October 12, 2006

5 CREW presidents look at the past, present and future

  • These articles span the last 20 years of CREW Seattle. Member Ginger Wesley, who has been with CREW since the beginning, opens with a reflection on the association.
  • How it began

    Idon’t recall the exact details of my first CREW conversation 20 years ago. But I do remember the conversation was over lunch with Virginia Dunmire and Suzanne Puckett at the City Club. Virginia was a real estate appraiser, Suzanne was a commercial banker, and I was running the property management department at First City Equities.

    That conversation was a seed that started an informal network of women involved in some aspect of commercial real estate. That seed has continued to grow and has evolved into this incredible organization we are all so proud of today.

    Twenty years ago, we were totally unaware that similar groups were forming on the East Coast and in other parts of the country for the same reason: a desire to bring together women engaged in commercial real estate.

    Until then, real estate professionals belonged to industry organizations, but the industry associations tended to focus on specific disciplines within commercial real estate. Brokers made business contacts and developed relationships through SIOR and NAIOP. Bankers attended MBA events, developers went to ULI and ICSC, property managers joined IREM and BOMA, and so on. Until then, there hadn’t been an avenue for women in the different segments of the business to meet, exchange information and support each other in their professional endeavors.

    In the early days, men invited to attend CREW weren’t quite sure what to expect. When invited to CREW back then, men were usually a bit intrigued, but often a bit hesitant as well. It could be a somewhat intimidating experience since men weren’t used to being in a minority position in a business setting.

    Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching the growing number of smart men get involved in CREW Seattle as members of our chapter, its committees and the board.

    CREW has come so far these past 20 years, who knows what will be accomplished over the next 20!

    Ginger Wesley

    Business Development Manager

    MulvannyG2 Architecture

    CREW Northwest 1993

    I served on the CREW board for seven years and as your president in 1993. I’ve certainly seen many changes. CREW Northwest (our old chapter name) rarely had operating money due to a growing membership; our operating budget was $17,000 and lunches at the WAC were less than $20. Each board member did all of the work with small committees and no help from a management firm. CREW Seattle was among the first chapters in the country to launch a sponsorship drive which made it possible to hire a management company, improve on our educational benefits, and give more back to the community and the members.

    As an individual, my experiences on the board gave me more self confidence to become a better businesswoman and certainly introduced me to the real estate community, especially other property managers. But more importantly, my membership in CREW has given me lifelong friends.


    Pamala K. Gasaway

    1993 CREW Northwest President

    Broker-Property Manager,

    Business Property Development

    CREW Seattle 1994

    The commercial real estate industry continued to crawl through the recession that had arrived in the early 1990s. Capital had disappeared and with it went development and all the attendant specialties feeding the creation of new buildings. In short, the industry had hunkered down for a long winter.

    CREW Seattle had a membership of about 80 women who had been able to convince their penny-pinching employers — or decided to reach into their jeans for their own money — to pay the modest membership dues. In short, these were challenging times, times that required rebuilding.

    And rebuilding we did. Our resources were, to say the least, limited. While we had a modest contract with an administrative services company to help us collect dues, send out notices and pay the bills, the CREW board found itself responsible for writing meeting notices, typing up the newsletter and, unbelievably, licking envelopes.

    Nevertheless, the spirit of the board was strong and we decided that the only option was to grow stronger.

    With that mindset, we went about growing the brand that we thought would pave the way to larger things. We chose to focus on the marquis value of our luncheon programs and the visibility that gave our organization. What we had learned was that local leaders liked to speak at our luncheons because our membership asked great questions. That reputation allowed us to attract the top movers and shakers of the time, including Gary Locke, Jennifer Belcher (director of the Department of Natural Resources) and Yves Mizrahi of Starbucks. We also strived to make the meetings fast moving, energetic and fun.

    The attendance grew and with it came more members, over 10 percent more by the end of the year, despite a continuing recession. We stopped licking envelopes, hired a management company to do the envelopes, announcements, bookkeeping, etc, freeing us up to do more strategic things, as one would expect from a board of directors.

    The final act came near the end of the year when the idea of sponsorship arose. Despite some doubt that anyone would want to pay sponsorship dollars to a female organization, we nevertheless decided that our growth required it. We started the program and today we are proud to say that sponsorship dollars flow into CREW Seattle totaling in the six-figure range.


