Commercial real estate may seem like it’s just buying, selling, building and leasing, but the industry is a puzzle with a wide variety of niches. From banking and lending to brokerage, title and construction—as well as engineering, property management, design and more—commercial real estate is a building project itself.

In San Antonio, that intricate commercial real estate puzzle includes an array of women who excel at their roles and contribute to making each sale, each build and each property a success. Whether it’s networking, knowing just the right design to make an office space flow, understanding how to keep tenants happy, or connecting the buyers with the perfect piece of land, these women never fail to make the projects they touch a success.

Dawn Vernon
Regional Business Development Manager, TTL, Inc.
While she may not be an engineer, Dawn Vernon, Regional Development Manager with TTL, Inc., can easily list why anyone who is buying land needs to work with one. TTL specializes in geotechnical engineering, environmental consulting, and construction materials testing and related services.

“We’re the hidden services no one thinks about, but are so vital in the upfront portion of your project. It dictates how successful the build or remodel will be,” explained Vernon.

“Environmental studies need to be done before someone buys a piece of land. Is it environmentally sound? Is it in a flood plain? Is it an endangered species area? Then there’s the geological portion,” she explained. “What are you trying to build, and will the soil underneath support what you want? How do you achieve that goal?”

For remodels, there is asbestos testing that must be done. “We can find a way to make it work, but you have to do your due diligence—and work with a company that’s going to give you the advice you need to make the project successful.”

Vernon said she enjoys her job, which involves a lot of networking. “Your network isn’t just all about you. It’s about the relationships that you build. It has to be a long-term relationship. It doesn’t work any other way,” she said. “You never know where your next lead, your next project or your next friend is going to come from. So, hold out a hand, and say ‘Hi, here’s who I am.’”

Her advice? “Take the risk,” she said. “If you’re confident in yourself and your team, you’ll be fine.”

Photo by Dawn Jones

Deborah Bauer
Founder, Drake Commercial Group
Successfully managing big deals doesn’t require a big team – at least, not if you’re Deborah Bauer. Founder and owner of Drake Commercial Group, a boutique brokerage firm representing investors and developers in the purchase and sale of commercial properties, Bauer believes in giving individual, undivided attention to each client, maintaining a small support team and working alongside her son, Travis Bauer.

“Our size is one of the advantages we provide to clients, who always know they will speak with one of the two of us and won’t be shuffled around to multiple people, none of whom might be familiar with the details of their deal or needs,” explained Bauer.

Her approach is on target: nearly 30 years after launching the business, Bauer was recognized with the CREW Network Entrepreneurial Spirit Award last year. Her longevity and experience in the industry has allowed her to build long-term relationships. From buyers and sellers to attorneys, architects, engineers and land planners, Bauer puts people together. “I’m able to connect buyers and sellers with others in my network who can help them make the best possible decisions for their business concerns,” she said.

Bauer has used her success to help others, working with other pioneering, professional women to create Women Give Back, a nonprofit dedicated to giving back to the communities that have supported them throughout their careers. The organization hosts events each year to benefit women, children and animals in need. “Every dollar we raise goes to charity,” noted Bauer. “Thus far we have been blessed to donate almost $100,000 to deserving community groups.”

Virginia Santiago
Architecture and Design Business Development Executive, CBI Group
If floor plans and office furniture don’t seem like art to you, a few minutes with Virginia Santiago, Architecture and Design Business Development executive with CBI Group, will change your mind.

With a master’s degree in fine arts, Santiago brings an artist’s eye to her job. She firmly believes office furniture is more than furniture. “People don’t really think that a space makes a difference, but it helps people be more creative and to be excited when they show up for work,” she explained. “Now, people are more about the experience. Furniture and space planning can create that experience.”

CBI Group works with brokers, architects, design firms and end users to offer turnkey solutions for all aspects of the commercial workplace, including space planning and design, as well as office moving and relocation.

Santiago previously designed restaurants, including her own, DaVinci Gelato, which she owned for eight years. Fluent in Spanish and Italian, the San Antonio native enjoys connecting with people through a variety of professional organizations. “There’s so much going on in San Antonio,” she said. “It’s exciting to learn what everyone is doing.”

She has a passion for interior design and how it impacts work.

“People work really differently now: no more cubicles, more open floor plans, more collaborative. We get excited when clients think about their team, how they’re going to collaborate with each other.”

“They want to have a more inviting atmosphere to attract and retain talent,” she said. “We get really creative, creating open plans and helping define a culture for the company.

Dena Welch
Property Manager, Highland Resources, Inc.
From construction management, tenant relations and building improvements to landscaping, the realm of commercial property management stretches farther than most people realize. “You have to know a little about a lot of things and have a great relationship with your building engineers – they’re the real experts,”explained Dena Welch, property manager with Highland Resources, Inc. “I never thought I’d know so much about HVAC, plumbing and electrical,” she laughed.

One of the things Welch said she enjoys about commercial real estate is the industry’s variety. “You’re always learning something new and there’s never a dull moment,” she said.

It is also a 24/7 job, as building emergencies can happen at any time, but no matter what property issues come Welch’s way, she greets them with a smile, a positive attitude and a terrific team – something she feels is a key to success. “Surround yourself with people you trust and they’ll work even harder for you,” she said.

Relationships are something Welch relishes, especially the ones she’s made through CREW, Commercial Real Estate Women San Antonio. She attended a monthly luncheon where she met like-minded professionals, one of whom became a mentor to her. “My life and my career began to blossom and expand, and I can honestly say it was because of CREW,” she said of getting involved with the organization. Welch currently serves as president of the organization.

She advised other women to build relationships:

“The relationships you build today may be the ones you need as a lifeline tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Questions are good — that’s how you learn and grow.”

By Dawn Robinette

Photography by David Teran and Dawn Jones