Being a woman in real estate is not necessarily a disadvantage. What matters more than stereotypes is the resolve and determination to achieve your goals. Karolina Kaim, CEO of Tacit Development, has been involved in premium real estate her whole life. Having created several major real estate enterprises from the ground up, she has more than enough experience in running a company, and she is eager to share it
INTERVIEW BY BEATA SOCHA
WBJ: You have been a real estate professional for over 20 years. What were the early stages of your career like?
Karolina Kaim: I have been involved in real estate since childhood. Both my parents were architects. My mother designed buildings, while my father was an interior designer. He designed the interiors of hotel Victoria and Intraco II, among many others. I was always surrounded by designs and blueprints, and even I helped a little, by drawing smoke coming out of chimneys. It was a natural choice for me to study architecture. Towards the end of my university studies, my parents’ friends wanted to see Warsaw and I was their guide. To return the favor, when I went to study at Oxford for six months, they invited me to Jones Lang Wootton (now JLL). They asked me to be the eyes and ears for the company in Poland.
It was the early nineties and real estate investors were still waiting to see how the budding real estate market would develop in Poland. My job involved showing clients around Warsaw, which I was able to do while studying architecture. At that time there were no real estate experts in Poland.
I remember doing one of my first appraisals. There was nothing I could compare the yields to: there were no transactions to speak of. Companies establishing their first offices in Poland didn’t have many options at their disposal, either. In short, the only available space was in Warsaw Corporate Center at $50-55 per sqm per month.
In 1994 I graduated and started to develop the Polish office of Jones Lang Wootton. That was when the first office projects were being launched.
You have had experience with other real estate segments, as well.
After having worked for Jones Lang Wootton, I created the Platan Group, which also later spawned a number of other companies. I decided that instead of advising on real estate I’d rather create it. Platan invested in a variety of assets, from warehouses, through to hotels and restaurants. Sometimes it is good to focus on one segment and specialize in it, but it is also beneficial to have a fresh take on things. It helps you to think in an original and creative way. It also teaches you humility.
And now you are in charge of Tacit, whose flagship product is Cosmopolitan, a premium apartment tower. Is it different from your previous projects?
The premium segment has always been close to me. Most of the projects I have been involved in over the course of my career were in fact premium projects. For instance, Platan created the Aries hotel in Zakopane, and the iconic Dom Dochodowy o Trzech Frontach boutique office project in Plac Trzech Krzyży in Warsaw, both of which are premium products. Cosmopolitan is a unique project and nothing like it will be created for a long time. It was a big challenge, both architecturally and financially. There are virtually no premium apartments available in turn-key condition. We furnish all our apartments, so the client can buy an apartment and move in the very next day. It requires tremendous capital expenditure upfront.
Who are your clients?
Mostly individuals who manage significant capital. Buying an apartment in Cosmo is neither the first nor the last investment they’ll make. It’s not like in the popular market segment, where the investment requires a tremendous effort from the entire family, a mortgage loan etc. In the premium segment, 90 percent of purchases are made with the clients’ own capital.
How quickly is the premium segment developing?
At a rate of some 7-8 percent annually, so more quickly than the popular segment. It is also more stable. In Warsaw the cut-off for the premium segment is somewhere between PLN 20,000 and PLN 24,000 per sqm. But for example in Cosmopolitan the average price per sqm in 2017 reached PLN 31,000. The premium market should not exceed 0.5 percent of the entire market.
The growth does not mean, however, that we will see other premium residential towers popping up left and right. The strength of the project lies in its location, aside from the design, which ensures that the value of the property will continue to increase.
There are premium products being built, but these are usually smaller investments, offering several to several dozen apartments. Cosmopolitan features 236 apartments, all fully furnished and equipped.
Have any of your clients who purchased apartments in Cosmopolitan already exited their investment?
Last year we had only two transactions on the secondary market. It means that our clients feel safe with the investment they’ve made and expect that the value of their apartments will increase further.
What other projects is Tacit involved in?
