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Forbes: Get to know 10 Women Leaders in Architecture and Real Estate, featuring Marianne McKenna

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March 8, 2020

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by Julia Brenner

This International Women’s Day, get to know ten women who are opening doors for themselves and for other women in the highly competitive fields of architecture and real estate. Each of these women has carved a unique path to success, but all are united by their professional drive, their passion to support other women, and their sheer tenacity. In the words of Jessica Miller Essl, founder of M2G Ventures, “anyone that gets in your way is just that, in your way.”

Kara Mann, Founder and Creative Director of Kara Mann  

Since establishing her own design firm in Chicago in 2005, some of Mann’s notable projects include a pop-up shop for Goop, Hotel Chelsea, product lines with Baker furniture, and most recently, her first ground-up condominium development, 1000M. Having broken ground in 2019, Mann created the interior layouts and finish selections for the residences as well as designed the 40,000 square feet of indoor, outdoor, and amenity spaces.

Nykea Pippion McGriff, Broker at Dream Town Realty

Nykea Pippion McGriff is passionate about real estate and her hometown of Chicago, where she works as a broker with Dream Town Realty. In addition to her work as a broker, Nykea serves as the National Association of Realtors appointed Federal Political Coordinator for the 1st Congressional District of Illinois and is the 2018 President-Elect of the Women’s Council of Realtors Illinois (WCR). She also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Realtors, Chicago Association of Realtors, and IDFPR Real Estate and Disciplinary Board.

Marianne McKenna Co-Founding Partner, KPMB Architects

Marianne McKenna is an invested Officer of the Order of Canada and an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Conservatory. Her impressive roster of projects include Banff Centre for Arts and CreativityNorthwestern UniversityThe Royal Conservatory and the Conrad New York. With a focus on engaging community through design and concert hall architecture, Marianne’s current projects include an expansion for The Brearley School in New York City, renovation of the iconic Massey HallBoston University’s Data Sciences Center and the 130-year-old Bloor Street United Church.

We are fast-moving beyond the first waves of liberal and pragmatic feminism that made access and education available and gave voice to women and made them visible. A more broad-based, philosophical feminism that values talent, focus, and the ability to listen more broadly will be at the forefront of changes within the profession of architecture.

Highlyann Krasnow, Partner at MNS

Afterstarting her career as a broker fresh out of college, Krasnow worked to become the only female partner at MNS, a sales and rental brokerage that has sold or rented more than 12,000 units totaling more than $10 billion in real estate throughout New York City. Additionally, Krasnowhas also launched her own eco-friendly interior design firm, The Design High, a women-run company and the exclusive design wing of MNS.

Real estate has largely been dubbed a ‘male-driven industry,’ though this is changing at a rapid pace and should by no means steer women away from the field.

Arlinda Dine, EVP of New Development Marketing at Modern Spaces

At New York City-based real estate group, Modern Spaces, Arlinda Dine oversees new projects from conceptual and financial projections, through sales and beyond. She has worked on numerous large-scale projects, like One Brooklyn Bridge and the Williamsburg Edge, where she was actively involved in every aspect of the development process, from negotiation and pricing, to marketing and sales. Over the past two years, she has spearheaded the marketing and sales efforts for Skyline Tower, the tallest building in the borough of Queens.

Real estate is still a male-dominated profession, but major firms…are finally starting to recognize the value of diversifying their workforce, and we are slowly starting to see things change. It will take time, but diversity is becoming more widespread in our industry.

Natalie Diaz, Chief of Staff at Time Equities Inc.

Natalie Diaz joined Time Equities Inc. (TEI) in 2011 as the Executive Assistant to CEO Francis Greenburger. Natalie now holds the position of Chief of Staff. In her role as COS, Diaz works with both the CEO and President of TEI to create and/or refine company-wide policies and procedures to support efficient internal operations and interdepartmental communication. Diaz oversees all marketing and communications for the firm. Last year, Diaz founded the Women’s Equity Committee (WEC) at TEI and is passionate about increasing inclusion from diverse female voices.

Working in a male dominated industry, I quickly realized to rise above it, meaning I didn’t dwell on the fact that I am in the minority. Kick ass and you will rise above it. Anyone that gets in your way, is just that, in your way.

Jessica Miller Essl, Co-President, M2G Ventures

Sisters Susan and Jessica Miller founded M2G Ventures in 2014 to invest in distinctive, mixed-use and industrial development projects in Fort Worth, TX. To date, the firm has handled over $60 million in property, primarily in the urban center of Fort Worth. M2G also specializes in limited strategic consulting for legacy projects, and has been selected as the exclusive retail and restaurant partner for the $200 million redevelopment of the Horse and Mule Barns located in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.

Maile Aguila, Senior Vice President of Residential Sales for Swire Properties Inc

With over 30 years of real estate experience, Maile Aguila has led sales efforts for the company’s Brickell Key developments, an impeccable record that has generated more than $800 million in revenue for the Tequesta Point, Courts Brickell Key, Carbonell and Asia condominiums. Currently, Maile is focused on the sellout of two premier residential towers, Reach and Rise Residences at Brickell City Centre, the $1.05 billion mixed-use development in Miami.

Your gut feeling is your compass, and it is informed by the powerful combination of your heart, mind and body. Tune into it and don’t let anyone tell you not to pay attention to it.

Elana Friedman, Chief Marketing Officer for AKA

As the Chief Marketing Officer of AKA, Elana Friedman takes under-the-radar hotels and puts them on the global stage. She is known in the hospitality industry for her creative ideas, such as the first-ever outdoor hotel bedroom for serviced residences AKA, which led to an influx of worldwide visitors seeking the best of both worlds — a well-designed residence with the amenities of a hotel — for longer stays. The outdoor bedroom became so popular that it set off a trend and has been duplicated by other hotels. Elana also was the first to create a luxury mobile suite, which she launched with an Airstream 2 Go at AKA Beverly Hills.

Find your passion and be willing to work hard. Don’t give up when it gets tough, and it will. Surround yourself with great people with whom you can be vulnerable. Most important, strive to find and be your authentic self. Life is a journey, and we are all works in progress.

Florence Quinn, President and Founder, Quinn PR

As President and Founder of Quinn PR, Florence Quinn serves as the luxury agency’s strategic and creative director. Her agency of the same name focuses on real estate, travel, and hospitality, and was named one of the “Most Powerful PR Firms of 2019” by Observer. Florence’s ability to anticipate trends and strike at just the right moment has allowed her to grow a one-woman firm to the 70-person, multi-million-dollar, award-winning company it is today. With offices in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, Florence Quinn continues to inspire her team to achieve excellence.