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Women of Leadership Profiles

Pursuing Her Passion for Commercial Real Estate in a (Mostly) Man’s World

When Mary Trevino goes on vacation, she can’t help but look at apartment buildings and ask questions, such as “Why did they build that gas station there?” or “Is that really the best use of the land?” As a risk manager and underwriter for Hines – a global real estate investment company based in Houston – Mary’s passion for evaluating apartment development deals rarely leaves her.

An eye for detail and a love of the deal

How would you describe your current role?

We build multi-family dwellings – apartments. I work with brokers who have a piece of land and ask if we might want to develop and turn it into apartments. I am a deal junkie. There are a lot of moving parts, and my wheelhouse is seeing a piece of land and making it work.

Risk and underwriting is about checks and balances. I represent Hines and offer my opinion as to what they should consider when making decisions, which is based on 20+ years of experience. For example, I might suggest alternative architects or other things based on my expertise.

Developers want to get me to “yes,” but their agenda is different than my agenda. As risk manager and underwriter, I look at the risk-reward equation to see what a developer may not want to see. I am not Debbie Downer, but I am the voice of reality.

What characteristics are important to succeed in your role?

You have to have passion for what you do. I wake up and think about apartments and what deals I am working on. You also have to have an eye for detail and know your market.

Back when I started in the eighties, people lived in apartments because they couldn’t afford houses. Now people live in apartments because it’s a lifestyle choice. The amenities were totally different than they are now. Now you need a sky deck or rooftop lounge, a catering kitchen, and a full gym.

Technology has made a difference in the way I work, too. With technology, I do a lot of what I call “desktop underwriting.” When I started 20+ years ago, my first stop on business trips was the map store, and I would spend 1-2 weeks at the location. Now I rely on regional Hines colleagues who are in the markets.

Planting the seeds of tenacity

What drives you to perform in a high-level role?    

I was the only girl with three brothers. My father was in the military and instilled in me and my siblings that we had to be independent and get an education. Dad said, “I don’t care what you do, but you have to like what you do and be good at it.”

Tell me about your career path. How did you end up in commercial real estate? 

I got a degree in accounting, but I realized I could not be an accountant so I had to figure out an alternative quickly. I started my career as an auditor at General Electric, and one of my clients was in commercial real estate. I got the bug.

Accounting was great because it got me the GE auditing job, and GE required that I get a master’s degree. I took classes locally at University of Connecticut and the University of Bridgeport. GE paid for it, and I went part-time for three years.

What did the MBA mean for your career? How has it helped? 

Any type of additional education bodes well for your future. I am a firm believer that if you can’t do it full-time, part-time is a great option. Going part-time gave me more tenacity because I did it while working and traveling. 

Never compromise your integrity 

Are there one or two lessons you have learned in business that you always keep top-of-mind and would want our readers to know?

Through my father, I learned to never compromise my integrity. If something seems amiss or you have a gut feeling, be prepared to walk away.

Commercial real estate is still a man’s world, but there are more women developers all the time. In the eighties, there was no emphasis on diversity. Courtesy was minimal – men would cut you off and exhibit male chauvinistic behavior. I had two senior men as mentors to help guide me through the muddy waters at GE back then. Things are going to happen, and you need a resource available to help you. 

Women in commercial real estate

How does Hines support the mission of getting more women into leadership roles?

Hines hired a Diversity & Inclusion Officer a couple years ago to develop a program and start a women’s network within the Hines family of companies. He works with the Talent team at Hines, and Diversity & Inclusion is very important to Hines’s Executive Committee. Half of our current batch of interns is women. There weren’t those opportunities when I started, but it is part of the DNA now.

How do you juggle the demands of work and personal life?

I am happily divorced. Work did not cause the divorce, and I have a great relationship with my ex-husband and stepson. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I made the commitment to be a professional businesswoman, and I have carried that with me as my career has advanced. I am more able to balance my personal and professional life now in my 50s.

Fitness is very important – I get up at 5 AM every day to exercise. I volunteer at South Texas Australian Shepherd Rescue. Balance is very important. I have been very blessed and want to give back. Hines is very supportive of giving back to our communities, and family values start at the top with Gerald Hines (our founder and chairman) and Jeff Hines (our president and CEO).

It is important to live healthfully and have a passion for a charity.

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