial real estate’s industry: Stan Wisinski and Doug Taatjes. Both women were not originally interested or trained in commercial real estate, but found their way into the male-dominated industry. And both women ended up at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, where Wisinski-Rosely serves as partner and office specialist, and Taatjes Woznick serves as commercial real estate advisor.
Now the two established success stories have a new mission — to open the floodgates and let other women know about the opportunities offered by careers in commercial real estate.
“I do think it’s easier now than when I got into the business. Twenty years ago, there weren’t as many women in that leadership position. Ironically, I’ve actually had men call me because I’m a woman,” Wisinski-Rosely said.
“Oh, I’ve had that too,” Taatjes Woznick added. “Traditionally, you’ve had men running companies. … Bringing men to the table, I think, gives them an automatic credibility, but I think (now) there’s more women running companies … and they want us at the table. So I think that’s something that’s new and growing.”
Commercial real estate wasn’t a profession either woman expected to take on, but it was in their genes. Wisinski-Rosely’s father founded The Wisinski Group, which eventually became S.J. Wisinski and Co. and is now NAI Wisinski of West Michigan. She said she remembers how her father used to come home every day and work late into the night from his home office.
“My dad never talked to me about coming into the business, not once. But I would think he’s really proud that I’m following in his footsteps,” she said. “I got to learn from someone who really was one of the leaders in commercial real estate in West Michigan.”
Taatjes Woznick had a similar experience with her father who founded Taatjes and Toll, which eventually helped form NAI West Michigan in 2006. As a young girl, Taatjes Woznick was interested in being involved with her father’s job. On Saturday mornings, he would ask, “Who wants to go to the office today?” or “Who wants to come to Battle Creek and look at properties?” She’d always raise her hand to go, she said.
“We’re fortunate enough to both have fathers who probably would be considered in the top 10 in all of West Michigan of commercial brokers. We’re fortunate in that they have a level of respect associated with their name that is a benefit to us getting into the industry,” Taatjes Woznick said. “But I also think being a father’s daughter … I call it ‘reverse discrimination’ sometimes because I feel like I want to work harder so people don’t think I am depending on him, because if I don’t earn my own respect, I won’t be able to get anything done.”
Wisinski-Rosely concurred, saying when she started out, she was young, female and working for her father, which meant in the minds of many of the older men, she already had three strikes against her, she said.
Wisinski-Rosely, who received her Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing and finance from Saint Mary’s College, joined the company in 1995 after having spent about three years working in advertising at The Grand Rapids Press.
“I knew I could be successful in business because I had been successful before that. You just have to have that drive and determination and not let things get in your way,” she said.
“And I pursued my designations early. Within my first two years, I had my CCIM and, to me, that was my training. But I also had a financial and marketing background. This business is very much finance and marketing orientated.”
Taatjes Woznick’s career was headed on a much different trajectory. She studied opera at Wheaton College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in music and business. After working for about two years as a women’s board assistant at Lyric Opera of Chicago, she became an events coordinator at Medinah Country Club. In 2003, she returned to Grand Rapids and joined Taatjes and Toll at her father’s request after a receptionist position opened up.
At first, she saw no future in the industry until the company went global. That was when she began to believe in not just the future of the business but in what she could give back, she said.
“I think when you’re a father’s daughter, you have a sense of ownership. You don’t just see ‘how can I benefit from the company’ and ‘how can they make me money,’” she said. “You have a sense of ownership because you’ve lived that life. Your dad’s been an owner. You want to give in whatever capacity beyond ‘what is my personal benefit?’”
Trying to break into the industry these days is easier for women than 20 years ago, they said. Many men in West Michigan’s commercial real estate industry are not only comfortable working with women in the industry, but are even specifically looking for their input in projects, Taatjes Woznick said.
“I think most men these days have a healthy respect for women, but if they’re coming from the old school way of thinking, it’s fun to win over their respect, because once you perform, you do earn their respect and then they’ll be calling you, asking you to work on more property,” she said.
Both women noted there isn’t much training available for those who want to get into real estate, and what training and licensing there is usually focuses on residential real estate. But bankers, appraisers, and women with business, marketing and finance degrees can easily make the changeover to commercial real estate, Taatjes Woznick said. The hours also tend to be more flexible, which can make it easier for women to be successful and still find time for family and other things, she said.
“It really does fit well for the person who likes to be in a decision-making environment and also have a lot of new, exciting things going on every day,” she said.
“Another key piece that’s changed in the last five years is the team approach. Mary Ann and I both work in a team atmosphere, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. The industry has changed and I think that will appeal to women.”
Taatjes Woznick is planning a women’s networking event that will be held 4:30-6 p.m., Nov. 11, at Rhoades McKee law firm, 55 Campau Ave. NW, Grand Rapids. The free event is being co-hosted by the Commercial Alliance of Realtors of West Michigan and Rhoades McKee.
It’s events like these, as well as a new generation of women leaders starting to establish themselves in the industry, that could balance out the gender numbers in the next 10 years, the two women said. At least the sisterhood of the commercial real estate industry hopes so.
“I think it’s a great industry for women because the opportunity is there,” Wisinski-Rosely said. “There’s never a dull moment.” Article by Mike Nichols, GRBJ