Member Perspectives

Our NAIOP Colorado members share subject matter expertise focused on improving the commercial real estate industry through personal stories that inspire enthusiasm, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

NAIOP Colorado Perspectives: Ann Sperling, Senior Director, Trammell Crow Co.

December 17, 2021
Submitted by Jessica Ostermick

Celebrating an incredible nearly 40-year career in commercial real estate that has touched so many communities and property types including office, industrial, mixed use, retail, hotel and healthcare, Ann Sperling sat down with Jessica Ostermick to share her perspective on resiliency, stewardship, what defines a good job and of course what’s next for her. 

Jessica: First of all, congratulations! In addition to your many achievements, roles and completed projects, your community involvement within and outside our industry throughout your career has been remarkable. What value has such involvement brought to you and how might you advise others on engaging with industry groups and other organizations? Also, remind us how you’ve spent those 40 years in the business. 

AnnI spent half of my career in real estate development – the business of the business – and the other half in leadership roles, of large public real estate companies. Most professionals do one or the other, but I had the privilege of doing both. While leadership and development seem like separate activities, they cross fertilize because the capital partners, stakeholders, brokers and communities are the same. My activities on both sides of the ledger have served to enhance my relationships and industry knowledge. 

Regarding community involvement and especially for those of us that develop or invest in real estate, I believe we should see ourselves as stewards of the community in which we live and work. Personally, I’ve been lucky to have worked in Denver -- a city I love! We have an obligation to engage with the communities we touch in a profound way. One’s involvement more broadly in both industry and civic activities enable us to be much more fluent in what’s important to the community. Lastly, such involvement affords young professionals the chance to develop leadership skills in a low-risk way. 

For example, I sat on the board of Children’s Hospital Colorado, as Treasurer and Vice Chair, and which enabled me to build relationships in the broader community with business leaders. It also enabled me to try on leadership skills within a very sophisticated organization and helped me grow as a leader. For those of us affecting community landscapes, community service is our obligation but also one that affords meaningful professional development and growth. 

Jessica: After 40 years in CRE, several market cycles, and hundreds of projects, is there a project or experience that taught you a valuable lesson and potentially impacted your outlook or approach going forward?  

Ann: There are so many to choose from, but Crossroads Commerce Park comes to mind as a project example. Crossroads Commerce Park was a brownfield industrial site that ultimately showed me the power of public and private sector collaboration. The City of Denver, Adams County, CDPHE and the EPA were all involved in this site that had a fence around it for 20 years in the middle of a neighborhood. When the public and private sectors are on the same side of the fence, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. The public sector was passionate about cleaning up the environmental contamination, the community welcomed the improvements such as the addition of lighting and landscaping, and Adams County sought economic development and job growth. Now a top-notch 1.0 million square foot industrial park, Crossroads has won numerous awards from NAIOP, ULI, EPA and the National American Planning Association; and we intentionally invited our public sector stakeholders to accept the awards with us because it was truly an example of public/private partnership.

Jessica: Resiliency and grit are two characteristics central to a long and successful career in our industry. Where does your resiliency and grit come from, and how do you cultivate it? 

AnnCertainly some is acquired. I’m the youngest of four and the only girl, so growing up with three older brothers prepared me to work in a male-dominated industry. I also lost my mother at a young age and had to “step up” in many ways. I developed an aspirational life view and found a way to engage with my family in a unifying and enduring way. We all have life experiences that help shape us, but it seems that sometimes the worst experiences can also fuel the best things in your life. 

Having great mentors, leaders and partners early in my career gave me a sense of trust and confidence that has proven beneficial while navigating our cyclical high-risk industry. Challenges are expected so being in the proverbial fox hole with the right people is critical to persevering. I have had the honor of being close business partners with several individuals who I respected and trusted which made all the difference in my career.  I took note early on of how people I respected faced economic downturns with integrity and compassion, and honored commitments to partnerships. Life is long so sticking with the relationships, partnerships and commitments you’ve made through hard times pays back in the long term. 

Jessica: Over the years, you’ve worked at Trammell Crow Co. (twice!), Catellus and JLL. What factored into your decisions to take on new opportunities, and how do you define a “good job?”

AnnI certainly didn’t join TCC thinking I’d spend two-thirds of my career there but began with an aspirational view of achieving everything I could at that company – including making partner and being the first woman partner at TCC and after only 4 years. I was constantly looking for opportunity within the firm, and as such had five different jobs or “reinventions” in the first 25 years. I sought out some of those opportunities and in some cases, others saw my potential first, which required me having the guts to go for a job that I didn’t immediately feel comfortable pursuing. You learn a lot about yourself in stretch situations, and I’ve found that being authentic in my identity - even if it looks different than the status quo - is a strength as opposed to trying to fit into a homogenous expectation. 

I evaluate job opportunities in the context of “what good looks like” and certainly the traditional elements of compensation, position and influence matter. What really matters most to me though is culture and a sense of partnership that are not always easily found but are deeply impactful towards your long-term success and overall happiness. 

Jessica: Tell us what’s next? 

Ann:  This is more of a pivot versus a retirement. I will stay involved with some important projects and commitments at TCC for a while, but ultimately, it’s good timing because our company and office are in such great hands. I want to be the person that steps aside so others can step up rather than being in the way of their growth. I have oodles of energy left and have so many things I want to do from skiing, hiking fly fishing, and travelling along with my civic passions of healthcare and regenerative medicine. I am also passionate about corporate governance and am pivoting my business activities to three corporate boards, including two NYSE public corporate boards.  I have been thinking about this next phase for a while and intentionally structured my next chapter to be as active as my last phase, just focused on new challenges.