We come across the finest leaders and the most efficient companies- through this magazine and other sources. Not many sources highlight the leader’s personal life, personal achievements, and moments that matter to them. These moments play a massive role in making that person or company they are associated with. No matter how much we preach “keep work life and personal life separate” the person balancing both is the same, so they’re bound to affect the other at one point or the other.
When we talk about business leaders, we talk about the innovative and unique spirit, a progressive mentality, and being fearless enough to take risks. Their capacity to adjust to shifting conditions and their capacity to shape themselves to remove obstacles identify them. They don’t hesitate to take chances or big leaps since they view them as challenges rather than threats.
While sitting down with Karen Simon, President and Managing Partner of Emersons Commercial Real Estate, she was candid enough to share details and events not just about her company, but also about her as a person.
The commercial real estate sector has always been one of those traditionally male-dominated fields. Several studies, and Karen herself, have pointed out the fact that just mere 2 decades ago, there was almost no participation by women in the field. Karen did what many deemed impossible- paved her way through that field to not just work but also reach the heights one could dream of. Karen Simon is the first female to head a commercial department in Henry S. Miller, and the first female industrial realtor in the entirety of the Dallas Fort Worth region.
female role model?
Several women come to mind. When I began in commercial real estate, there were fewer females for there to be role models in the industry. I found some women who came into real estate the years subsequent to me that were making an impression on others. But I was the first female to head a department in Henry S Miller. The first female to be an industrial realtor in Dallas Foot-Worth in 1983. The role model for me came from other industries.
Over time, there were other women who, within the five-year timeframe from me, began to become leaders in other areas of commercial real estate- particularly property management, and retail.
Q. As a Business Leader, what do you think was your biggest achievement?
I was extraordinarily proud to be named businesswoman of the year in 2007 by the State Womens Chamber of Commerce. The idea that other women recognized and supported me enough to choose me as the states woman of the year was an honor. One that I will always be thrilled about that was bestowed upon me. I was recognized not just professionally by my peers, but also by women in different industries.
Q. It is said that real estate is a “male-dominated” industry. Do you think you were met with different challenges a male probably would not face?
Yes. I think there has always been a tendency to give men more credit based on their gender historically. A woman has always had to work harder, know a little more, be willing to go the extra mile, and make others think she is in their corner. Those are the things I believe a woman has to try with a greater sense of urgency and repetitiveness compared to their male counterparts.
It is, I suppose particularly in the south or southwest as compared to the east, where women’s efforts in certain fields have been slower. Women’s presence in some fields has certainly developed- real estate is one of them. The legal field is another. Today more than 50% of law students are women.
At a point when I was considering law as a profession, it was less than 25%. Women were encouraged to be nurses and teachers. Women were not encouraged to be doctors. They were not positively encouraged to enter several commercial fields.
Q. How do you personally define success?
I do have a personal understanding of success for myself. I think that recognition by others that you have been either an inspiration or a trendsetter in your industry is gratifying. Certainly, success is measured as monetary, but there are other levels to success.
Recognition and respect from your peers, that is I think is really important when you define your success. There are of course the monetary, satisfactory, or even competitive basis to define the level of success, but these two in particular, steal the show.
Q. What is your best tip to deal with and maintain a work-life balance?
One of the things I have to do occasionally is bring my dog to work. Spencer came to work today. This is my at-home child. My other children are grown, and this is my baby. I try to maintain the fact that I am willing to work late and extra hours if needed. Even weekends if required. We have to have a balance that allows us to take care of our family and the needs of our clients.
Spencer plays a role in balancing my life and work.
Q. What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
For my 25-year-old self. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer. Always indicate the desire you want to know the answers. Treat others the way you want to be treated in return.
I think candidly, to earn the respect of your peers and to make others believe that doing business with you was something they would like to do again, is a measure of success.
Q. What humanitarian or philanthropic activities are you involved in?
I currently serve on the Women’s health council for the Baylor Scott and White hospital systems. I am also the chairman of the Women Ladies Event of the Jewel Charity. We raise money for the Cooks Children Hospital system which provides uncompensated healthcare. We make sure no child is turned away because their parents can’t pay.
I have been on the board of Add Ran College- a college under the Texas Christian University system. The organizations to which I devote my time are for the most part, aimed and working towards healthcare for children. I have also been on board for the Boys and Girls Club which provides scholarships for underprivileged children.
It is one of my and my husband’s greatest interest to provide healthcare that we worked and provided to our own children, to those who can’t otherwise attain it themselves.
Q. Have you always been comfortable in your skin? Or was that a work in progress?
I would say it is a work in progress. I think there are few people who are fortunate enough to be raised that way to be comfortable with themselves. I didn’t have that luxury. I was quite awkward. I went through school and college trying to balance and prove myself as the best I could be. My parents divorced and later re-married , it was a large factor in my life. I did everything I could to make them individually proud of me. I was always anxious about schooling.
I think with some level of success and a lot of time have made me comfortable with who I am. 20 years ago, I don’t think I would’ve been comfortable enough to complete an interview with a dog sitting on my lap.
Q. Have you ever had something you once thought was impossible to achieve, but you ended up achieving it?
Throughout my academia and career, I was never that comfortable. I was not as good of a parent as I hoped to be. I think I raised two young men with whom I have a positive relationship, and I stumbled to get there. I was 19 when married, 21 when I became a mother. I had so much left to do and to achieve and learn.
I struggled to maintain a balance as a parent, and now looking back, I did a pretty good job. I think God blessed me far more than I had the talent and gave me two fabulous and well-educated sons. I have six marvelous grandchildren.
I think it boils down to the reasoning that you love your children. But do you like them enough to have them around like a friend? To discuss life problems and find comfort in them. And for me, the answer is yes. You’d put all my children and grandchildren on the table and I’d take everyone back.
Q. What type of legacy would you like to leave in this world?
I’d like to be remembered for my support for certain philanthropic causes- Cook Children’s Hospital where no child is turned away for their lack of pay. As someone who treated people with kindness and respect. Including that I was not afraid to enter a field dominated by men and I was willing to go the extra mile as far as education. Willingness to put the client’s needs above my own.
I’ve been asked in the past “Have I been a mentor?” I mentored those that were willing to be mentored. Those who wanted to be in my circle of influence. I am very proud of having been in that position today. I hope that the one I mentored will continue to do the same.
Women help women. We continue to achieve and transform.