H@H: Ep 38 – Blair Evans joins host, Paulina Lee on this week’s episode of Here@Haas. Blair, a CPA who has made her career in real estate, is the president of Women in Leadership (WIL) at Haas. A Californian through and through, Blair knows the importance of a supportive community and is passionate about cultivating this community to empower and elevate women at Haas.
On the mission and function of WIL – “[WIL] is really anyone in the Haas network who strives for a more gender equitable business world.” Where Haasies “Come together to not only share our stories and maybe normalize some of our experiences, but also empower each other with the tools and resources to achieve success.”
Making a pitch to prospective new Haas students – “Everyone here is flawsome. And by that, I mean, they embrace their flaws and they know they’re awesome because of that.” And to potential new members of WIL: “Please reach out to us. Even if you think you don’t have enough time, because nobody has enough time. I think that you should make time for us.”
- Women in Leadership
- Berkeley Real Estate Club
- Bridge Partners
- Starwood Capital and CEO Barry Sternlicht
- Haas Gender Equality Initiative
- 81 Cents
- Educated (book)
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Paulina Lee: I’m Paulina Lee. And this is here@haas, a student-run podcast, connecting you to Haasies and faculty that change our lives. This week, we are joined by Blair Evans, CPA, co-president of Women in Leadership, and a full-timer in the class of 2021. Welcome to the show, Blair.
[00:00:24] Blair Evans: Thanks for having me. I’ve listened to a lot of your episodes. So, I’m really honored to be a guest tonight.
[00:00:28] Paulina Lee: Well, I’d love for you to just tell us a little bit about your background, where you’re from, and how you got to Haas.
[00:00:35] Blair Evans: I’m originally from Salinas, California, which is kinda near Monterey central coast. I went down to school at UC Santa Barbara and there I studied econ and accounting, and I was also a TA my junior and senior year for the accounting department. And I think one of the most memorable experiences from college was I played on the women’s lacrosse team and that team aspect and that comradery was a pretty powerful experience for me.
[00:01:02] After graduating, I moved up to San Francisco. And I started working at PWC in their audit sector specifically in real estate. And that was a great job out of college. It was such a great experience to work with people from all over the world, very cross-functional. And, yeah, I really enjoyed my time there. But after a few years there, I sought this opportunity at Gap, the retail company for their global real estate strategy and data analytics team, and was just a wonderful opportunity to think more critically. And I know that that role is kind of a mouthful but basically trying to strategically place our stores right in the customer’s path.
[00:01:44] And obviously this was before COVID, but omnichannel shopping was the buzzword around there. So, it was really a creative role. And so, I was in real estate strategy but I was also really curious about more traditional roles within real estate and then also traditional roles within strategy. So, I thought the best way to explore different career paths was to go to business school and go to one of the top real estate programs, which is at Berkeley Haas.
[00:02:13] Now I’m in my second year as a full-time MBA and proud to say that I’m one of the co-presidents of the women and leadership club at Haas.
[00:02:22] Paulina Lee: That’s great. You have had a lot of passion and interest around real estate. Where does that come from?
[00:02:28] Blair Evans: My parents are in real estate, so I grew up where coming home from a soccer game, we stopped at one of my dad’s properties to walk around it so that I definitely grew up around but it was kind of serendipitous that I was placed on the real estate group at PWC and ended up really just enjoying working with all of the clients that fell under the real estate umbrella.
[00:02:50] So you kind of hear some horror stories working for the big four, but my travel was to some hospitality clients. So, I got to go to these resorts in Maui and Arizona. I really couldn’t complain. I think real estate is just a fun career path for me because it combines a lot of different skills.
[00:03:08] It’s very analytical, which, you know, as a CPA, that’s kind of checks my box, but also very creative. And, you have to use a lot of different skills to be able to work with different players in the space. If you’re negotiating with the city, if you’re working with the developer, you’re constantly working with teams that have different objectives. And then lastly, it’s very transformative in nature, I think, especially living in California. And I’m sure you can relate to some of your friends moving to different States, given the affordable housing options. So, it’s really interesting to see how it’s a career that really touches a lot of areas in our lives.
[00:03:50] Paulina Lee: For sure. And while you were at Gap, what was the biggest project you work on or your biggest learning that you had there?
