Ra’eesa Motala stands out for several reasons, including one that she’s trying to change.
In a few short years since choosing a career in commercial real estate brokerage and coming on board with Lee’s Minneapolis-St. Paul office that opened in 2016, Motala has emerged as a local advocate for women in business while joining the ranks of leading promoters of Twin Cities’ commerce and culture. She is the first female President of the Twin Cities’ Film Festival, last year was listed as MSP’s 50 on Fire, and in March was honored with MSP Business Journal’s 2018 Women in Business award.
“I’m one of maybe eight women out of more than 1,265 brokers in our market who specialize in acquisitions and leasing of manufacturing and industrial properties. I’m succeeding in a way that shows others – mostly an older generation – what’s not only possible but what is the new reality,” she tells LINK. “Business is no longer the exclusive domain of men. That was America 30 or 40 years ago.”
In addition to being past chair of Young Professionals of Minneapolis, Motala is on the board of 2020 Steering Partners of MSP, recently she sat on the Twin Cities Women’s Expo panel and is co-founder of Fèmme Obsessed, a branding platform that promotes women owned businesses. She’s also an ambassador of Make It MSP, an initiative by the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Economic Development.
“I have tried to find organizations that need more women. That’s how I think I can really add value,” she said.
A twist of fate led Motala to a career in commercial property. She was a toddler when her parents moved from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Minneapolis-St. Paul. She earned a bachelor’s in child psychology at University of Minnesota, en route to her plans to become a doctor. But at the end of a year-long sabbatical from St. Matthew’s University Medical School she took a job at a property management company. The move upended her career path.
Immediately, she loved being a problem solver in a business setting. Motala quickly won promotions, giving her more responsibilities, including working on development projects. After the company underwent management changes, however, she acted on advice from a mentor and called Chris Garcia, who was launching Lee’s office in Minneapolis and is now President of Lee Minnesota.
In spite of, or because of her witnessing first-hand the challenges confronting women in real estate, especially minority women, Motala joined Lee as an associate broker and began learning the mechanisms of commercial property sales and marketing.
“To be honest, I think I started realizing there was a clear difference in professional gender discrepancies in medical school,” she said. When I got into the real estate world, it was magnified.”
“It’s great to have been here at the very beginning of the opening of our office. I also know how fortunate I am to have a great mentor in Chris, especially in an office where I am the only female and youngest broker. I think his attitude is a great example of someone who understands the change. He continuously shows the leadership needed to balance both sides of the equation. I can’t say it’s always easy for him, but his patience is honestly one of his greatest qualities. He is quick to see opportunity where others may see downfall. I mean after all, he did hire me.”
“When I moved into the industrial sector from multi-family it was a big change. Each time I went to a meeting, it was always a room full of men. I see the upside , learning from veterans and gaining from their experience. But there was very rarely a time when there was a female in the room let alone at the table. Of all the deals I’ve done, I have yet to work with a female broker.
“In some scenarios, men often feel they can take advantage of a situation or are allowed to make certain comments. I do think there are brokers who don’t see me as an equal. Maybe that will come with time and experience,” she said.
In the meantime, she said, every day can seem like a test.
“You feel like people are watching you and thinking, ‘What is she bringing to the table?’ They’re wondering if you’re going to fall on your face and quit, which I think is great because there’s pressure which drives me to do and be better. Whoever said the silent ones are the deadliest, never met a woman ready to work hard enough, smart enough and strong enough, I guess you could say a woman is tenacious enough.”