Name: Natalie Hooper
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Current Title: Real Estate Operations Manager at NIKE, Inc.
Industry: Real Estate; Retail
Professional Experience: 4.5 years at Deloitte, 5 years at McMaster-Carr
Education: B.A. of Architecture, Cornell University; MBA from MIT-Sloan
What is the greatest lesson you've learned in your career thus far?
Great leaders are talent scouts. You have to build your team and you want to make sure you have the right people around you. As a leader, you must cultivate people on your team, so that they develop, and carry out the tasks for which you have set with limited oversight. Great leaders are also extremely bright and competent - their competence helps them inspire their teams. They empower team members to blossom, knowing their leader is capable and will support them.
What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
I have been very fortunate thus far in my career. I love my job, and the company I work for. I would say my biggest disappointment to date, was not getting a very key deal approved. What I learned from that experience, was the importance of getting buy-in early from key leaders. There is very little we can do on our own; therefore, we have to build the necessary alliances, and make sure people feel included in the decision making process.
What issues have you dealt with being a woman of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
Being a person of color, in the world, is almost just the same in corporate America (particularly real estate). As a person of color in any profession, you will be the minority, but even more so in an industry so heavily dominated by white men. It takes time, but I have learned to understand that I am where I am in my career, because I have earned my place. Nothing was given to me. I exude that confidence all the time, because I will almost always be the only woman of color in the room. I use that experience to my advantage. For example, when discussing potential real estate opportunities in neighborhoods that are majority minority, I make sure to give that experience space, so that my colleagues aren't relying purely on assumptions. I own that space and knowledge, and use it for my benefit to help my teams make more informed decisions. Never shy away from your experiences, because they make you who you are. Sounds trite, but it's true.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
I take part in relative professional conferences. These conferences allow me to network with colleagues across the country in most cases, and make new friends. My attendance also allows me to keep my skills current, and benchmark myself against other professionals of the same industry. Sometimes you think you are progressing, especially when your perspective is narrowly held to your company, it is important to make sure you are also progressing in your chosen profession, and make sure you are being valued accordingly (i.e. compensation, promotion. etc.)
I also have a personal board of directors - these are people I can turn to, especially when I’m ready to make big career decisions. These are people I trust, and they range from key mentors, to family, and close friends. When making big decisions, I want to make sure I have diverse perspectives, from people I trust and know well.
How have you developed and maintained relationships with your mentor(s) throughout your career?
Mentor relationships are extremely important. As the mentee, sometimes you have to push, because your mentors are very busy, but that's ok. I try to send periodic emails, even if it's once a quarter, or schedule time for lunch, in advance, so that it's on my mentor's calendar. You have to be proactive, especially in the beginning, then the relationship will hopefully develop into something more natural, and unforced. You should also make sure that each interaction isn't about you solely benefiting, or asking for something. Make sure you provide updates about your personal life! Be a sharer, but also make sure you listen. Relationships are two-way streets.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Take it seriously. Be professional. Show up. Even if it's not necessarily a job you want/like (but if you do, even better!) Continue to network, and make connections. You never know where those will lead. For example, my very first internship, while an undergraduate, was unpaid. Although I wanted the job, I almost didn't take it, because it didn't pay well; however, I had a great experience, and learned the software and tools I needed which landed me my first full-time job after school. Fast forward, after I got laid off during the recession, that same boss from the unpaid internship hired me right away at a new firm, and at a much better salary!