[00:03:58] Blair Evans: Yeah, I would say the biggest project I worked on was a pilot program where we basically considered would it be advantageous to put a gap right next to a grocery store in a strip center? In that even though maybe the margins would be lower, the rent would be much lower. And we could have more of those stores than just that one store in the mall. So, yeah, we started that pilot program and I’ve been keeping tabs on it even though I’ve left, but that’s kind of my baby.
[00:04:28] Paulina Lee: It’s kind of fun working on projects where you’re also like the end consumer because you get to think about well, how does this apply to me? And how does this apply to my friends and the way that we shop and the way that we think about different products? And so, you know, you were at Gap and you had this realization where you wanted to do something further. Tell me a little bit more about how you decided you wanted to get an MBA. What other schools you looked at and what the process was for you?
[00:04:52] Blair Evans: I think getting an MBA was something that was furthering my career, but also giving me time to explore different options and work on some technical skills to further go into a real estate career, but also work on some of the soft skills. And I was really excited by that. And I guess I did apply to other schools, but what really drew me to Berkeley Haas was not only the real estate program but the people and just that gut feeling where I knew that I was going to be challenged, but I was also going to be supported and there’s collaboration. And I think that combination is just an environment that I thrive in and I learned the best. So that’s what I really was attracted to.
[00:05:38] Paulina Lee: Is there anything since starting your MBA that’s really surprised you about coming to Haas?
[00:05:43] Blair Evans: I’ll admit going into business school, I mean, I think everyone kind of feels this a little bit of imposter syndrome. Like how did I just fool the admissions but just reminding yourself, it’s like, no, they see your strength and they see your potential and they believe in you.
[00:06:01] So you should believe in yourself that you have all this value to bring to the table. I was born and raised in California. I went to school in California. I studied abroad, and I’ve traveled a good amount, but I think that was one thing I was a little nervous about, that all of these students were coming from all over the world and they’re so cultured.
[00:06:21] And this was even before school started. I met a girl originally from China, grew up a little bit in Australia, moved to LA out of college. And I was kind of telling her this. And she was like, what? You know, I kind of struggled because my identity is not really tied to one place.
[00:06:39] And so it was the one thing that I was a little bit nervous about was something that someone else thought of as strength or she kind of envied. So, I was just humbled and just blown away by the warmth of the other students and just how everyone has something to bring.
[00:06:54] Paulina Lee: That’s so true. I think the admissions team does a great job of bringing in people from different backgrounds, different experiences, different places. Totally right there with you. Like you show up on campus and you’re like, did they do this by accident? Do they know? Do they mix up my application?
[00:07:13] But then you get in and it just feels like another family, another big family to join a part of and the people are amazing. So, you chose Haas partly because of your interest in the real estate program. And I think myself included, many people think of Haas, they think of tech, they think of finance and consulting. But Haas is actually known for their strong faculty and network in real estate. So, what have you done during your time in school so far to really leverage that side of Haas?
[00:07:42] Blair Evans: Oh, man, what haven’t I done? I don’t think I’ve overcommitted but I’ve really taken advantage of all Haas’s real estate resources. I mean, first and foremost, the classes, the real estate curriculum, really amazing faculty. And they bring in a lot of the guest speakers during the class and even in classes that aren’t specifically real estate, such as IBD international business development. My project was working with a developer in Japan. Kind of cross-functional there, so the curriculum, the club Breck, Berkeley Real Estate club, they have a lot of workshops, way to connect with professionals, alums, and also the case competitions.
[00:08:25] I’m doing one this semester, which is basically every week we do a practice case and we present a practice case to the judges and the judges are the team that presented that case when they were on the team the year that they were in Haas. So, it’s been a great opportunity to get to know them as well and a great opportunity to just dive into the deep end and pretend that you know everything, but really you’re just learning everything. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose and you’re just learning so much but that’s what you gotta do. So, it’s been a really great learning opportunity.
[00:08:55] And then of course, like even when you graduate, I’ve seen how alums get to take advantage of the resources as well.
[00:09:02] Paulina Lee: That’s great. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your case competitions. What’s a typical real estate case like and have you had one that’s been your favorite?
[00:09:10] Blair Evans: My favorite one was when I did the UNC case competition. It was about 30 acres West of Charleston, South Carolina. And basically, they gave you a kind of free reign to build a master development plan.
[00:09:26] But you have to figure out the finances. It was an opportunity zone. It was a certain percentage affordable housing and you need to include several amenities. So, it was just very creative and it was really fascinating. We actually flew out to UNC to see all the different schools. It was about 16 schools competing and just see all the different presentations and see where they went with this prompt. And there’s also just a great way to meet a lot of different people in different programs as well.