    Julie Benezet

    1994 CREW Seattle President

    Founder of Business Growth Consulting LLC

    CREW Seattle 2000

    When I was first asked to consider writing this article about CREW the year I was president, the year 2000, I thought to myself ... well, the organization has come a long way, the real estate market has changed significantly, and my life has changed professionally and personally ... but has it really changed that much? It was only six years ago.

    In order to look into this article, I first had to dig up that box of “old work stuff” in my garage. Then, I had to go turn on that old computer to see what I had saved. I soon realized I was on to something just by looking at how ancient that computer was: 2000 was a long time ago.

    Six years ago, the real estate market was incredibly different. I found some notes from a program CREW sponsored in July 2000. One of our featured speakers was Jane Blair of CB Richard Ellis. She reported current office vacancy for Seattle was 1.01 percent and less than 1 percent for Class A. Eastside vacancy was less than 1 percent.

    Tight market conditions were making it hard for tenants and hard for brokers, with lots of demand on the horizon. It was a landlords’ market. As a result, competitive offers were occurring with bidding wars on space, some as much as $6 to $8 per square foot.

    Limited space was causing tenants to look more regionally for space to meet their needs, resulting in migration to outside markets. Yet, tenants still wanted the “more urban hip feeling” and needed fiber optics, category 5 wiring, and T1 and T3 lines. Landlords had “dotcomitus,” requiring personal and corporate guarantees and portfolio liens. Buildings under construction were approximately 80 percent preleased, including some planned for sublease. Blair warned: “sublease” would likely be the big buzzword for the next year.

    Another featured speaker was Julie Benezet of She had some interesting statistics: 1995 had 14 million Internet users; 1999 had 131 million users; 2001 was projected to have 228 million users.

    She noted how the velocity was resulting in significant real estate planning difficulties and noted that many companies were still trying to figure out this new factor, the Internet. She noted the characteristics of the dot-com company and its employees: density, dogs, bikes, smokers, 19-hour work days, 24-7, and downloaded “entertainment.” Many employees came straight from a dorm room to office space, while executives of these companies saw real estate as a barrier. “Just-in-time real estate” applied to dot-com companies, they needed proximity to additional expansion and the ability to move.


    Gretchen Young

    2000 CREW Seattle President

    Managing Director, Cushman and Wakefield

    CREW Seattle 2003

    I had the privilege of serving as the CREW Seattle president in 2003. We have seen steady growth in our membership in both the CREW Seattle chapter and the CREW Network since its inception in the mid 1980s.

    We all share a common goal, to advance the success of women in commercial real estate. Nationally, we are a federation of more than 7,000 members in 61 chapters and growing.

    CREW Seattle is one of the largest and most established chapters in the federation. It is a testament to our members and their respective companies. We can also be proud that we play a significant role in the shaping of our real estate community regionally.

    One thing that makes CREW Network unique is the level of training available. This is some of the best education offered in the real estate industry. Here are a few of the benefits that a CREW membership can offer and how you can leverage that membership and education to advance your career:

    • Attend programs, regional meetings and the annual convention to learn new skills.

    • Chair a committee for leadership experience.

    • To develop new business contacts, join the membership committee.

    • If you want to learn strategic leadership, get involved in a committee to position yourself for a future board position.

    Congratulations CREW Seattle, I look forward to the next 20 years of continued success!


    Shawn Rush

    2006 CREW Network Board Member and President

    Group Mackenzie Principal

    CREW Seattle 2007

    It seems hard to believe that CREW Seattle is 20 years young. Yet, the first time I attended a networking event held in the 1st and Stewart Building, literally on the unfinished concrete floor, I said this is going to be one of the best association decisions I ever made.

    I joined immediately and for the last 18 years I have watched the chapter grow, struggle and succeed as an oasis in the myriad of opportunities we have to do business together, network together, give back to the community together, and hopefully, bring women into our industry. No other real estate association experience gives to its members with great programs, gives back to the community with such targeted funding, or provides a forum for members to improve their personal and professional development.

    Clearly, this anniversary is cause for celebration of the chapter achievements and a chance to move forward with even loftier goals. It is also a time to share with our members the special memories CREW Seattle provided us. Some of mine involve CREW members who helped me find work, gave me a hug at a luncheon, gave of their time to benefit others, and bound with me in friendship for life.

    Congratulations CREW Seattle; a chapter that provides local and now international leadership to commercial real estate professionals.


    Peggy Dreisinger

    2007 CREW Seattle

    President Elect

    Director of Field Operations, Metropolitan Improvement District

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