CEO on Leadership: Camille Renshaw

Summer 2023 Issue
By: Ron Derven

The co-founder of B+E, a net lease real estate brokerage firm credited with brokering the largest commercial real estate transaction by a digital platform, Cabela’s $324 million sale-leaseback deal in 2019, talks about the challenges of growing a tech-driven brokerage business.

Development: What attracted you to a career in commercial real estate?

Camille Renshaw: Starting my career in technology, I fell into commercial real estate by accident. I didn’t know what a career in tech looked like because I had few role models, and none of those role models were women. As an entrepreneur from an early age, I launched, grew and sold a couple of start-up businesses in my 20s. My father and grandfather advised me to invest the money from those start-ups wisely because such an opportunity might never come again. I invested in my first real estate ventures, buying a portfolio of single-family homes and a portfolio of single-tenant commercial real estate.

I did not like owning single-family real estate and sold the portfolio in 2005-2006. However, I kept the commercial investments. To learn more about real estate and investing, I took a job with Colliers and had the good fortune to work closely with Pat Duffy, who at the time was head of retail for the firm. Much of what I know today about real estate investment I learned from Pat. As much as I admired Colliers and loved the people I worked with there, I needed to get out on my own.

Development: What attracted you to the net lease business?

Renshaw: The net lease business is wildly more popular today than when I first entered it. I love it because it really fits me and my lifestyle as an investor. I enjoy underwriting cash flows, underwriting the tenant and analyzing deals. I have zero interest in property management. I like the predictability of the net lease business. Some investors avoid it because they feel the equity growth is not large enough. But what I want in a real estate investment is predictable growth. Obviously, in the net lease business there are years where cap rates really compress, and there are great opportunities to exit if you wish. I do not sell much; I use such times to refinance loans at a lower rate.

Development: What can you tell us about leadership and leading a relatively young company, given the recent pandemic?

Renshaw: I have been around for a few market cycles now, and I made it through the Great Recession, COVID and now this downturn. These experiences have made me a vastly better leader. When COVID hit, I could see on the faces of my employees on Zoom that while they were smiling, they were in shock. They did not understand what was happening because most of them are in their 20s and 30s and had never seen a market cycle.

To help them grasp what was going on, together we read the book “Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity” by Michael Lewis. He advises that when there are highs, do not get caught up in the euphoria; when there are lows, avoid panic. Don’t play for the extremes — try to stay in the middle.

Development: In addition to your role as CEO at B+E, you also lead the venture capital firm RenshawCo and are on numerous boards of directors. Could you tell us how you manage your time?

Renshaw: People always talk about work-life balance, but I believe in work-life integration. The reason that we have such a great culture at B+E is that some of my best friends work for the company. Scott Scurich, who is my partner in B+E, is the person I talk with most, other than my wife. The idea of just turning off work isn’t something I do. For entrepreneurs, we love what we do and derive so much energy from it that we really don’t want to turn it off.

Development: What does leadership mean to you?

Renshaw: I want to be a role model for young women. Leadership to me, especially at this point in my life, means holding the door open for people behind me. There are not a lot of women in commercial real estate, especially in investment sales and the net lease business. I just came back from a net lease conference attended by a couple of hundred practitioners, and there were maybe six women in attendance, including me.

This is something I am trying to change. I want to mentor women. I want women to talk about money — what they are investing in, what they are worried about, what they are having success with, what are their plans. I want to encourage them to start their own companies.

I have been very public that I am gay. That is not always comfortable, but I realize that I have to hold the door open for other people. This is how I define leadership at this point in my life.

Development: What is your primary role as CEO of B+E today?

Renshaw: We were founded in 2017. Because we’re such a young company, we all do everything — including me. I will do whatever it takes to make this company a huge success. As a leader, that is key. We are all doing what is necessary to get the company to the next level of performance.

Development: What qualities do you look for when hiring senior leadership?

Renshaw: I always ask employees what they think of a potential new hire. The thing about a start-up is that you want everyone’s buy-in. We all work really hard here, and we want a new hire to work hard as well. We hire brilliant people from all areas of commercial real estate, but often it is not brilliance that wins the day, it is hard work.

We also like a little humility. No one can say that they have seen it all in commercial real estate because we haven’t. The pandemic is a prime example. The best we can do is have experience from other cycles and then try to extrapolate what we can to the new situation in front of us.

Development: You have been named one of the “Best Bosses in CRE.” Tell us about developing the trust of your employees.

Renshaw: As mentioned, I’m friends with a lot of the folks in the company, but you can’t run a company and be friends with everyone. I don’t want to suggest that. However, there is a sense here that everyone is in the trenches together. Everyone knows that there is no job at the company that I haven’t done myself at some point. I understand how hard some of those jobs are.

Development: As the leader, how do you resolve internal conflict and missteps at the company?

Renshaw: I have a reputation for being upfront and direct. I have high expectations for myself and everyone else in the company. If someone misjudged a situation, I have a lot of empathy for that. But usually, the problem is that a person didn’t ask the right person in the company for help. We are a team; we don’t compete internally. We want to collaborate internally and compete externally. There is no one here working on a deal who cannot go over to someone else’s office and say, “I don’t understand this; I don’t know what to do.” Teamwork is the key, and it's part of the culture we want to create.

Development: What has been your greatest leadership challenge in starting and growing B+E?

Renshaw: The biggest challenge was the pandemic and leading the company through it. It was a new situation for all of us, and we didn’t have a playbook.

Development: What advice would you give women coming into the real estate business today?

Renshaw: Women need to seek out role models, men or women, and to know that they can become whatever they want to be.

Development: What’s the best advice you have received?

Renshaw: The best life advice I have received was from my grandfather and grandmother. My grandfather’s advice was that “mailbox money is great.” Create consistent cashflows with low-risk profiles, and this will take care of you and your family.

My grandmother’s advice was to be brave. She said it is OK to be afraid, because there are things in life that will genuinely frighten you. The key is to be brave. That is important for women, because we are often told that when we feel afraid, we should back away. Bravery does not involve recklessness, but intelligence, resources and backbone to move forward despite your fear. I think that is great advice for women as they seek higher roles within commercial real estate.

Development: You mentioned that you believe in work-life integration. Could you give us a recent example?

Renshaw: I love backpacking. B+E had its annual corporate retreat in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail. We rented a big lodge and spent each day hiking a few miles together as a team or were just outdoors together. I feel most alive when I am outdoors.

Ron Derven is a contributing editor to Development magazine.