We’re developing a 190-room hotel in Wrocław that will operate under the MGallery by Sofitel brand. We are also doing an expansion of Rialto in Warsaw, set to be completed in the second half of 2019. Both hotel projects are premium products. We have recently completed the Akademeia High School in Wilanów – it’s one of the most upscale school buildings there, with very interesting architecture, and it has already received prizes such as Property Design Award 2018 and the Green Building Award.
You have a degree in architecture. Have you ever thought of working as an architect?
Yes, I was convinced architecture would be my future when I was at university. I could hardly imagine doing anything else. I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps. The path I took, however, was very interesting and new. But in truth, I work with architecture all the time. Being able to read blueprints allows me to understand buildings better, it is of great value when you create new projects.
Besides, business is very similar to architecture. Being able to design things on paper is closely reflected in mapping things out in your head. You need to have a vision, know where to start, set deadlines, focus on the needs of your client. Learning how to do business requires a lot of humility as well, you need to realize that what you plan is not always final, you need to be able to pivot and adjust to new conditions, when necessary.
Have you encountered any barriers as a woman in a mostly male business?
Barriers exist predominantly in our minds. Either you want to do something and you look for ways to achieve it, or you don’t and you look for excuses. In my first year of university, women were a minority; by the time the first year ended, I was the only one in my group.
But it doesn’t really matter if you are in a minority group. When two women sit at a table to talk business, there is no guarantee they will find common ground. But even when you are the only woman at a table, you can turn it to your advantage.
Having worked in a multicultural environment, which cultures do you think are the most progressive?
I always found it easier to work with Americans. They don’t care whether you are a woman or a man. They want to work with professionals and if you can prove yourself to be one, they will respect you regardless of your gender. Some cultures do function differently, of course.
You are a member of Women in Real Estate Poland (WIREP). Do you think organizations such as WIREP can help other women in their careers?
The association was created as a platform for communication and support between professionals. I decided to join because I wanted to share my experience and expertise with others. I am also a member of the Executive Committee of the Urban Land Institute, which is another great platform for exchanging knowledge and experience.
Sometimes it can be easier to ask another woman for advice. There is, for instance, the Black Swan fund, a group of women who support young start-ups. But to me the fact that an association is only for women or mixed is a secondary matter. For me, what’s important is whether the organization has know-how I could benefit from and how I can contribute to it.
I’ve heard people saying that “If Lehman Brothers were Lehman Sisters, the 2008 crash would never have happened.” Do you think that women are less aggressive and more risk-averse in business?
Our culture has given different roles to women and men. This is described nicely in the book “Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari and even more so in “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love” by Helen Fisher. The latter explains how our ways of thinking were shaped by the primary roles of men and women. Being in charge of childcare and gathering food and supplies has made women able to focus on several things at a time. Women’s minds are still more capable of handling multiple tasks at once.
This is of course a big simplification: I’ve met men who hedge against all risks as well as women who take on too much risk. I believe men and women are somewhat different in business, neither better nor worse. We are pre-equipped with slightly different ways of thinking. The key to good management is to be aware of that and use people’s potential to the fullest, and to develop team competencies that utilize different ways of thinking. The main role of a real leader is – in my opinion – to create a good environment in which the team will develop their skills and use the maximum of their potential. I give directions to my team, remove obstacles and encourage them to do new things, be better, aim higher, dream bigger.
I have always tried not to be one of the women who complain how hard it is. Instead I’ve tried to prove it was possible to achieve whatever goals you’ve set for yourself and not let stereotypes dictate your future. There are a lot of very ambitious women who choose to pursue a career, and who are willing to take on additional responsibilities at work. It’s not what all women want though, and I do not think any less of women who choose to focus on other aspects of their lives. But as Poland moves closer to Western Europe, we will definitely have more and more opportunities at our disposal. There are plenty open doors for us, but I think we can open even more of them if only we want to. In Tacit, the majority of employees happen to be women at the moment. I employ them because they are professionals, excellent at what they do and best fitted for the roles and goals we have.
But should the situation change and new ventures required predominantly a male team, I would not have a problem with building one and managing it. Great teams are not about women or men, just great people in a good business environment.