WIN members Toni Ryan & Charlotte Brabant take their careers global

In September 2022, global firm Realterm announced that Toni Ryan and Charlotte Brabant would lead the charge as it expands into the Australian market.
Together, Toni and Charlotte have over 40 years’ experience in the Australian property sector. So, how did they get here – and what did they learn along the way.We sat down with them to talk about their careers, and get their advice for people who want to enter, or progress, within the industry.

Toni, Charlotte, thanks for taking the time to chat! First up, tell us a little about you career, and how you got into Industrial.
T: While at university, I worked in a small residential valuation company. After I graduated, my first role was a Property Manager for a small fund on a diversified property portfolio. This role gave me exposure to retail, office and industrial assets. An opportunity came up in an Australian real estate investment trust (A-REIT) to work on the industrial team overseeing warehouse and business park assets. I enjoyed the diversity of those types of assets, but the business park sector unintentionally became my area of specialisation. I realised Industrial was what I really wanted to pursue, so not long after when an opportunity in the sector came up, I jumped at it. I knew this was my chance to get into something new in a sector I was really passionate about.

C: I wasn’t always destined for property, let alone Industrial. It was only in the third year of my international business and accounting degree that I decided to do some work experience to try it. I wanted to go into high-end residential – which was very cool at the time – but they put me into retail. And I never looked back. I was working in that space for 10 years, until the company I was working for established a logistics development team and asked if I’d be interested. Like Toni, I saw that learning opportunity and thought, ‘let’s do it’.

Was there a challenge along the way that stands out?
T: Early in my career, I was managing a small property management team and I was given the opportunity to merge the team with another larger team. While we worked for the same company, the individual teams had been together a long time and had very different team dynamics. At the time I didn’t appreciate how embedded those dynamics were. It wasn’t an easy environment to manage, and I had to deal with some very challenging people management issues. At times, I felt like a failure in my role.

C: About six years into my career, I was part of a small team working on this sub-regional shopping centre. It was a difficult time as it was during the GFC and the size of the team meant it was very hands-on. I was still learning the ropes in construction, and I had to manage some seriously challenging external stakeholders at the same time. At 27, in a male-dominated industry, I felt out of my depth a lot.

Are there people who you feel made a significant difference to your career?
T: When I’d applied for a promotion but wasn’t successful, a senior female leader in the business who I respected a lot provided me with some constructive feedback. She quickly became my mentor and my champion, and she taught me that I had to search for opportunities instead of waiting for them. It was only by choosing ones that were aligned with my values that I could really grow and develop.

C: When that first opportunity in Industrial came up, I went in feeling I knew absolutely nothing about the sector. My manager at the time was incredibly supportive – he gave me the confidence to be authentic about what I knew about industrial property (nothing) and what I didn’t know (most things). Even the steepest learning curve is manageable when you have someone like that.

Did you pay much attention to diversity early in your career?
T: At university there was a very low percentage of women in the course. I (naively) didn’t realise this would translate into the work environment, but I quickly noticed there weren’t many females. I recall going to conferences or events early in my career and I’d be one of only a handful of women in the room. While I wasn’t often excluded, there were moments I felt I was. At that time, my only choice was to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in those environments.

C: For the first six years of my career, there were actually a lot of women around – albeit in junior roles. But the next business I joined was quite archaic. There weren’t any women in forward-facing or management roles, and I found that quite challenging. Because up to that point, I hadn’t experienced any preconceptions about my ability due to my age, gender or anything else. Another thing I noticed is that I didn’t have a strong female mentor or role model in my career until I was in my early 30s, which is obviously due to the lack of female leadership in the property sector at the time.

