Who were your early role models?

Both of my parents grew up in Tanzania with big families. My grandparents, seeking better business opportunities, emigrated from India to East Africa. When my parents relocated to California, they worked all the time in an effort to build a better life for us. I come from a background of hard work, here education was the most important thing.

While my mom's side of the family is extremely entrepreneurial, my dad's side of the family focused on education. My dad always used to say: "School is the fundamental foundation." I've learned so much from my parents; it's invaluable.

What was your first job?

I spent a lot of time at my parents' drive-in dairy in California during the summer months. When I was about six years old, a friend of my father's stopped by with an old stack of books which he planned to give away, but I had a different idea. As customers passed through for milk, cheese and butter, I resold the books for 25 cents each—launching my first business.

How did you get started in the commercial real estate industry?

While I worked toward earning my finance degree, I decided to sell real estate on the weekends. My big break came when I was introduced to Pete Hollis at Hollis and Associates (formerly with Taubman) and was hired onto the retail leasing and construction team.

That was the start of my commercial real estate (CRE) career, and it was the best thing I ever did. I had the chance to work with some incredibly talented and powerful people, and it was an amazing opportunity. We worked closely with the Irvine Company, and we would sit as a team week after week, looking at the portfolio and talking through every aspect of every project. In those meetings, I learned so much about every discipline within our organization and how we engaged as a team. We had to act as one team, and I've kept that mantra and approach to this day.

After a few years, I was offered a general manager position at Larkspur Landing (now Marin Country Mart) in Northern California—a huge promotion. I was 25 at the time, and while my mom thought it might be time for me to settle down and get married, my father advised me to follow my interests. And that's what I did.

How has your unique background impacted your perspective throughout your career?

Growing up, I was definitely a minority. In fact, there were only four Indians in my high school. For me, the impact of being a person of color was very pronounced. I felt as though I had to work twice as hard to be heard -- for people to pay attention and listen. My first team and I worked very well together. We were all women, and it was just the three of us. It was wonderful. The collaboration was filled with energy and ideas.

What motivates you?

I love to learn from other cultures. I love observing how diverse cultures look at information differently, and I love trying to get to the seed of their philosophical perspective. I love listening to NPR or TED Talks and figuring out how to take those ideas and bring them back to our daily lives. And I think through those experiences we've done some amazing things with our work teams.

Anjee Solanki provides strategic leadership to more than 450 specialized retail professionals across 83 markets—which means information sharing is critical. Based in San Francisco, Solanki is witnessing first-hand the dramatic changes in the retail landscape and staying on top of industry trends.