CEO and Founder of Basis Investment Group
“I grew up in affordable housing so it’s personal to me. Workforce housing plays a critical role in the affordability crisis; we get to play a part in that. — Tammy Jones
How do you describe yourself?
A: I think that everyone should have a personal brand, and the one I’ve come up with for myself reflects me personally and professionally. I call it L.C. Squared and it stands for the things I’m all about – Leading, Love, Creating and Connections.
My mother claims I’ve been leading since I came out of the womb but I see myself as someone who loves to inspire others. I love to create companies and strategies. I wasn’t the kid who wanted to sell just lemonade – I put my own spin on it and made a fruit punch stand. And I love not just networking but connecting people with others. Relationships are key.
What is your business role?
A: I am the CEO and founder of Basis Investment Group. We are a diversified commercial real estate and multifamily investor and lender. In addition to being a Freddie Mac Optigo℠ lender, we also manage capital for pension and sovereign funds and run a fund for the NYC EDC geared specifically for emerging developers. Through our multiple business lines we have closed nearly $4B in transactions. This year is our 10th anniversary.
My role is to be the strategic visionary, to build the platform, and I’m one of the only African American female CEOs in multifamily and commercial real estate.
We invest and lend to everyone while keeping a close eye on how we are meeting our diversification goals. Currently, 77% of my team is made up of women and minorities; it’s just part of our DNA to make sure we are inclusive and diversified. The industry is evolving and demographics are shifting so it’s important that every group is represented and has equal access to capital.
How did you get started in the Multifamily Industry?
A: I fell into it. I graduated from Cornell as an economics major and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do after I graduated. I took a job at Equitable and rotated across the Equitable Enterprise of companies, including insurance, commercial real estate and the investment banking divisions. That sealed the deal – I loved real estate most and never left the industry. I started at the bottom as a real estate analyst and then became an underwriter on the acquisition side, where I invested in both multifamily and CRE on behalf of pension funds. I have played a number of different roles, but I love every part of real estate investing and lending. It’s tangible. I like to understand, see and touch my investments.
What is your biggest business accomplishment so far?
A: I’m really proud of forming Basis. There are very few women and almost no African-American women who are CEOs in this industry. When I started in commercial real estate, I never saw anyone who looked like me. I always tell the people I mentor that it’s important to see someone do it. “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.” I want to be that person who someone sees and says if Tammy can do it, so can I.
The other thing I’m really proud of is getting the Freddie Mac Small Balance license. It wasn’t easy to do and I had to show we were qualified. But it has allowed Basis to focus on workforce housing which is so consistent with our mission and values and everything we do.
I grew up in affordable housing so it’s personal to me. Workforce housing plays a central and critical role in easing the affordability crisis and we get to play a part in that.
Have you experienced any challenges as a woman in a predominately male industry?
A: There are still far too few women in leadership roles in commercial real estate. I was at a CEO conference recently and noticed I was one of only a few women. I started doing research and learned that 77% of CEOs in real estate are still men.
In contrast, I went to the Freddie Mac Multifamily Conference last year and I was stunned by how many women and people of color there were and in high positions. This is the model for bringing diversity and inclusion to this industry.
Did you have any role models who influenced or inspired you?
A: I had two main role models – one was my dad. He was a jazz musician and there is a real entrepreneurial spirit in that. Musicians have to generate their own business. You eat what you kill. He pursued a field that he loved and that’s where my passion comes from.
My second role model is Debbie Harmon of Artemis Real Estate Partners who is another female CEO in this industry. She’s helping women across the country in real estate. I call on her for advice and support. Everyone needs a mentor – no matter what level you are.
How do you in turn help other women who are coming up behind you to succeed?
A: I help women in many ways, but one in particular is a foundation I formed called Basic Impact Group. The objective is to increase diversity of women and minorities in commercial real estate. Three year ago, we partnered with NAIOP, (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) and REEC (Real Estate Executive Council) on a summer program for minority and female high school students.
To date, we have helped 224 young people go through the program and half are women. It’s all about early exposure to the commercial real estate industry. You can’t wait until they have their MBAs because most young people aren’t initially thinking about real estate or multifamily. We’re exposing the kids early, like Microsoft, Google and McKinsey.
I also have six mentees – all women and of all races. I talk to them about careers and work-life balance. I believe you can have it all. It’s important to help women see that path. You can’t be everything to everyone but you can have it all if you understand balance.
What's the best part of your job?
A: Creating and building strategy for the company. I love those things. I’m always looking for the next opportunity and staying ahead of the curve. Diversification is key. I love figuring out what’s the next opportunity in the market and seeing how things intersect.
And I really enjoy inspiring and empowering people. As CEO I try to surround myself with really smart people who know more than me. I’m always asking for their opinions. People tell me I’m passionate and I inspire them. The culture in our office is definitely positive.
Any advice to share?
A: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Opportunity lies at the edge of your discomfort.”
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