An Executive Interview with Lynn Sedway
Lynn Sedway is the President and founder of the Sedway Group, a 23-year old real estate economics firm headquartered in San Francisco, which is now a CB Richard Ellis company. Lynn currently directs and has ultimate responsibility for the activities of the Sedway Group, including market analysis, property valuation, development and redevelopment analysis, acquisition and disposition strategies, and public policy issues.
Lynn is a board member of Bridge Housing, Lambda Alpha, the Swig Company, and Alexander & Baldwin and its affiliate companies. Lynn is a member of the Policy Advisory Board of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and the International Council of Shopping Centers. Lynn was named by San Francisco Business Times among its “100 Most Influential Women of the Bay Area” for five years in a row, and received the Women of Achievement Award by Legal Momentum. Lynn has also received the Silver Spur Award from SPUR, was named to Who’s Who in America, selected as Lambda Alpha’s Member of the Year, and received a junior leadership award from the San Francisco Jewish Community Center.
Lynn is a trustee of the Urban Land Institute and has served as the Chair of ULI San Francisco. Lynn has been active with the Women’s Leadership Initiative and Technical Assistance Panels. She has also spoken on numerous ULI panels.
Full Interview Transcript
First Job in Real Estate
I had a background in economics and I actually had all the coursework for an MBA but I daydreamed about real estate. Real estate was not the hot topic it is today but it fascinated me, both real estate markets and the fact that so much of what happens in real estate is involved with major public policy issues. It was just a passion. I went back and got a second MBA in urban and real estate economics and amazingly this many years later I’m still fascinated by real estate.
In terms of consulting, apparently my first day back in business school I told my classmates I wanted to be a consultant. I have no recollection of that. My husband is a consultant and he had been a consultant for some time. I had worked with him from time to time and I was just driven to do that, to help other people, to give advice, hopefully valuable advice. Now, many years later, our son is a consultant.
Best Career Advice
I think the best career advice that I have received was to go to graduate school, number one. The best career advice that I would offer, and I certainly think going to graduate school is valuable, but the best career advice that I would give to somebody in the field of real estate, be it development or the public sector or consulting – let’s just say those three major areas – is to become active in the Urban Land Institute.
Proudest Career Accomplishments
I have been so fortunate these past years in being involved in really important projects, currently and actually for the past 25 years mostly with a few gaps I have worked for UCSF, the University of California at San Francisco. It’s primarily a medical school. It is the second biggest employer in San Francisco after the city itself. Valuable research that impacts not just the city, but our nation and the world goes on there. I have been very privileged to be involved in many of the most significant real estate projects there, including the study that led to the selection of Mission Bay as the new campus, the financing of the neurosciences building, the acquisition of properties including at mission Bay, and the disposition of some of the biggest properties for UCSF. That’s been a great privilege.
I also worked with Forest City and then Westfield on the development and expansion of the San Francisco Center. That was very exciting, and that took about ten years with the process in San Francisco. Those would be two particularly noteworthy projects. I’ve also worked on many large developments, including for The Presidio, the work that brought in Lucas to the Presidio, and other projects there. I’ve really been very lucky.
Toughest Career Challenge(s)
I’ve actually been amazingly lucky, or I haven’t really given a great deal of thought to the challenges I have faced. I do tend to look at a glass as half full, so the challenges became opportunities. I think looking back that it was unusual for women to be in business school and to be consultants, looking back a long time ago. But somehow I didn’t look at it as a challenge, because being a woman meant that I was a bit unusual and stood out a bit more. There were certainly many challenges: raising three children and balancing work. I started to say balancing work and career and that’s probably not far from the truth, but balancing family and career is a challenge. When I started it was less commonplace.
Impact of Forces: Past & Future
Going back, that’s such an interesting question because of come back to the issue of being a woman. What has changed it there are so many more women in the field, and that I have enjoyed so much. I’ve enjoyed being a mentor to women and to men, and I’ve enjoyed the fact that there are many more in the field today. It’s really opened up. Consulting I think is a natural for women. This shouldn’t be limited to women but many women really enjoy helping others. That’s true of many of the men I know in consulting as well. I would say that’s been a wonderful change.
Looking forward to real estate … I’m sorry, I’d also like to mention another change. With technology has come access to data that wasn’t heretofore available. A lot of the data in my early years we got from actually making phone calls. There were census data to be sure. This wasn’t really in the dark ages, but a lot of the data on many real estate deals for example was only available in actual phone calls. Today we can do for about the same fee or even less than it was 30 years ago. That’s been a good change.
In terms of the future I think that we recognize how much more the world has changed over time. We’re going to see technology take even more of a role. We’re also going to see in the housing area for example more modular and manufactured housing. We’ll see actual improvements. Quite a few years ago there were people that actually thought that the urban areas were a thing of the past and that everyone was going to move to the suburbs. We’re seeing people prefer to be in big cities, including me and my family. I live on Market Street. We are going to see people prefer that, and even giving up major homes in terms of square footage for quality of life issues where you can be closer to work, closer to cultural activities. I think that change is continuing.
Favorite Places and Buildings
I think my favorite buildings range from historic, such as the Palace of Fine Arts would certainly be one that I would point to as one of my favorites. In terms of place making the Victorians in San Francisco, the neighborhoods in San Francisco where there is so much vitality in each of them. I think it’s one of the keys to what makes San Francisco a great city. We go from those historic buildings and historic places to major buildings in San Francisco. Just the environment on Market Street made possible by BART and other transit that makes this such a livable city with some individual magnificent buildings. Just the place, the context as a whole, is what excites me.
How do you unwind?
I guess I have to add that I’m very active in the non-profit world. I’m on the Board of Bridge Housing. I was a ULI Trustee and I chaired the district council here. I have lots of other organizations in which I am very involved. I don’t unwind very well but I do workout in the gym in my building and I play tennis. I love to be with friends and family.
ULI’s Impact on Career
ULI has had a major impact on my career from when I first became involved in the local district council, which I should add met once a year at most, to today when it’s once a day at the least. There is just so much going on here at ULI. It has impacted so much in terms of helping young people get their careers started, and education, and talking a broad view. In the old days ULI was known as a developer-driven organization. The public sector did not participate at all. Now we see public-private partnerships fostered by ULI. We see research involving the public sector and the private sector. The tent is much bigger than it was in the old days.
How has it impacted my career? Even from the beginning when I went to the national conference, even though my practice was more local, I met all those who were very involved in San Francisco real estate, policies, real estate development. It was a huge benefit. I think it gave me credibility in ways that nothing other than an MBA could have done, and the combination of the two. I have to point to ULI as certainly the most valuable activity of my life.
The Executive Summary: Season 2 was developed by Rob DeWaters, Virginia Rocha, Ashley Camps, and John Means. It aims to foster wider professional and personal connections across the ULI San Francisco membership.