[00:09:58] Paulina Lee: That’s so interesting. Cause I would say my knowledge of real estate is basically residential. That’s my exposure. And so, it’s so interesting to hear you talk about it from a strategy standpoint, from a corporation standpoint, and really see it come to life. Because I think when you talk about it and you explain it, I’m like, ah, yeah, you do need a lot of creativity, but also linked into data and finance and all these other things, public policy, et cetera. So, it’s so interesting.
[00:10:24] Blair Evans: Yeah, I will say one thing though is to, I think I’ve painted a really great picture, but recruiting in real estate is there’s no structure to it. It’s just all networking and relationship-based. So that is the one thing that I’m learning that you gotta be passionate about the field or else it’s a little tough to navigate the recruiting process.
[00:10:47] Paulina Lee: Versus like consulting and investment banking. It’s like, these are the things, the punch lists you have to go through. And you’re also working towards into disciplinary real estate certificate. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what that entails?
[00:11:02] Blair Evans: That’s a program where their mission is to open up the different real estate programs within the school. So, there is a city planning program, there are Emeran masters in real estate development and design and there’s architecture school. There’s the law school. So really there’s a lot of interdisciplinary courses that are available.
[00:11:23] So that’s basically just taking all the real estate classes at Haas and then also filling a requirement to take courses in other programs.
[00:11:32] Paulina Lee: Got it. Have you started taking classes in the other programs yet?
[00:11:36] Blair Evans: Yeah, I’m taking housing policy right now, which is really interesting. And then I’m also organizing the Breck real estate speaker series, which is open to the other programs as well.
[00:11:46] Paulina Lee: That’s great. So, you mentioned that earlier, but you’ve done a couple of internships and would love for you to share about your first internship with Bridge Partners. And tell me about that experience and what it was like.
[00:11:59] Blair Evans: So, I did that internship during the school year and I’ll admit it was cut short because of COVID. So, I only had the really opportunity to do it in-person a couple of times, but that was on their acquisitions teams, basically looking at different portfolios. Their bread and butter is kind of the multifamily class B kind of in the secondary tertiary markets and basically performing some due diligence and underwriting for them.
[00:12:26] But unfortunately COVID cut it short. So, it was a short but sweet internship but actually made wonderful connections. So, one of the managers I was working for is actually going to be in the speaker series that I’m hosting.
[00:12:39] Paulina Lee: And then you did a summer internship with Starwood Capital. So how have you taken advantage of that during a pandemic and what have you learned from that?
[00:12:49] Blair Evans: Yeah. That was such a great internship. I was able to work with a few alumni that were so inspiring and I’m so fortunate to work with them. My main project when I first came on was a hotel in Sunnyvale, the Sheraton Hotel, right near the Google campus. And Starwood was originally gonna do one hotel, which is their luxury brand, and costs were rising.
[00:13:19] COVID happened. And right when I started, they were rebranding to Treehouse hotel. And so, my job was basically trying to get the city on board, calculating how much they would expect in taxes, working with the architect, hiring interior designers, performed a demand analysis. So, with Google going remote for however long, what’s the demand going to look like? Who is our ideal customer and how can we set up the hotel for success even just in the development phase? So, mostly worked on that asset but also got to work on some things that I did not even expect.
[00:13:54] I was on my second day in a meeting with the CEO, Barry Sternlicht and just obviously he’s very bright on the finance side but even down to the design, he was saying, Oh, you know, this is orange birds of paradise. You’re thinking of a white bird of paradise. And I’m looking up on my computer and like he’s right!
[00:14:12] Paulina Lee: Yeah.
[00:14:13] Blair Evans: Seeing his passion emulate all the way down to me as an intern, it was just amazing to see.
[00:14:21] Paulina Lee: That sounds like a really cool internship.
[00:14:24] Paulina Lee: So, let’s dig into, well, a little bit, which is Women in Leadership. What made you want to get involved in a leadership position?
[00:14:30] Blair Evans: Well maybe to give a little context on what WIL is. When I think of a community of full-time MBAs evening, weekend, MBAs partners, ambassador faculty, you know, it’s really anyone in the Haas network who strives for a more gender-equitable business world.
