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ICSC’s 4 Under 40 Winners

January 30, 2024

Each year, ICSC honors four outstanding young leaders for their vision and accomplishments. Their commitment to and success in their fields reinforces the strength and creativity of the Marketplaces Industry. This year’s group:

Laura Barr’s Fast-Track, 14-Year Career at CBRE

Timing, all the more, is everything in the Marketplaces Industry. A standout performer since coming aboard CBRE fresh out of the University of Pennsylvania 14 years ago, self-described “urban planning nerd” Laura Barr found herself in the right firm with the right discipline right away.

Emerging on the heels of the Great Recession, Barr was optimistic about possibilities in the distressed field, armed with an innate confidence and diplomas in what were considered fringe disciplines not long ago: a bachelor’s in urban studies and a master’s in city planning. It was a time when the retail world was reexamining the creation of place and community retail by necessity, Barr recalled.

While at Penn, she had interned with CBRE’s Philadelphia office. In 2010, she moved to San Francisco, where she’s since left her mark as a top producer, innovator and company thought leader, shaping urban developments like San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square for Jamestown and Union Square for multiple investors and tenants, the San Francisco Giants’ Mission Rock, the Golden State Warriors’ Thrive City and Presidio Bay Ventures’ Springline.

Barr, now 36, entered those disciplines because she deduced that a holistic approach would bring a more thorough understanding of the concerns of developers, property investors and municipalities. “I felt this would give me insight into how cities think about their evolution and how they approach their partnerships with the private side,” she said.

ICSC named Barr a 4 Under 40 honoree in December at ICSC NEW YORK in the wake of her August promotion to Americas retail leader of CBRE Advisory and Transaction Services, a big-picture post overseeing retail leasing growth strategy and retail tenant services. “I feel very ready for the role, both as a way to grow and as a way to dig into higher-level challenges,” she said. “It’s very exciting.” Barr will have wide latitude to create new tenanting strategies to make urban and suburban mixed-use projects responsive to fast-changing consumer needs, she said.

Global president of CBRE Advisory and Transaction Services Manish Kashyap praised Barr’s “dynamic and thoughtful leadership style,” adding that those traits will prove essential in expanding the firm’s market position while enhancing growth opportunities and client outcomes. Barr assumes responsibility for a CBRE business cohort responsible for more than $11.1 billion in 2022 transactions.

Barr sits on the boards of healthcare-amenity-focused real estate developer and operator Health Hospitality Partners; La Cocina, a Bay Area, nonprofit incubator for food-and-beverage entrepreneurs, primarily women of color; and Onsights, an artificial intelligence-fueled provider of e-commerce-style analytics for brick-and-mortar property owners and retailers. Onsights dovetails with what Barr called her “die-hard focus on quantitative analysis, producing an additional layer of actionable insight.” All three are retail-adjacent organizations driving bigger strategic thinking, she said. Such organizations also can be wellsprings of talent, she noted.  Faces from different walks of life are needed to create thought diversity that can keep retail companies thriving, she said. “There might actually be a better, smarter way to do things, so we need those fresh insights.”

In 2021, Barr captured CBRE’s inaugural Darla Longo Award, created to recognize next-generation producers nationally who exemplify ethics, who have shown the ability to overcome obstacles and who strongly engage in company platforms and values. Darla Longo has worked for CBRE for 45 years and now is a vice chair and managing director. She was the first woman elected to the company’s board.

Barr, who before her promotion served as senior vice president of retail and business line cohort leader within CBRE’s Women’s Network, has has sat on CBRE’s Americas Producer Advisory Board and co-chaired the company’s Futures Committee, the latter producing research on the impact of autonomous vehicles on real estate values. She has stayed at CBRE for nearly a decade-and-a-half for its support systems, mentorship and values and for the challenges it continues to provide her. “I’ve never been happier,” she said.

Barr is an avid reader, podcast consumer and learner. “I’m a deeply curious person, and I love to understand what makes the world tick,” she said, “and there is much to be learned at the intersection of the consumer sector and the built environment. This business is relatable and compelling. You can walk through neighborhoods and there’s a story behind every project and business.”

Natalie Pebbles Has Crafted a Career Her Way

Natalie Pebbles, the energetic Western region real estate director for Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, named an ICSC 4 Under 40 honoree at ICSC NEW YORK in December, drew her first impressions of ICSC during her youth, listening intently as father Bart Pebbles, principal of Caliber Real Estate Group, chatted up the organization.

“While I was in college interning for him, I started attending some of the local Southern California events,” she said. Regularly introduced as his daughter, she was adamant about making her own name, she recalled. While retail real estate remained her career focus, Pebbles, 35, quietly found work on her own after college. Still, she never missed a local ICSC event.

