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First Person: Ann Crenshaw

Updated: April 5, 2013 - 2:02 pm

Posted: April 5, 2013

A charter member of Commercial Real Estate Women Hampton Roads, Crenshaw was recently appointed to the national CREW Network Industry Research Committee, which conducts research on women in commercial real estate. She also has been named president of the Civic Leadership Institute effective July 1. A graduate of William and Mary Law School, Crenshaw has 33 years of experience as an attorney, 10 with Kaufman & Canoles.

On her practice area of law

I'm in what we call the real estate strategies group. My real estate emphasis is on commercial transactions, land use, zoning development and I also try some cases that deal with real estate. I also represent lenders in commercial transactions. In other words, I might be counsel to a bank in closing a loan.

I'm also a member of the firm's transportation and infrastructure group. It's an industry group that has an emphasis on the development of infrastructure predominately through the public private partnership process.

Her interest in commercial real estate

It evolved. I clerked for a federal judge and thought I'd be trying civil cases my entire law career. Commercial real estate was not something I really thought about when I graduated from law school in 1980, but the bug bit me, so to speak. I am especially interested in being a part of the development process and the acquisition of land for development. Seeing something that was nothing but a piece of dirt and words on a paper become a viable project is fun.

Part of what intrigued me about CREW was what they were doing, working on both high school and college programs to expose women to this vast, vast area and what you might be able to do. The commercial real estate industry has developers, marketers, engineers, appraisers and accountants. Oftentimes people have fallen into it or have a family member in the business.

The idea is to expose young women to options for their profession. There are title insurance people, environmental consultants and depending on the land's geotechnical issues - topographers. There are so many things for so many different people in commercial real estate, that's what has captivated me. I'm always with different people in different places.

On her appointment

I served on the CREW Network Foundation and chaired the donor development committee nationally last year. This year, I asked to be put on a different committee. The industry research committee does a number of research projects. We really kind of got started in 2005. Benchmark studies are done every five years and additionally, we do white paper studies about once a year. The one we are getting ready to release is being edited now. It's a white paper study regarding the leadership characteristics of successful women in the industry. It's detailed research about skill sets, networking skills, how they conduct their business, efficiencies, that sort of thing

I feel like I am doing something that's helpful to the industry as a whole. I have 30-plus years of experience and part of my skill set is research and strategic analysis of projects and developments. I enjoy the concept of getting to work with what they call the C suite - chief executive officers from major cities. These women are very, very accomplished. A lot own significant construction companies and major brokerage firms. I think it's an important opportunity for my chapter and for the greater Hampton Roads region.

Her advice for upcoming professionals

I've been lucky enough to have mentors, both male and female and not necessarily lawyers, but people in the business community who have invested time in me and my career. I think that's one of the make- or break-its, if you can meet people who can mentor you. The mentoring part is a large part of what CREW does.

I really think you have to have perseverance and willingness. You always have to deliver an excellent work product and you have to deliver it on a timely basis. You have to be responsive to your clients' needs and your colleagues who you interact with, and be active in the community. The commercial real estate world is lucky enough to have several good organizations in our community that help with networking and education like HRACRE and the Urban Land Institute.

On becoming president of the Civic Leadership Institute and its future initiatives

We've entered into a relationship with Old Dominion University and will be coordinating a civic leadership program for college students, which will be launched next year. I'm not sure what the requirements are going to be, but it will be made available for college students throughout the region.

We also undertook a complete strategic planning process. We're about ready to finalize that and we've honed in on what we want to do and how we can get there. I'm optimistic that we've gotten our organization to a place where we can really grow programs and make ourselves available.

Currently there is, and I'm lucky enough to have a seat at this table, a study being done by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to measure the effectiveness of area organizations in terms of enhancing our economic competitiveness. I think it will be exciting to see the results. When the report is released, our hope is that the Civic Leadership Institute will play a large part in filling the leadership void in various organizations.nib