[00:14:53] And I like to think that all of us, we’re a group of authentic leaders and we can come together to not only share our stories and maybe normalize some of our experiences but also empower each other with the tools and resources to achieve success. And I guess, when I say success, I’m thinking that we’re transforming this workplace so that women are able to pursue our professional goals, but we’re also preserving our authenticity and our womanhood. And we’re able to be strong and assertive, but also come with our grace and values. And that’s seen as a positive impact to the company and to, to others.
[00:15:40] So why I’ve been drawn to WIL and why I wanted to pursue a leadership role is that that has been a powerful resource for me throughout my whole life on a personal note,
[00:15:53] Here@Haas: Blair Evans: I think I’ve kind of learned the power of a community at a young age. When I was younger, my mom actually passed away from cancer and I was probably, I might’ve been too young to really understand what it meant to go through a loss.
[00:16:13] Blair Evans: But I definitely understood that my life was going to be fundamentally different after that. And now my dad is working going through his own grief and raising two girls. So we were very fortunate to be surrounded by such a supportive community of friends and family. And so, I think we were so lucky. I think of that experience and I think of just the support that was around me and that support has been there throughout my whole life.
[00:16:46] Blair Evans: Whether there have been times that maybe I was in a new environment that I didn’t know how to navigate, or I was going through a tough relationship or even just in work where there was a conflict between maybe my personal life and work. And I really leaned on that support and advice of others to help me navigate and to provide a new perspective. And so, I’ve definitely personally been impacted and benefited from the advice and support of others.
[00:17:14] And I want to also be that support system to girls around me to whoever I can make an impact on. And so that’s really what led me to the leadership position of WIL.
[00:17:25] Paulina Lee: Well, thank you for sharing that personal story. You can really feel your passion for building communities and your gratefulness and your resilience through what you’ve learned.
[00:17:37] Paulina Lee: And I’m sure it’s probably something you’re considering as you look at companies for post-graduation. Have you thought about what you want to do post-graduation and kind of how your passion for supporting women in the workforce come together?
[00:17:52] Blair Evans: I don’t think it’s a secret that real estate is predominantly male. And There have been many women from Haas that I’ve actually, I’ve been able to look up to and they’ve been my mentors and I’ve asked them how they’ve navigated certain situations and how did they show up to the workplace being themselves, you know?
[00:18:14] And, you know, in interviews, people are always like, Oh, just be yourself. And it’s like, okay, cool, but like what part of myself do you want? You know, so it’s just, I want to be when I’m working, I want to actually be myself and not be okay. And that’d be perceived by men and women that I am strong and I can be assertive.
[00:18:38] I can get shit done, but I can also shop with grace and empathy. And that can be a strength as well. I have been fortunate to have mentors where I’ve seen them do that well and do it gracefully. And I hope to also do the same so that others can look to me. And, that that will be normalized.
[00:18:58] Paulina Lee: I’m sure anyone who’s listening to this, hearing your passion and just energy for WIL, will want to join the club. But I would love for you to kind of give us your 30-second pitch on what does WIL stand for and why should Haasies join the club?
[00:19:15] Blair Evans: So, there’s a lot of resources at Haas that you can benefit from and take advantage of. WIL specifically focuses on the community. And so, we are a group of authentic leaders that can provide resources and tools for you to succeed.
[00:19:32] And that could be through social events, that could be through professional events, and that could also be through educational events. So, even though COVID has definitely like throwing a little bit of a wrench in our plans, we have still been able to offer a lot of those opportunities and provide a space for you to come together and learn from each other.
[00:19:54] And so already this fall, we’ve done a negotiations workshop with 81 cents, which was founded by a Haas alumna, but organized by our VP of careers, Michelle. We’ve had me ambassador guy talks, which are our main ambassadors Luke and Ben. They provide a safe space for men to ask questions.
[00:20:14] And we’ve had the fall retreat, which are two VPs of community, Julian UN were amazing. They put together a panel of alarms, a career workshop, awesome swag bag also. And we’ve had intersectionality workshops put on by our VP of intersectionality, Jodi and, one big thing I do want to leave you is the spring conference in March.
[00:20:39] Our conference team led by Maggie and Shesean. And this year’s theme is new leadership for a new world. So, I think it’s very applicable. I think you’re going to get a lot of benefit out of it.
[00:20:51] So my plug for WIL is if anything I said resonates with you, please reach out to us. Even if you think you don’t have enough time because nobody has enough time. I think that you should make time for us.
[00:21:05] Paulina Lee: That’s awesome. That’s very exciting. You’re involved in Breck. We’d love for you to talk about your involvement in that club and what that club has focused on.