During her initial real estate gig, with Orange County, California boutique brokerage firm Present Value Properties, Pebbles connected with ICSC’s Next Generation volunteer committee. As an enthusiastic newcomer, a role that encouraged ICSC newbies gave her great satisfaction. “It was about how I could help other people connect, especially those younger in age or career. I love being one warm phone call away for the young guns and helping them make other warm calls.” It was through her volunteer role that she was introduced to the opportunity at Jersey Mike’s.

Since joining Jersey Mike’s in late 2013, Pebbles has inked nearly 600 West Coast deals, a weighty feat given the chain’s East Coast origin. “The trick is to figure out how to stay ahead of the competition and then finding the right brokers to execute that strategy,” she said. Jersey Mike’s strong brand investment and trust in her judgment allows her to roll out stores faster than rivals, she said. “My ICSC involvement has absolutely helped that. It keeps me easily accessible and top of mind.”

Pebbles bridges the delicate balance of needs of the company, franchisees, landlords and community with an “it’s a partnership, not a battle” mindset. Too often, factions view dealmaking with a one-upmanship angle rather than as allies seeking common victory, she said. “Establish the mutual goal first, be straightforward and honest and from there — you build trust that helps expedite.”

Pebbles is the youngest advisory board member for her alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, and she spent two years volunteering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles before moving to Seattle.

She served on an ICSC next generation leadership board from 2018 to 2020 and as the Southern California Next Generation State Chair from 2017 to 2022, following in the footsteps of ICSC Next Generation mentor Mitchell Hernandez, partner in and co-founder of Beta. She occupied the role for a double term due to COVID uncertainties. She’s a member of the 2022-24 class of ICSC’s Next Generation Leadership Network, and she’ll assume another key ICSC role in 2024: ICSC Western Chair.

Colleagues witnessing Pebbles’ ICSC devotion often ask what she gets from it. “I never look at what it’s bringing me,” she said. “I look at it as what I can bring to ICSC.” Today, her meetings, calls and conferences “feel more like fun with friends than work.” Still, the many benefits that come with 12 years of volunteering, including enhanced market and industry knowledge and a contact base five times larger than most her age and career level, have aided her success greatly, she acknowledged.

Jersey Mike’s president Hoyt Jones, among a lengthy list of Pebbles’ 4 Under 40 nominators, noted that Pebbles “has the pulse of the industry at her fingertips. She lives and breathes real estate and her knowledge of markets she’s developed is second to none. She makes sure that deals are fair for all parties involved.”

Her backers say she exhibits boundless energy. Her driving force? “Passion,” she said. “It’s really hard to fail at something you’re intensely passionate about.” Close behind are “obsession” and “connection.” In her 20s, Pebbles’ work-life boundaries blurred. “When I wasn’t working at Jersey Mike’s, I was helping family and friends with leasing their portfolios, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was pursuing continued education,” she said. “I don’t necessarily recommend that lifestyle, but I know you can go farther faster if you’re obsessed with what you’re doing.”

However, it’s the relationships she’s built that are most gratifying, Pebbles said. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to be so connected to people in the industry that you’ve positively influenced their professional development — then deepening those connections as you watch their personal growth, attend their weddings, watch them buy their first homes and grow their families.”

Pebbles takes creative latitude in helping shape ICSC events, especially, she said, as ICSC has become more innovative with its offerings. The resultant idea flow is “opening even more doors for members,” she said. “I love creating space for people to be their authentic selves, which allows for deeper connections, and I love shaping events toward member goals and creating lasting enthusiasm toward ICSC.”

Pebbles’ inspirations, she said, start with her firm’s founder and CEO, Peter Cancro, who she said “gives more than he receives and will, quite literally, roll up his sleeves and break bread with everyone”; mentor and former boss Gerardo Flores; and, of course, her dad, plus her vast library of self-improvement titles. Chief among them is her first such read, gifted to her at 18: Wooden by famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. His seven principles, as shared by Pebbles: “Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, drink deeply from good books, make friendship a fine art, build a shelter against a rainy day and give thanks for your blessings daily.” They still resonate and shape her achievements and goals, she said.

Ever a sub buff, Pebbles has three go-tos: Jersey Mike’s #7 turkey sub, “even better with rosemary parm,” she said; the #16 chicken Philly hot sub in a salad bowl or “tub,” done “Mike’s Way”: onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, olive oil and spices; and a Dan Watts #8 when in the Pacific Northwest.

Pebbles’ said hearing of her ICSC 4 Under 40 honor was indescribable: “I reread the email several times and had to show it to other people to make sure I was reading it right. It’s a dream come true. I’m so grateful. The under-40 talent in this industry is immense. To be among those recognized is such an honor.”

