Un Año At Graffito
We all want work that means something to us, where we are given opportunities to make noticeable differences in our communities. A job that fulfills you creatively, emotionally and encourages you to be your true authentic self. The type of work that enables you to slow down, drive impact, and learn from your mistakes. Statistics show that most of us go a lifetime searching for this feeling. As the Chief of Staff at Graffito SP (GSP), I have an opportunity to achieve much of this feeling on a consistent basis.
For those who are not familiar; Graffito is a Boston-based retail real estate advisory and investment firm that excels at the intersection of master planning, retail leasing, and branding. We help developers and landlords with thoughtful and creative guidance for the ground floor portions of large mixed-use developments. We like to refer to ourselves as translators, helping connect the dots between large institutions, private developers, and local operators. My position can best be described as a translator particularly as it relates to supporting black and brown-owned businesses. This role enables me to integrate the different communities and networks I belong to, challenge the status quo, and dive deep into the world of commercial real estate. An industry that until I met the CEO (Jesse Baerkahn) of GSP felt unattainable to me. Fast forward 12+ months since my start date and I’ve learned a tremendous amount not only about the industry but about myself and how I’ve leveraged my time at Graffito. Here are some of my reflections from year one:
1: Know Your Value
We all have unique skills that set us apart from our contemporaries. We must first find that one particular competence and cultivate it. Then we have to learn to promote it and help it grow. For me, that unique skill is networking. Since I can remember, my networks have been a source of survival operating in different siloes. In the past, I purposely separated my social groups such as the neighborhoods I grew up in, from my professional network and work relationships. Working at GSP helped me discover the true power of my networks when they are merged and the positive impact they would have on my community.
What brings me the most joy is the ability to connect to these different communities with the networks I belong to. My ability to speak to our diverse business community, gain their trust, and communicate their needs to our team and clients has positively impacted our projects and enabled the GSP team to collectively better serve our community. My value comes from the strength of these relationships, the credibility I bring in serving them and the trust they instill in me. There is a clear correlation between our diverse staff, our pipeline of operators, the types of deals we are making, and the lasting impact it has on the Greater Boston landscape.
2: The “SP” Stands for Strategic Partner
And we take it personally. As a retail real estate advisory firm, much of our work is focused on the upfront master planning phase of a development project but, when done right, our work moves into the transactional phase relatively swiftly. The more time I spend starting and completing projects with the team, the more I realize that our most impactful work begins when the lease is signed. From working with architects and general contractors to building out a space to preparing for the grand openings, the signing of the lease is an important step in ensuring both landlord and operator are set up for success.
What I’m learning is that in order make our firm stronger and positioned for future work we all have to continue educating ourselves. At GSP we are committed to our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and understand that everyone is at a different phase in their journey, including our employees and clients. We are nowhere near perfect, yet prioritizing training, being straightforward, and applying what we learn to our work and everyday life puts us in a better position to strengthen capacity, develop new skills, and disrupt the systems we have become so accustomed to.
3: Extracting and Repacking Our Expertise
Slowing down is something we talk a lot about at Graffito. It has enabled us to ask ourselves what more we can do to support the small businesses community and our clients alike. The GSP team is made up of diverse professionals, each equipped with unique backgrounds, lived experiences, and a myriad of skill sets. Over the last 10 months, we have dedicated ourselves to building what we are calling the “Small Business Tool Kit.” It leverages our team’s collective experience gathered over the past 15 years in leasing, advising, economic development, and branding to put forward guiding recommendations with an equity lens to support tenants and landlords.
We know that opening a retail location is extremely challenging for anyone, particularly for businesses of color that experience high barriers to entry due to systemic racism, lack of access to capital, and the added complexities of today’s economic climate. Due to these constraints, we’ve begun to build a series of resources such as a step-by-step leasing roadmap, sample concept deck, and list of subject matter experts that can be leveraged when businesses consider opening their first brick-and-mortar location or expanding their existing business. We are still putting together the final touches but plan to make these resources accessible on our website in 2023.
Taking on a new role in a new industry can be intimidating but I’ve never been one to shy away from starting over. When you are trying to find your dream job try asking yourself one question; What is the problem you are trying to solve? My advice is to be vigorous in your search, focus on the larger picture, stay consistent and be patient with the process. Treat your why as if it were your north star and let it guide you.
For me, supporting and investing in entrepreneurs whose backgrounds and expertise uniquely position them to create businesses that improve the standard of living in urban markets is what motivates me to wake up every day. Graffito has been an incredible platform that has encouraged me to continue pursuing my north star, shared their expertise, and created space for me to experiment and add value. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of a company whose mission directly aligns with mine.