Katie Miller is a senior national commercial escrow officer with First American Title Insurance Company in Denver, where she closes and underwrites large commercial real estate transactions across the U.S. With 12 years of industry experience in both residential and commercial real estate, she serves as chairman of NAIOP Colorado’s Developing Leaders Committee, where she helps the association and industry expand diversity initiatives.
Development magazine recently sat down with Miller to talk about her career and her thoughts on commercial real estate’s approach to diversity — and to get the scoop on what makes Denver a dynamic destination for Development ‘14: The Meeting for Commercial Real Estate, which will be held at the Sheraton Denver, October 27-29.
Miller began her career in residential real estate in 2002 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but soon yearned for more. “I wanted to be part of bigger corporate deals” than was possible on the residential side, she reflects. One year later, she moved to Minneapolis, taking a position in commercial real estate and changing the course of her professional career. Miller also had fond memories of visiting Denver as a child, particularly of skiing in the Rocky Mountains, and eventually “decided it was time to get out of Minnesota and be closer to the mountains.”
Looking back, she has no regrets. “I like being at the table on major industry events and projects, and working with owners, developers, lenders, brokers and counsel to close a deal.” The interpersonal relationships she’s developed have had a profound and lasting impact on her professionally. “Commercial real estate is a business of personal relationships and getting to know people. Even with the advent of new technology, and even as buildings get bigger, this industry is about more than just buildings.”
Taking an objective look at today’s industry from a diversity perspective, Miller has a plan to expand diversity that she hopes can take root locally and grow nationwide. In Denver, as in many markets across North America, “there are fewer female commercial real estate brokers,” a dynamic being addressed particularly within the chapter’s Mentorship Program, which partners new DLs with industry veterans through structured networking and educational events. “We simply need to develop more women into leaders,” she adds.
Noting an increase in the number of women on the Developing Leaders Committee, Miller is confident this challenge can and will be met, because social and demographic changes demand it. “As we move toward more minority saturation in the marketplace and key metropolitan areas, and as baby boomers continue to retire, developing younger and more diverse professionals can generate a fresh outlook and help the industry to think outside the box.”
Aside from engaging more women, Miller notes the chapter’s efforts at engaging the broader community and helping under-represented groups. “This year, we started working with a charity called Hope Communities, which aims to create diverse, healthy communities through quality, service-enriched, affordable housing. A group of DLs made an immediate contribution by participating in the group’s Hands for Hope Day event, helping maintain vibrant properties through cleaning, landscaping, gardening and playground construction.”
A burgeoning information technology hub and a popular metro area among young professionals, Denver boasts a number of unique elements that Miller has capitalized on to engage DLs. From thought-leader breakfasts to traditional educational events to skiing activities, Miller points out that Denver’s distinct variety of networking options appeals to young professionals and experienced industry executives alike.
Each month, the chapter hosts a Leadership Insight Breakfast, an intimate gathering at which 10 to 12 DLs hear directly from established commercial real estate professionals, who discuss their roles in shaping the industry and share insights on leadership challenges and successes throughout their extensive careers. The chapter also is arranging a series of monthly “commercial real estate bike rides” for a group of DLs and other NAIOP members this summer.
Miller is excited to showcase Denver to Development ‘14 attendees. During the past 15 years, many new, redevelopment and historic revitalization projects have transformed old warehouses into new housing units with old world charm, once crime infested and blighted neighborhoods into popular outdoor recreation areas and depressed business areas into bustling centers of commerce accessed by new means of transportation.
Of the countless tourist activities available outside of the Development conference, Miller’s No. 1 recommendation is a hike or tour of Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. “Mother Nature is an incredible artist, and Red Rocks will leave a lasting impression.”