Jennifer Christakes was recently named Regional Manager of our JLL New England Property Management group. Jennifer joins us from our JLL office in Chicago, where she spent nearly 18 years in a variety of roles. Here, she will be responsible for both running and growing the Property Management business. We recently sat down with Jennifer to get to know more about her career history, her interests, and what she’s most excited about doing in her new hometown.
What are your interests outside of the office?
I like to travel a lot and spend time with my son and my husband. Italy and Spain are some of my favorite places but there are so many places I’ve yet to go to. We always try to visit new destinations. I’m also very active. I’m a big runner, I like to hike and do other outdoor activities. That’s one of the reasons I’m most looking forward to living in New England. We went on vacation in Maine last year and that was the first time we had been to that region. I’m excited about getting to explore it further.
Prior to joining JLL you spent 8 years in the Army. What was that experience like and what lessons learned have helped you in this field?
It was a really great experience. When I got out I was a Captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. JLL and the Army to me are actually quite similar. With respect to the camaraderie, in the Army, your company or battalion is like your family and that’s how it’s been for me since I’ve been with JLL. The Army also teaches you discipline, leadership and management skills and I think that’s helped me be successful in my roles here at JLL.
Why did you choose commercial real estate after transitioning out of the Army?
My main focus was to come back home to Chicago. Before I joined the Army, I dabbled in residential real estate when I was in high school and worked for a commercial developer after high school. I also love architecture. I almost thought about getting my architecture degree before I realized I was not creative enough. But I always loved the architecture of the buildings of Chicago. So given all that, when I interviewed with the folks at JLL we really hit it off and that’s how I ended up here.
What about property management in particular appealed to you?
Honestly, at the time they were hiring for property management and I wasn’t sure that I could be a broker, not that I even really knew that existed. I mean, no one really even knows that property management exists unless you’re in this business. When you walk into an office building the last thing on your mind is who’s taking care of the heat and who’s hiring security. Nobody really thinks of that or realizes it’s a career. I kind of fell into it like a lot of us do because we don’t really grow up thinking I want to be a property manager. That’s kind of how it happened and it’s just been fabulous.
You’ve obviously enjoyed it nearly 18 years later. Can you talk about your rise through the organization?
I started in Chicago as an Operations Manager for a 1.2 million SF property Downtown. I spent a couple of years in that role and moved into an Assistant General Manager position where I handled the financial operation of the building. I was then given the opportunity to manage my own building before being asked to interview for the General Manager position at the Museum of Science. That was an awesome experience. I was there for four years through some major building improvements and some great exhibits. At that time, I was asked to move into a Group Manager role overseeing several other teams in addition to my own. After that I spent a little time in the suburbs before coming back to Chicago to serve as the Regional Operations Manager.
Can you tell us a little more about your most recent role as Regional Operations Manager?
Because the Midwest is one of the largest regions in the country, it was hard for the Regional Manager, Steve Zsigray, to run the business and grow the business at the same time. I focused on running it so Steve could focus on growing it. I took away all of the clutter from his day-to-day and served as his support network. Steve has been in this business for a such a long time and taught me so much in that role—it was a really great experience.
What are you most excited about taking on in your new role here?
In my previous roles, I haven’t had to focus as heavily on the client piece and the growth component of the business, so I’m looking forward to the thrill of the chase in taking on this new responsibility. It’s a much different role for me and that’s both fun and exciting. I am also looking forward to learning from the team here more about our market, our people, and our buildings.
What are you most excited about with respect to living in the Boston area?
Boston reminds me a lot of Chicago—there’s history here which I love. I’ve never spent a lot of time in this area so I’m looking forward to venturing out from Boston up into the Northeast. I’ve also never lived near an ocean. Boston just seems like a great city, it’s a little smaller than Chicago so you can navigate it a little more. I’m living Downtown right now and I told my husband I want to be a tourist—I want to go on the Duck Boats, visit the Tea Party Museum, just wander around and enjoy it. I’m really excited about spending our weekends exploring the city and surrounding area.
Obviously this is a great opportunity, but was it a hard decision to leave Chicago after so many years?
Not necessarily for me. My son was two hours away in college but I never really see him anyway. My mom is back there so that gave me a bit of angst. But I’ve moved around in the Army a lot so this was an exciting opportunity to explore a new city that I thought would be really cool. My husband hasn’t lived anywhere besides Chicago so it was a lot more difficult for him, but he’s excited as well or we wouldn’t be here.
You are a woman in a high-profile position within an industry and company eager to become more diverse. Do you consider yourself a role model in this regard?
I hope so. I’m not only a woman, but I’m also Hispanic. I’m involved in various internal and external diversity organizations. In Chicago, we had a strong diversity initiative—we’re all about diversity and the firm is as well. I obviously support that. We need to look like our clients—our clients are diverse, we need to be diverse. Diversity brings a wide variety of opinions and different ways of doing things. We’d be silly not to ensure that our firm and property management in particular is diverse. From what I’ve seen, our team is fairly well diverse, but we can always do better.
You were recently named a JLL Champion of Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon a JLL employee. What was that like, were you surprised?
I was! I figured maybe after I’d been with the firm for 20-25 years someone might nominate me. Never in a million years did I think it would be so early in my career. I was very surprised and very flattered to be among the group of those winners because I look up to them all. It was absolutely amazing. I’m still kind of in shock and don’t quite believe it!
If you see Jennifer around town exploring Boston, be sure to say hello, and feel free to contact her with any questions you may have.