Today, Pebbles’ early professional break from her dad has come full circle. When she and her father walk at functions, she no longer hears “This is my daughter” but rather “Aren’t you Natalie’s dad?”

Bo Okoroji Used to Work at the Mall. Now, He Acquires Them

Bo Okoroji has always been a mall man. He’s walked more than 70% of the U.S.’s superregional malls, and he revels in that mall staple: the pretzel. And at a time when some have questioned the future of the mall, Okoroji is more bullish than ever.

The 36-year-old Dallas native and alum of Simon and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is the founder of Steerpoint Capital, a retail real estate advisory and investment firm that specializes in opportunistic and value-add properties. Steerpoint leverages capital commitments from partners ranging from family offices to domestic and international investment funds to execute adaptive reuse conversions and retail-repositioning opportunities in high-demand markets within Southern California and Sunbelt states. The Los Angeles-based firm has trained much of its work on enclosed malls and now has six under management. Steerpoint, Okoroji said, is as much an adviser as it is an investor. The firm provides services to high-net-worth individuals and institutions looking to stake an interest in shopping malls, which Okoroji called pillars of every U.S. community.

He has negotiated, structured and underwritten some $11 billion in commercial real estate transactions. But his love for malls looms larger. Okoroji worked his first job at the Abercrombie & Fitch at Galleria Dallas. After watching the 1987 Michael Douglas film Wall Street, he took a detour into investment banking. But while working for Asset & Resource Management Holding Co. in Nigeria, he realized that real estate, not investment banking, is his passion.

After moving back to the U.S., he enrolled in a Master of Business Administration program at Drexel University and soon joined Simon as a summer associate. After graduating, he became a full-time executive-in-training. The program gave Okoroji, named to the ICSC 4 Under 40 at ICSC NEW YORK in December, “an early, holistic view of the business,” he recalled. It allowed him to rub shoulders with David Simon and other industry leaders and learn firsthand about underwriting, partnership and asset management practices and about mixed-used strategies. “Without Simon, I wouldn’t have had the ability to learn so much so quickly,” said Okoroji. “I got to see the business as a whole and sit in rooms with the likes of J.P.Morgan.” Okoroji often was tasked with chauffeuring Simon executives among mall properties. He would listen to their conversations and calls, learning “by osmosis,” he said.

In 2019, URW recruited him to be vice president and head of U.S. investment and divestment. There, he played a key role in liquidating its multibillion-dollar U.S. real estate portfolio, he said. Okoroji organized “roadshows” in which he’d pitch the U.S. properties to mall buyers. That skill helped prepare him for the mall-buying niche he would pursue when he founded Steerpoint in January 2022.

With backing from Bridge Group Investments — the original owner of Shoe Palace — Steerpoint and Okoroji got to work on a forward-thinking strategy: buying outdoor malls early in the pandemic when others were avoiding them, rightsizing the retail footprints and repurposing the tenant mix for hospitality, multifamily and other uses. The strategy is working. In just over a year, Steerpoint closed California acquisitions for The Shops at Montebello, Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale, Northridge Mall in Salinas and North County in Escondido. The company is exploring opportunities in Texas, New York and the Mid-Atlantic.

In December, it announced the acquisition of the Galleria at Sunset in Greater Las Vegas, a region that has played an outsize role in Okoroji’s career. Okoroji began attending ICSC’s annual Las Vegas event in 2014. He credited these events with helping him build relationships and expand his network. Today, Okoroji is a member of the 2022-24 ICSC Next Generation Leadership Network for rising leaders in the Marketplaces Industry. He also serves on the advisory board for finance company Walker & Dunlop’s CREUnited diversity initiative. “I’m a big believer in inclusion and have always wanted to work on ways to diversify minority real estate leadership and ownership for the next generation,” he said. “That will lead to bringing in more diverse talent.”

Centennial president Whitney Livingston, who nominated Okoroji for the ICSC 4 Under 40, said: “Bo is forward thinking, innovative and tenacious and is exactly the type of talent the Marketplaces Industry needs to thrive in the future. He exemplifies the type of leadership, creativity and vision ICSC is looking for in its volunteers and is a role model for others who may not always see themselves adequately represented in top leadership roles.”

Among his professional inspirations, Okoroji counts Livingston; David Contis, former president of mall operations for Simon; Shoe Palace CEO George Mersho; and URW CFO Jaap Tonckens. Simons taught him to be a utility player, Mersho taught him how to be an entrepreneur and Tonckens “allowed me to help build an investment team and allowed me to learn a part of the business that became so important to my future,” Okoroji said.