What makes you excited about the industry?
T: More female participation. Now when I walk into a room, I see more females than I ever have before. There are also some great initiatives to bring awareness of the industrial sector to younger generations, including Girls in Property. It’s a program run by the Property Council of Australia, and WIN takes part. I got the chance to participate this year, teaching Year 9 and 10 female students about the property sector. They started out with no idea about Industrial, and by the end, they knew enough to complete a full assignment. I was impressed to see how engaged they were! To me, that’s exciting – it only takes one of those students to join the sector to grow female participation in Industrial.

C: I’m excited that there are so many more women in the industry! And more businesses within the sector are encouraging and supporting their careers too. I’m also excited by the increasing support for WIN: industry participation and our membership base continue to grow. And that puts us in a really good place to encourage even more women to join the sector.

Which takes us to WIN. How do you see its role in the industry?
T: I don’t want any female to feel like I did when I started my career. I want them to walk in the room and see that they’re not alone; that there’s a wide network of other women just like them! WIN’s platform and events facilitate this. They provide a supportive space for females in the sector, helping them grow their network and build their industry knowledge.

C: WIN started after an industry function where Ellen Slaven and I – who were both attending separately – were saying the same thing: ‘where are all the women?’. I’d just come back from maternity leave, where I’d been surrounded by women all the time, and I think that amplified how noticeable the lack of women was. We saw a need to create a space in our professional life where women could interact and network in a more authentic, relatable way.

What makes somewhere a great place to work?
T: The people, the culture, and a clear strategy for the growth of the business and its people.

C: What Toni said, as well as feeling valued and knowing there’s opportunity to progress. You want to know a place is invested in your growth and development. And no hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake, either. The real focus should be on working on things together and being productive.

What’s your advice for women thinking about moving up, or getting into Industrial?
T: Don’t worry about ticking boxes! No one ever matches a job description word for word, so don’t dismiss a role right away. Show the person hiring that you’re interested. Someone who’s engaged and ready to learn is far more valuable than someone who just wants a job. Reach out to your network and people in the industry who you can learn from. And if you don’t know anyone, reach out to us at WIN – we’re happy to offer advice.

C: Keep an open mind when opportunities come up – don’t say no on face value. Find a mentor (inside or outside the sector) to be your sounding board. Never underestimate how transferable your existing skills are. Hone your soft skills. And get involved in organisations like WIN!

And what’s your advice for the people hiring them?
T: Extend your search to people who may not tick all the boxes but are otherwise a good fit for your business. Prioritise people who are eager to learn and driven to grow and develop their career. Once you’ve found them, you need to support them by acknowledging their gaps, creating a roadmap for them and fostering an environment that enables them to grow and develop.

C: Know that it takes energy to help someone flourish in a new role. So set them up for success. Partner them with a buddy in the organisation who really knows their stuff. Show your support by making yourself available and taking them to meetings with you. And create an environment where they feel confident asking questions whenever they’re unsure about something.

Finally, what are you most excited about in your new role at Realterm?
T: It’s exciting to be part of a successful global investment manager that has over $US13bn assets under management (AUM) across various value-add and flagship core funds in the US and Europe. They have a clear strategy for building their AUM by creating new products: building out value-add and core fund platforms across APAC; a new debt product in North America; and a European air cargo infrastructure investment platform. It’s also a really supportive and cohesive work environment. And I’m excited to use Realterm’s success and experience to build out a team here.

C: Same as Toni – the global element is exciting, as is Realterm’s investment mandate, which is to focus on differentiated real and infrastructure assets serving land, air, sea and rail networks in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Not to mention having the opportunity to build the Realterm platform in Australia, knowing we have the support of our Realterm colleagues in USA, Europe and Singapore.

Thanks for chatting with us today. Any parting words for our readers?
T: Never be afraid to reach out to a WIN member. We’re happy to welcome you to our network and share our knowledge and advice! We encourage everyone to join our network and attend our events.

C: Better yet, join us! It’s a great network of people who are passionate about the positive promotion of female participation in the industrial sector. So reach out, or encourage your business to become a member.

Toni, Charlotte, thanks for your time – and good luck in your new roles.

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