Connie Moore Shares Her Perspective on REIT Boards During COVID-19, Diversity
Feb. 8 2021
Moore spoke with REIT magazine about the importance of doing the right thing in business, how she’s made strategic points without making issues personal, and always aspiring to be a good executive, regardless of her gender.
In 1977 when Connie Moore was first hired into the REIT industry as an analyst at BRE, “diversity” and “gender” were not a part of the corporate office lexicon. In an atmosphere more akin to the television show “Mad Men,” including conference rooms full of men smoking cigars and comments during retail deals about how she knew what it was like to shop, Moore describes the early years of her career as serendipitous.
As the middle child of three daughters, Moore was raised to go to college for two years as a cultural experience, but to then to get married and have children. When she first started working at a savings and loan during her freshman year at San Jose State, she looked up to her female boss, a recent graduate of her alma mater and the head of the accounts payable department. But Moore had no expectations, and also no true mentors at that time. “Women have come a huge way, but you had to learn how to do it yourself,” she says.
Along her climb up the corporate ladder, Moore remained resolute in her love of business, and notes that the best award she’s ever received was Person of the Year. She insists that a company can be its best version if in every encounter, whether with an associate, shareholder, or customer, it considers the other’s point of view.
Moore recently spoke with REIT magazine about the importance of doing the right thing in business, how she’s made strategic points without making issues personal, and always aspiring to be a good executive, regardless of her gender.
What was it like entering the REIT industry as a woman in 1977?
I was a 21-year-old student at San Jose State when a professor encouraged me to interview for an analyst position at BRE in San Francisco. At the time, BRE was externally managed—the advisor was a subsidiary of Bank of America—with only about 25 employees. There was one woman who was the assistant treasurer, and except for the administrative assistants, the rest were men.
I was naïve but determined, and ultimately hired as a summer intern making more than double what I was currently earning at my college job at a savings and loan. Other than the assistant treasurer, BRE had never hired a woman, particularly on the real estate side, and they had never hired anyone without a graduate degree from a prestigious school, generally Stanford and Harvard.
Were you surprised to be the first female chair of Nareit in 2009?
Nareit didn’t make it about being female. I had been running a REIT, and the sentiment was, “Why wouldn’t Connie be chair?” I so appreciated that. I was never referred to as “Nareit’s first female chair.” I loved that.
Based on your board experience, how have REITs and commercial real estate been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Depending on the industry, companies have had different challenges and opportunities. Homebuilding, for example, has been off the charts. But other companies have had to worry about how their retail tenants are doing, and who’s paying rent and who isn’t. Boards have been having conversations that we’ve never had before about significant delinquencies and other issues. It’s been critical to, even through Zoom, stay more engaged with the management team so they know we are there to support them.
On a couple of my boards, although the CEOs never asked us to, we cut our pay. Conversations with leadership teams about reductions in pay, both at the board level and the company level, are always interesting because those are hard conversations. But sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, “Am I doing the right thing?” One of the highest compliments the BRE management team ever received was when one of our board members said, “I know that you guys will always do the right thing, even when no one’s looking.”
What key board responsibilities have become more challenging amid the pandemic?
All of my board meetings in 2020 were virtual, but having a collegial board is a really important thing. What boards most missed in 2020 was interfacing with the next level down of management, who we would always interact with at board dinners and onsite visits. Part of a board’s job is looking at talent development and succession planning.
Onboarding new members in this environment will also be very tough. Everything is virtual, and new members don’t have the opportunity to meet each other in person. We have not had to do that yet on any of my boards, but I think boards have to be very purposeful about that.
How did 2020 impact the broader conversation about onboarding?
After the expanded conversation about equity in America and the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, I can’t imagine a board today not having the conversation about how to become more diverse. But a board has to ask itself how quickly will it be able to make the necessary changes.
Every board member in the general REIT world is costing the company somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000. I always look at board cost as a percentage of revenues and then I compare that across companies. Boards need to examine their current composition and set specific diversity goals, so that over the next several years they can achieve their goal. It’s critical today to be strategic and very purposeful about board composition.
Why is it so important today to critically examine diversity in board composition? When you’re on a board, you are there to understand the company, understand and help shape the culture, and work with the CEO on his or her plans for the company. But we do need to consider the composition of our boards today. Where are there gaping holes? Whether it’s skills, diversity, age, or industry, how do we fill those gaping holes? How do we broaden our search to identify new directors?
It’s important for the boards to lead on this because it really makes a statement for the whole organization that the board is taking this seriously and the board expects the CEO to take it seriously.
How do you expect board diversity to improve going forward?
It’s a really good time for recruiting firms to hone in on their board advisory services and determine how they can help shape the boards of the future. In corporate America, members of boards tend to associate with other members of boards, and ultimately recruit new members who are similar to themselves. Today, we are much more self-aware of asking how we can expand our reach.
At some point in the future, recruiting firms might find their role in the board search process changing because diversity at the board level will be a part of who we are. When the Baby Boomers are retired, you’re going to have Gen Xers and up-and-coming millennials taking over leadership. They went to school not thinking about diversity in silos, but rather as just their friends.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give someone brand-new to REIT board membership?
As a board member, sometimes you’ll sit in a meeting and think, “I don’t believe I’d have said that if I was the CEO.” But you are not management, and every new board member eventually finds their own way to ask questions contribute to the management team. Ask yourself what your true north is. Are you leading with integrity and authenticity? If you are, then you’ll be a powerful board member and contribute to a highly functioning board.