Teodora Zobel of Midwood Investment & Developmen: “Just keep at it”


Just keep it up. Perseverance is everything. When I first started and I had to cold-call the owners to try to sell their assets, there was a day when I heard 25 “nos” in a row. It’s not always easy, especially at the beginning of your career. If you really enjoy something, work hard at it, and stay with it, eventually something works and will work.

As Strong is a part of my series about Women leaders in the real estate industry, I am pleased to interview Teodora Zobel, Executive Vice President of Investments – Midwood Investment & Development.

Teodora is responsible for all aspects of Midwood’s investment strategy, including the sourcing, evaluation and structure of new acquisitions, as well as long-term capital planning. Prior to joining Midwood, Teodora worked at Cushman & Wakefield of Global Consulting Group where he focused on real estate optimization strategies for a wide range of clients such as Toronto City, Verizon and Mount Sinai Hospital. Theodora began her career at KPMG LLP in the Economic and Valuation Consulting Group. Theodora holds an MBA from Leonard N. Stern School of Business, NYU, and a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting from Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics. Theodora is involved with Women in Need, a non-profit organization that provides shelter to families in New York.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell a “backstory” about what brought you into the real estate industry?

I started my career in consulting, and eventually started working in real estate transactions, where I would advise our clients on space usage, site location and space requirements. I quickly realized that being able to create a compelling space in a unique location is an interesting part of the business, and so I went to work for an investor / developer. Today, I run an investment team focused on finding commercial property to purchase, as well as land for development. Every day is different and there is always something new to learn.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or funny story of your career that happened in your life? Can you share the lesson or did you pick from that story?

There are many different personalities in this business, mostly male dominance. I remember someone requested a meeting with me because they wanted to buy one of our assets We were sitting in a conference room, and she was playing with her phone. After a while I asked him if he wanted to start the meeting, and he said he was waiting to show the “decision maker”! He never thought that this man could be a woman. It’s easy to get frustrated at such moments, but it’s also an opportunity to change the other person’s outlook. There is always an opportunity to learn something in such a moment.

What exciting new project are you working on right now? How do you think it will help people?

At Midwood Investment and Development, we both invest in existing real estate and develop new projects. Currently, we have unique developments in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. We strive to improve the communities we build by adding quality architecture and resources to the areas we build. In Studio City, California, for example, we recently created a retail project that has access to the Los Angeles River, a selection of grocery stores, shops and restaurants, outdoor seating and weekend programming. It will be the main hangout in the neighborhood and a place where residents can socialize and gather.

What do you think makes your company different? Can you share a story?

There are some companies in the industry that are as developed, creative and committed to encouraging curiosity as Midwood. The process of constant repetition and improvement is inherent in every aspect of our business. Most recently, we began evaluating and learning how to make our resources more sustainable and ready for the future – programs such as solar power, energy efficiency, and EV charging stations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there someone you are grateful for who helped take you where you are? Can you share a story about it?

There are several mentors and friends who have helped me over the years. John Usdan, CEO of Midwood, has been instrumental in teaching me the basics of the industry, such as site selection, risk assessment, and how to think in a reverse way. I also have a great network of women in the industry to whom I can always go for advice and support.

All right. Thank you for all that. Now let’s jump to the main center of our interview. The real estate industry, like veterinarians, nursing and public relations, is also a women-dominated industry. Despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in real estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?

Residential real estate is generally well represented – I don’t think commercial real estate is female-dominated. It is clear that the problem in the commercial real estate industry starts at the middle level. The industry has an easy time recruiting women for entry-level positions and then they start losing them at mid-level as soon as they start a family. Usually not many flexible measures are available, and it becomes a real obstacle to hold. It will be interesting to see how this evolves in post-Covid reality.

What are the 3 things a) individuals b) companies and / or c) society can do to support greater gender balance going forward?

First, I don’t think companies can expect to be more diversified organically / involuntarily. It needs to be set as a purpose and work actively by purposefully renting out the standard path. Second, in interviews, candidates should disclose to multiple interviewers to avoid bias. This creates a more balanced approach. And finally, as I mentioned, making sure that women are transformed into mothers (if they choose) as their career progresses is supported.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for female executives that their male colleagues usually do not face?

As a working mother, I am fortunate to work for a progressive company that supports a healthy balance between work and family. However, I find that for many of my colleagues, employers don’t do enough to support mom. Recently, I was at a Parent Association meeting for one of my kids and all participants (except one) were mothers. Until the balance between child care and home management changes, there needs to be flexibility for those trying to fight active parenting with being busy at work.

Can you share 3 things about the real estate industry that excite you the most?

– Provides the ability to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the real estate built environment. I like to hear different perspectives on why a strategy is chosen – be it from urban planning, architecture, demographics, macro / micro trends, data analytics, environmental or other disciplines.

– There is always more to learn – whatever the different markets, financial structures, or regulations. It continues to evolve.

– The places that people occupy can have a big impact on their lives. Creating an environment where people want to spend their time (working or living) is exciting.

Can you share 3 things that concern you the most about your industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

A few thoughts in terms of trends affecting commercial real estate. First, returns are shrinking rapidly due to the availability of cheap capital. This leads many investors to expand their risk appetite and take more loans in the market with unproven asset class or inflation estimates. Repeatedly, we have seen in the end it doesn’t work well. Also, costs continue to rise [both land and construction costs], Which ultimately leads to upward rent pressures and continued disability for lower-middle-income consumers.

What advice would you give other leaders to help enrich their team?

Transparency, trust and communication. Transparency, even in difficult times, can connect people much more with the overall team / company vision. Empowering and requiring employees to take responsibility and ownership of their work as a scale of the company. Communication goes hand in hand with all that. In light of the challenges we face in working through Covid, my team has implemented a daily check-in call every morning. This is usually only 15-20 minutes but allows us to line up and set priorities for the day ahead.

Okay, here’s the main question of our interview. You are a “real estate insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things to succeed in the real estate industry, what would you say? Can you give a story or an example for each?

1. Just hold it. Perseverance is everything. When I first started and I had to cold-call the owners to try to sell their assets, there was a day when I heard 25 “nos” in a row. It’s not always easy, especially at the beginning of your career. If you really enjoy something, work hard at it, and stay with it, eventually something works and will work.

2. Patience is most important in an environment where contracts can take years to complete … In development, an entitlement process can take a decade.

3. Don’t celebrate until a deal closes. It’s something I’ve become superstitious about, but I’ve learned it the hard way. Something can and does go wrong at the last minute, so spending time preparing for it is always a good time.

4. The ability to understand people is very important – the customer / tenant, the owner and all our counterparts. There are times when you really need to step back and focus on the other party’s point of view and what they need in order to feel good about the transaction or situation. It’s not about purely money.

5. Learn how to take calculated risks. Without any risk, it is difficult to make a big profit; However, understanding your real bad side in each situation, determining its amount and understanding all the different options can help to alleviate some of the unknowns.

Because of your position, you are a huge influential person. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest good to the masses, what would it be? You never know what might trigger your idea. 3

The movement will be to listen to someone completely and with an open mind for 5 minutes before answering a debate or conversation. We live in a highly polarized world and it is very easy for people to accept information that is consistent with their worldview. Listening, even for a few minutes, gives legitimacy to another person, and it can lead to a change in a larger education or perspective.

How can our readers follow you online?


Thank you for your time, and for your excellent insight!

Tasnimul Rafi
Tasnimul Rafihttps://rawmarketer.com
Chief Executive Officer of Raw marketer, Online editor, Author

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