Retired Twin Cities industrial real estate broker
Helen Brooks was determined to pursue a career in commercial real estate in the 1960s; however, no Twin Cities companies would hire her. They either told her that she didn’t have enough experience or they just didn’t hire women. Undeterred, Brooks — who would become a pioneer for women in the male-dominated commercial brokerage industry — finally landed a sales rep job in 1965 at Premier Realty in St. Louis Park. In 1969, she launched her own firm — the Brokers’ Exchange — and landed restaurant clients like Pizza Hut, Burger King and McDonalds’s, handling their site selection.
Then Brooks made an even more unconventional move by specializing in industrial real estate. She was only the third female industrial broker in the nation to obtain an industry designation from the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR). She went on to work for Towle Real Estate Co. (now the Minneapolis office of Cassidy Turley) for 26 years before retiring in 2003. Brooks, 83, shared her insight earlier this summer at “Women in Commercial Real Estate,” a conference sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Women Network and the University of St. Thomas.
Q: You chose a very unusual career path for a woman in the 1960s.
A: I was the only working mother in my neighborhood. … I worked for Premier two hours a day before kindergarten trying to break into the business … so I had to really barrel in.
Q: Why even consider real estate as an option?
A: I always had a business interest and also thought I had a knack for knowing who needed what.
Q: Why focus on industrial properties and not upscale office or retail properties?
A: I didn’t care about getting my shoes dirty. I just wanted to roll up my sleeves and work with companies on getting warehouses and factories or whatever they needed. I loved it.
Q: You’ve said your greatest advantage was your SIOR designation.
A: It’s so important to get that validation and certification. Because I finally had a national reputation, guys from a company would call and say they’re coming to town and wanted to meet with me but they had no intention of working with me. They didn’t trust that a woman would be credible or knowledgeable, but I did win them over and had a slew of national industrial clients.
Q: Why join Towle?
A: I was doing very well, clicking along, had my own office … but a Realtor friend who was sales manager at Towle asked if I’d ever consider working for Towle. I said, “I tried years and years ago and they didn’t want me.” He convinced me to join them. I was happy as a clam to be able to play on the same field.
Q: How does it feel to have helped open doors for other women?
A: It’s so rewarding. You want your life to be relevant, and I think that’s the purpose of making something of your life and helping other people make something of their life.
Liz Wolf is a freelance writer in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.