The Real Estate industry is still traditionally perceived as a male-dominated working environment. However, there are companies, like 8M, that have always embraced equality (and diversity) and we’re proud that we have a very strong female leadership team (70%).
This series celebrates our ‘real (estate)’ women and who better to kick start it than a chat with Sara Villarreal, a driven and dynamic individual who has quickly risen through the ranks to become the company’s 1st Chief Operating Officer.
What does an ‘average’ day look like as the COO of 8M?
My typical day is very people focused and making sure the business continues to run as seamlessly as it can – how do we stay connected in seemingly disconnected environment. Empowering people with the tools and the information they need in order to get their jobs done.
Can you tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
I never sought out to be COO of a Real Estate company. Being an ambitious person, I’ve always had high hopes for my life but didn’t really know what that would look like. It is down to a range of experiences that ladder up which brought me where I am today. The most formative experience came during my 10 years in China where I discovered my entrepreneurial proclivities; running my own retail business for 5 years and then working for a retail developer new to China for another couple of years. Soup to nuts, I learnt that all good things come through hands-on, really hard work.
There are many people that contribute to success, is there a particular person who has helped get you to where you are today?
I don’t want to sound too cliché but both my parents. For not only supporting me but also for challenging me and asking hard questions along the way. Also for encouraging my decisions to take unknown paths and not punishing me when things didn’t pan out as I expected; they gave me a runway to fail and learn – two things that cannot be underestimated or taken for granted. Equally, my husband – for giving me space to focus on my career; his unwavering support for my professional ambition is evident.
Do you have a life or business mantra you live by?
I don’t, as life changes so often! I would however encourage people to just be curious, ask as many questions, never stop learning and always have fun. I’ll never regret a single decision where I choose to simply enjoy the moment and have a good laugh.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened on your career journey?
One of my most memorable moments to date; unveiling the signage on my store in Shanghai in 2009. While seemingly insignificant, the process to get that point was easily one of the most challenging I’ve faced to date. My youth coupled with language & cultural barriers heightened the stakes. Not only was finding that real estate like searching for a needle in a haystack but the self-doubt that I faced on a minutely basis while tackling the deliberately ambiguous business setup process often made me feel both naïve & inadequate
What advice would you give to other female leaders or aspiring leaders?
One thing in particular that I’ve found challenging is how to find my voice and be asserted, in industries that are predominantly male oriented, it’s easy to feel intimidated even if you don’t lack confidence. Find a space where you are comfortable with interjecting, pushing through insecurity. Be forgiving with yourself, give yourself room to make mistakes –use it as stepping stone on how you might improve and do things differently moving forward.
What’s your proudest achievement to date?
I’m really proud of my current achievement! (1st COO of 8M Real Estate) Our partners have a lot of vision in terms of what types of talents it takes to run a company, especially a real estate investment company. If you look at traditional firms they would have probably looked for someone with a long pedigree in real estate.
I’m fortunate to have joined 8M in it’s infancy, every time I saw an opportunity to learn more or do more, I didn’t hesitate to raise my hand to get involved and familiarise myself with the nuances of the business. I’m proud I was given the opportunity and proud that I seized the opportunity and gave myself the space to step into something totally different while still leveraging on a lot of the experiences I had.
Watch this space for more from our Real (estate) Women Series…