Incorporated in New York in 1917, Cushman & Wakefield is a leading global real estate services firm with approximately 50,000 employees in over 400 offices and 60 countries. In 2020, the firm had revenue of $7.8 billion across core services of property, facilities and project management, leasing, capital markets, valuation and other services. The firm delivers a full suite of core services to occupier and investor clients in the major markets of the world. As Melissa Gutierrez-Sullivan, VP, Sustainability & Wellness at Cushman & Wakefield shares the company’s vision when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG), “We envision a world of healthy, sustainable buildings that put the wellbeing of people and the planet first. Our goal is to elevate the commercial real estate industry and beyond by taking bold action that will reduce our impact and our clients’ impact on the environment to make a meaningful contribution to a sustainable future.” Melissa specifically sits under the firm’s Global Occupier Services group and has been with Cushman & Wakefield for more than three years. She has over 20 years of experience, with approximately 15 years in the sustainability sector.
More Than Luck: Pushing Boundaries & Managing Priorities
Melissa was born a leader, has always been vocal about her beliefs and doing what is right – even when she was a child. She shares, “I was tapped by a teacher in high school to attend Girls State – which is a leadership trip for one female leader from each high school throughout California. I would say that was when I realized that there is an innate leadership quality to me, as it wasn’t something I was seeking out, I was tapped by the teachers at my school.” Her leadership style has evolved over the years, wherein early on she used to feel the pressure to prove her role as a leader. But now Melissa embraces it and tries to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard – whether it’s with a team at work, the board that she chairs, or even in her own home. She says, “When I was younger, I would’ve laughed off an uncomfortable situation and tried to escape as quickly as possible. Now that I’m older and more confident in my position I’m better at setting boundaries and calling people out on inappropriate comments. However, I also want to hear from people who have differing perspectives so that I can make a fully educated decision. Fortunately for me, I work in a diverse organization that values safety and inclusion where stereotypes, discrimination, and sexual harassment are not tolerated.”
Being a mother and managing a career puts forth challenging situations which can be a daunting task for most people. When Melissa’s children were younger, she chose to put them first, over her career. She says, “I put them first and I think that slowed down my career trajectory a little, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.” She started her career in sustainability back in 2007 after having worked in finance for 6 years. She was happily managing her own business when in 2018 Cushman & Wakefield came calling. Cushman & Wakefield’s large footprint, amazing clients, and the impact that she could have on the planet was something she couldn’t turn down. As she shares, “I get to work with some of the most progressive companies in terms of sustainability and am working with them to solve their ESG challenges. I have a great job! I love Cushman & Wakefield’s commitment to diversity, parents, and employees in general. I love that there are so many female leaders within the organization.” While she believes in serendipity, it wasn’t luck that brought her to Cushman & Wakefield, but rather her dedication and passion. She has worked very hard in this field and proven her worth time and time again, consistently delivering results. More than that, her amazing ability to network has played a big role in her career trajectory.
Leadership Style: How a Woman’s Perspective Is Changing the Sustainability Space
Melissa has a very positive approach to life and believes, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She is a strong believer in pushing the boundaries, she tries even harder when told that something can’t be done. Being consistent and a big believer in communication and education, she works hard at explaining the “why” when addressing new topics with clients and then how she’s going to achieve it. Although her favorite leadership guru is John Wooden, one of the keys to her success has been to not act like a man. She points out, “Men are amazing leaders, don’t get me wrong! But nobody is telling them to lead like a woman. We all have our strengths and I think it’s important to be true to ourselves, while still learning from each other.” One of the things she is most proud of is the Women in Green networking group that she co-founded in Los Angeles with two other women in the industry, Annie Argento and Amelia Feichtner. After attending the first Women in Green breakfast at Greenbuild in 2012, they came back to LA and started this morning networking and speaking event. She explains, “We’ve created a large community of women (and men) in Southern California who share the same values. We push boundaries with our conversations, talking about things like the #metoo movement, gender equality, and more. We’ve had speakers like Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, and Ana Guerrero, Mayor Garcetti’s Chief of Staff (at the time). People leave our events feeling inspired and part of a community. I think those networking events have truly changed our space here in LA and have given women a place to safely and confidently network with their peers. The group now falls under the USGBC-LA Chapter and is starting to pick up steam after slowing down during COVID.”
Melissa believes that traditionally feminine qualities, such as compassion, listening, and personal relationships, are what make women great leaders and that being true to oneself is the best first step. She says, “I am a big fan of in-person meetings, which has been difficult during COVID. I love having one-on-ones. I’m also a big fan of asking my clients about family and hobbies outside of business. I want to know about my clients’ lives outside of the project we’re working on together. I want to get into deeper conversations than just business. Anyone can talk business – I want to build a relationship.” Similarly, while hiring, she would want to work with someone who has high integrity and is passionate about the work, and it’s even better if the person is a fan of achieving the tasks at hand. She exclaims excitedly, “I am a big fan of lists! I like goals and having action items to get to those goals. I tell my clients all the time – we need to set long-term goals, and then we can figure out our tactical moves. I am consistent in follow-up and making sure we stick to deadlines.”
Trends, Prospects & Beyond
Melissa shares, “The hottest trend from my perspective is ESG. ESG is the transparency behind sustainability. Along those lines, I would say going carbon neutral or ‘Net Zero’ are the hottest trends in ESG. Almost every client I talk with has goals to go carbon-neutral or wants to know about it. Future trends? resiliency and decarbonization.” In 2021, Cushman & Wakefield had its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) as consistent with levels required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. She feels that people in her industry have been waiting a long time to have a seat at the table, which they finally have and that’s why for her it’s time to double down on this ESG movement while continually expanding their services. She also feels that the amount of research in sustainability is continuously happening and finding time to keep up sometimes gets tough. But that, she says, will not stop her from achieving her aim. She says, “I want us to be the #1 ESG group within commercial real estate and continue to grow the team.” She strives to learn new things and keep up with emerging trends. As she recalls one of her favorite memories of living in Japan during college and hiking Mt. Fuji, her future appears bright, with more adventures and growth awaiting her.