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New Board Member Profile: Jessica Brown, Managing Director at Sterling Bay

By Monika Multhauf

October 3, 2023

Grainger Hall
Jessica Brown

We are proud to welcome Jessica Brown, Managing Director at Sterling Bay, to our Board of Advisors. Her industry insight and experience will be a valuable addition to the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate as we work to maintain our position as the global leaders in real estate education. Read below to learn more about Jessica.

Describe your current position and what an average workday is like for you.

As Managing Director at Sterling Bay, I focus on leasing across the firm’s national portfolio. Sterling Bay is a vertically integrated real estate developer with a portfolio exceeding $20 billion in real estate assets spanning the creative office, industrial, residential, and life sciences sectors. Our success in Fulton Market (Chicago) put us on the map and since then, we have strategically expanded into new markets across the country.

 I have been at the company for almost nine years, and I can honestly say no two days have ever been the same. An average day may consist of pitching a Fulton Market development to a corporate user, meeting with our leadership team regarding the firm’s Lincoln Yards megadevelopment, a design meeting with a building architect, followed by a hard hat tour of our latest development. I genuinely love what I do.

In your view, what is the biggest opportunity in commercial real estate today?

Downturns lead to opportunity. Higher interest rates and an economic slowdown will result in delinquencies and properties trading at severe discounts. Groups with liquidity during this period will be presented with rare and remarkable opportunities.

What does the world need from real estate professionals today?

Creative entrepreneurs, risk-takers, and visionary leaders. A successful real estate professional is one that does not accept complacency and continues to push the norm in terms of “market standards.” During uncertain times, it’s easy for big companies to shy away from making big decisions, but this is the exact time when leaders emerge from market-shifting moves.

What are the industry’s most profound changes over the last 15 years? Looking to the future, how do you think the industry will change in the next 15 years?

The 2020 pandemic impacted real estate in profound ways, both good and bad. It changed how cities operate (transportation, working from home) and how buildings are designed (outdoor terraces, touchless access). Going forward, the lines between product types (residential, office, retail, hospitality, etc.) will continue to blur. The office of the future will have the comfort of your living room, the décor of a chic restaurant lounge, and the amenities of a luxury hotel. All thriving neighborhoods of the future will be “commute-worthy” and mixed-use environments rather than depending on a single industry (i.e., tech in San Francisco) or product type (i.e., office on LaSalle Street in Chicago). Think of the vibrancy of the Fulton Market neighborhood in Chicago. Young, affluent professionals are motivated to work, live, and play in this single neighborhood because of the area’s intentional retail placemaking, inspiring building architecture, and wellness-focused office amenities.

What do you enjoy most about being in the real estate profession?

The people and pace. I find that in every meeting, I am surrounded by smart, creative, and accomplished individuals, all with very diverse backgrounds and skill sets. This is a fast-paced industry that forces you to constantly evolve and if you don’t adapt , you will be left behind.

What’s the most interesting or fulfilling project you’ve worked on?

Sterling Bay’s latest Fulton Market development, 360 North Green, is a 500,000 SF office building that is 70% preleased nine months prior to our substantial core and shell completion. This development was a notable milestone for Fulton Market because it represented the first major consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (250K SF), and law firm, Greenberg Traurig (92K SF) to sign leases in the neighborhood. I am extremely proud of this lease-up considering the market challenges and headwinds over the course of the development from pitching to BCG in 2021 to delivery in 2024.

What advice would you give to our students who are about to embark on a career in real estate?

I would offer two pieces of advice. First, get to the office! A remote job is not conducive to mentoring, learning, or advancing your career and you will fall behind your peers. When you are out of sight, you are out of mind. I would not be a Managing Director at Sterling Bay if I worked from home earlier in my career. Second, outwork everyone around you. You may not be the smartest person in the room or know all the answers, but your work ethic will set you apart.