While also being CEO of Colliers Minneapolis-St. Paul, and national chairman of NAIOP for 2014 – only the third woman chairman ever – Jean is a fitness fanatic, a wife and a mother of three. “I like to be the best I can be in every area of my life,” she says. She wakes up every morning at about 4:15 to make sure she gets in a couple of hours of exercise in before work. Whether it’s spinning, swimming, hiking or boot camping, she’s moving. “I love working out. Sometimes I’ll ride my bike for 50 or 70 miles and just take in nature. The stillness on the bike or on a run by yourself before a day of work is great.”
The stillness of nature is something Jean has known since she was a child. She grew up in the small town of Austin, Minnesota, with a population of about 24,000. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom and her father had a Coca-Cola franchise, with a residential land development business on the side. “I would survey lots with him and hold the posts. It was probably my first exposure to the industry,” she says.
Early on, Jean didn’t have plans to go into business, but her older brother encouraged her to dream big. “He told me you have to dream, but you also have to plan and execute on the dream.” She said knew she wanted a career and a family, but wasn’t sure how it would all come together.
But a one-month college internship in marketing at a real estate development company would set her direction. After she received an economics degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, she started looking for a job in real estate. “I was a pleasantly persistent person and finally CB hired me to be50 percent brokerage and 50 percent property management. I loved it. I ended having a better mentor in property management so that’s the direction I went.”
After a couple of years, she knew enough to know she wanted to move up the ladder faster than she felt she could at CB. She accepted a property management position at Welsh Companies, a full service commercial real estate company, where she managed the real estate portfolio of the two principals of the firm. “The culture was very open door, with lots of different talent who were available and willing to help.” In 2001, Jean became President of the company. In 2011, Welsh became an affiliate of Colliers International, and Jean became majority shareholder of the company and CEO in 2012. She’s been with the company 27 years.
Having three brothers, Jean has always felt comfortable in the work environment with men. But that doesn’t mean being a woman hasn’t, at times, presented a challenge. “Women are woefully underrepresented in this industry and if we want to serve our future customers, we’ll need to be more diverse. I’m not sure being a woman affects the way I approach my work, although being someone who doesn’t always fit in has been a big motivator for me. Sometimes being different is a great thing.”
“I think about the first time I walked into NAIOP and it was filled with white men in navy blue suits. Was I intimated? Absolutely I was intimidated. But I chose this profession and either I was going to embrace it or I was going to fail. I jumped in and got involved and people noticed. Do I ever still get intimidated? Yes. But not everyone is a powerful executive living in NYC or LA. I’m a small business owner in the Midwest and I represent people like me who also need a voice."
“My son was three when my twin girls were born. My husband used to travel internationally for work and was gone for weeks at a time. That’s not exactly a recipe for success for climbing the corporate ladder. I found that the important thing was just to stay relevant and engaged. I wanted to be successful professionally, but I wanted to be a mother, too.”
She gives a lot of credit to her mentors and those who were willing to give her a chance. “Did I aspire to be a business owner and CEO? No, but I aspired to be the best I could be every day and Dennis (Doyle, one of the founders) had the courage to promote someone who didn’t fit the prototype of white male. Young people need to know that everyone has bumps and you get through them, and learn through them and it makes you a better person. It also makes you a good role model.”
Jean says she loves Commercial Real Estate for a lot of reasons. “I really enjoy interacting with all different kinds of people, and all the different companies and industries we work with. Architects, project managers, construction folks, people in the field -- all different kinds of people. I love the fact that CRE creates community and you’re a part of it.”