Give me a brief background on who you are/ where you’re from? What inspired you to get into the real estate private equity sector?
I am a Canadian, originally from a relatively small town in Ontario, but have been living in London since 2014. I was previously working with Brookfield in Toronto in the Renewable Energy M&A team when I got offered the chance to move over to London with the Chief Investment Officer for Brookfield’s Renewable Energy Group to launch the European office and team. After 5 years working in the renewable energy space and making our first investments in Europe, the opportunity came up to switch sectors within the company and help establish the Portfolio Management Group for our European Real Estate business. I was interested in the opportunity because being a part of the portfolio management team would give me the chance to learn from and work closely with our Senior Management Teams to drive and implement the value creation strategies that we underwrite during acquisition.
What does it mean to be a Senior Vice President in Portfolio Management, in a nutshell?
The London Portfolio Management team is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of all the real estate-backed companies that we own across Europe and ensure execution of the business plans we create with for each of these businesses. This means we work closely with the Senior Management Teams of each business to assist in defining strategy, identifying and completing new acquisitions to grow each business, and monitoring overall financial performance, amongst other items.
Run us through your typical working day?
No day is “typical”. The job changes day-by-day and the projects we prioritize are really driven by the stage each business is in its individual 5-year business plan. For example, this week I participated in a number of working sessions to evaluate a proposed multi-million dollar IT investment program for our French aparthotel business, reviewed and approved pursuit of a new investment opportunity in the Netherlands, participated in our monthly financial results call for our UK Student Housing business, and ended the week attending the quarterly board meeting for our German student housing business.
Can you tell me about any exciting developments in the pipeline?
One of the businesses that Brookfield owns and that I get the pleasure of working with is Center Parcs UK, the well-known family holiday destination which currently has 5 locations across England. For the last two years we have been building a 6th parc in Ireland, which finally opens to the public in July! We are really excited to start opening this parc and see how the Irish consumer adopts this popular UK-concept.
What is your greatest weakness and how do you work around this?
Keeping my calendar and travel organized. Thankfully we have a phenomenal assistant on our team who organizes my entire life and thinks ahead for anything I might need while I am travelling or for a meeting. I couldn’t get through the work day without her.
Natalie wears our Baywater dress in Green, £198 (left)
What has been the most challenging obstacle to overcome being a young professional woman in real estate?
Getting comfortable with asking stupid questions. When I switched sectors from renewable energy to real estate, I was expected to work on transactions and projects despite initially having limited understanding of sector-specific risks or even the lingo. At first, it was incredibly intimidating as I was working with highly regarded CEOs and Management teams with more than 20-30 years of experience. I was expected to sit with them in board meetings and monitor financial performance or challenge operational and investment decisions, but I was worried my questions would expose my limited knowledge. I eventually got over the fear thanks to one very patient management team and started asking a number of, what I considered silly/basic questions. I still remember the day my colleague came up to me after one Management Team meeting and mentioned how smart my questions had been and asked how I knew so much about the topic. That was when it really clicked for me that I wasn’t the only one in the room that didn’t have all the answers. Since then, I ask about everything no matter how silly the question is (and still about 80% of my questions are!). It is the only way to learn and also helps ensure we are making the best decisions within our businesses that maximize the profit for our investors.
Describe your go-to workwear style?
Simple, Neutral and Comfortable. I focus on any outfits where I can minimize thinking when I get ready in the morning while still looking professional. As a result, I own a lot of navy, black and white. I own mostly dresses where I can throw a smart blazer on top, or a fitted pencil skirt suit which I can pair with a simple top. Because I travel at least once a week, I also tend to be most attracted to breathable and stretchable materials in case I need to run through the airport to catch my flight!
Natalie wears our Baywater dress in Green, £198 (right)
Tell me about your worst office fashion faux pas?
When I was in university, I had been advised that I should wear clothes “to not draw attention to my figure” if I wanted to excel and be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated industry like private equity. My own person application of this rule went a bit overboard and resulted in me buying exclusively grey and black suits that were two sizes too big for my frame. The suits swallowed me whole. I thought I looked professional but was told by a friend at the company two years later that everyone else thought I dressed like a grandmother!
What is your favourite Libby outfit at the moment?
The navy blue Fitzrovia top and matching pencil skirt Suzy. The top cinches so nicely at the waist and has a slight peplum flare which creates a flattering hourglass figure while still hiding my belly so I don’t have to worry about overeating at lunch!
What keeps you busy when you’re not in the office?
Travelling and hiking. I love visiting new countries (just hit my 60th country over Easter break!) and in particular exploring National Parks or the most picturesque landscapes in that country. My latest trip was to Albania where my friend and I went hiking in Llogara National Park along the Southern coast, and then drove north to do a white-water rafting tour through the Osumi Canyon.
Have you mastered a good work-life balance?
If you looked at my working hours over the last month, you would probably say no. However, I think I have found my own version of “balance” that works for me. Like any other job I have busy periods where the hours will be long and sometimes late into the night, but I also have flexibility over when I have to put in those hours. Because most of my work is with companies we own, I know most of my deadlines well in advance and I can work my personal life around them. To me, having this flexibility is the most important as it allows me to be able to still say “yes” to all things that are important to me (getting to the gym, seeing my friends, enjoying my vacations, etc) but still feel confident that I am meeting the expectations of my role and the team around me.
Lastly, what’s one key piece of career advice that you would give other women?
Don’t feel afraid to go after something that interests you or would challenge you to learn something new. If you feel yourself coming up with excuses for why not to go after that new opportunity, just ask yourself: “what is the worst thing that can happen?” What if you switch companies and don’t like the culture? Maybe. You can always find another job, and this time you know what not to look for in a company culture. What if you take on a new role that you don’t have all the qualifications for yet? Maybe. While you are in that role, be prepared to work hard and keep your mindset focused on building as many new skills as possible and learning from every mistake you make. That’s not a bad downside in my mind.
Interview: Lilli Brant
Photographer: Mafalda Silva
Accessories: Natalie's own
Location: Brookfield's office in Canary Wharf, London