The ICSC 4 Under 40 distinction is “a real honor for me,” Okoroji said. “I am excited to make the list and look forward to serving with a very talented group.”

Scott Schnuckel’s Growing Role in a Rightsizing Retailer

For two decades now, Scott Schnuckel has been a wunderkind of sorts around Kohl’s. In his junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the studious Schnuckel snagged a prized internship at the retailer’s corporate headquarters in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, just a short jaunt from campus. It was a coup for a finance/accounting major who didn’t yet know he’d make his way into real estate, Schnuckel recalled.

That internship spilled into his senior year, and his relationship with the chain is now in its 19th year. He went on to join the Kohl’s brain trust as a full-time analyst, charged with the weighty chore of dissecting new-store spending. He assumed the role of vice president of property development and real estate in 2022, and he oversees all of Kohl’s real estate initiatives through their full life cycles, including 100 million square feet of retail and 1,200 stores. He felt fortunate to survive the 2008 recession, which he said proved to be “a short-term pain” that ultimately forced greater operational efficiencies.

ICSC named him to its 4 Under 40 at ICSC NEW YORK in December, the same month he turned 39. “It’s incredible to look at the list of the people who’ve earned the award,” he said. “You can’t help but feel you’re being placed in special company.”

Schnuckel, who later earned his Master of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, became active with ICSC in 2014. “I found I really liked the opportunity to meet new people and establish connections with them,” he said. “ICSC also helped with broker relationships and my ability to access and talk to executive peers at conferences.”

In 2015, Schnuckel segued from his finance-focused roles to the development side as manager of real estate development, working with stores and landlords to pilot Kohl’s rightsizing. “I felt fortunate, even lucky, to be given an incredible opportunity to help with our downsizing initiatives,” he said. “It was a challenge. At the same time, in 2018, I was handling the majority of our real estate programs, as a leadership change was also happening.”

Clearly, there’s a strong element of skill behind Schnuckel’s “luck.” He was named senior manager of real estate in 2017 and director of property development two years later. He explained: “I kept saying yes when new opportunities arose.”

In 2022, Schnuckel got bumped up again to his present vice president post, a job that melds his many Kohl’s experiences with leadership of the firm’s distribution and office properties. “It’s relatively easy to adapt your process to distribution, but you need to build and utilize relationships to bring in the expertise you need,” he said. But repurposing or disposing of some of the retailer’s office properties, given the market’s softness, “is a test.”

While the company’s plans for a small-store concept — which, at 35,000 to 40,000 square feet, is roughly half of the large format — have generated national news over the past couple years, Schnuckel and team actually have been incubating the idea for eight years. Kohl’s has opened more than 20 smaller stores, and a lot more are possible, he said. The format better fits the populations of new and expanding markets and is a tool for rightsizing existing markets, he said. “Everyone is making their buildings smaller, and we’re no different. This helps us learn to operate more efficiently.” He was ecstatic to be on hand for the November 2023 opening of the downtown Milwaukee Kohl’s in a historic anchor space at The Avenue, practically in the retailer’s backyard.

In 2019, Schnuckel began guest-lecturing at Marquette University. A larger role, as adjunct real estate instructor, came in 2021 when faculty mentioned that a senior case-study class was overenrolled and wondered if Schnuckel would pick up the slack with his own class. While he had thought he’d teach someday, he said, “I never thought it would be this soon.” He and his wife, Kristina, considered the pros and cons and weighed the demands of teaching against family and work responsibilities. “Ultimately, we prioritized it,” he said. “It’s a way to give back, and I enjoy teaching students and drawing from my real-life experiences.”

The couple is active with West African Mercy Ministries, a nonprofit orphanage and hospice in Accra, Ghana, for gravely ill and other special-needs children, most of whom had been homeless. Kristina visited the orphanage in 2009 to help get it operational. Scott followed. “We became very passionate about it,” he said. The couple, who’ve served on the faith-based mission’s board since 2014, adopted their oldest child Kojo, 14, from the orphanage. They have two other children, 10 and 6.

Golfing and camping are among Schnuckel’s off-hours interests. An affinity for the Diablo IV video game allows him to connect and chat with multiple friends and colleagues as they compete, he said.

Schnuckel credits his Kohl’s successes to “an incredible team atmosphere and many great people who were willing to invest time in me.” Kohl’s execs who’ve inspired Schnuckel are too many to name, though chief property officer Mark Griepentrog “is one of the big reasons I’m in the situation I am today,” Schnuckel said. “He’s caring and compassionate. His enthusiasm makes you excited to go to work. There has been a lot of learning on the fly for me, but learning on the fly from great leaders has been invaluable experience.”

By Steve McLinden

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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