[00:21:13] Blair Evans: I’m doing Breck Berkeley real estate club. I’m the VP of academics. And so, I’ve organized the real estate speaker series, which I will not take credit for because I actually had each VP focus on one session. So, I’m doing the first session on how to start your career in real estate or how to get your foot in the door.
[00:21:36] But in another section we’re focusing on diversity in real estate. We’re focusing on, ESG and affordable housing, we’re focusing on land use attorneys and city planning. So, each session has a different topic. Despite COVID, I think this has actually been a silver lining because we have been able to connect with speakers from all over the world and we’ve been able to increase our registration.
[00:22:01] So, I’m really excited for that. And through Breck, we also have workshops and case competitions that we facilitate. So, especially in this industry, a great way to build those relationships.
[00:22:14] Paulina Lee: That’s great. That’s very exciting. And another leadership role you have is you’re the co-pres of Haas soccer club. So not only were you a stand out lacrosse athlete at UCLA, but you also play soccer. So, tell us a little bit about the Haas soccer club and why you got involved in the leadership position there.
[00:22:36] Blair Evans: Yeah, Haas soccer club is awesome. I have so much fun. I think Haas just been a great way to kind of break down some barriers, you know, when you go to business school and it’s always like, Oh, okay, where are you coming from? What did you do before this? When you’re playing soccer, it’s like your true colors.
[00:22:52] Show it. All I ever think about is chasing the ball. You know, if you’re a leader, it really shows, and it’s just been a wonderful opportunity to get to know people outside my cohort, it brings people from all over the world to play the beautiful games.
[00:23:08] So it’s been fun. Now it’s been a little more FIFA focus, which is not my forte, but we’re still trying to play in a safe way. Even if that’s just passing, it’s been a fun way to get to know some of the first years.
[00:23:23] Paulina Lee: Well, I wanted to transition to a little lightning round that we like to do at the end of some of our interviews. We’ve had a lot of bingeable content over the past year. What has been your favorite show to watch?
[00:23:34] Blair Evans: Oh, okay. I like The Bachelorette. I know that might be controversial, but I’m just, I mean, it’s just a guilty pleasure for sure. Yeah.
[00:23:44] Paulina Lee: I love it. Any books or podcasts that you’ve been digging into lately?
[00:23:49] Blair Evans: I read Educated. And honestly, I can’t stop thinking about it. So that’s kind of my gauge of if it’s a good book or not. If it sticks with me and I thought it was such a page-turner and written really well and, yeah, I just can’t stop thinking about it.
[00:24:05] Podcast, well the mindfulness club just hosted a, not quite a book club. It’s like a podcast club. And so we listened to a podcast by Tim Ferriss and it was basically about conscious leadership.
[00:24:19] Paulina Lee: Perfect. Any new hobbies that you’ve kept up with since the start of the pandemic?
[00:24:23] Blair Evans: So, I actually led a will body by Blair. It’s basically a cardio Hitt class and it’s all virtual, but I did that every Friday from the start of quarantine to the end of August and then all of our schedules started changing. So, I stopped, but now this weekend I’m going to teach some friends how to surf. So I’m really excited to kind of get back into teaching others and kind of leading this exercise.
[00:24:53] Paulina Lee: Well the closeout, any parting words for people that are thinking about applying to Haas this spring and attending fall 2021.
[00:25:01] Blair Evans: My experience is that you come and everyone here is flawsome.
[00:25:07] And by that, I mean, you know, they embrace their flaws and they know they’re awesome because of that. And people are from all over the world. There’s so much to learn from each other. Haas brings it all together. And if you come and just be your genuine self, you are a light that others are attracted to.
[00:25:26] So I really encourage you to bring that to campus. Well, hopefully, it’s on canvas, but I encourage you to bring it to Berkeley Haas.
[00:25:35] Paulina Lee: Yeah, that’s very well said. And thank you so much player for joining us today.
[00:25:40] Blair Evans: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
[00:25:42] Paulina Lee: And thanks for tuning into here@haas. Know a Haasie that has a story to tell? Nominate them on our website, haaspodcast.org. And if you enjoyed this week’s episode, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review. And don’t forget to share this podcast with your favorite bears. This episode was made possible with help from our associate producer, Nick GUI, and edited by Adam Ward.
[00:26:07] Until next time I’m Paulina Lee and this is here@haas.