Amber Rao, Marcy Thomas Discuss MBA’s COMBOG DE&I Council

(Amber Rao (left) and Marcy Thomas)

Amber Rao, CCIM, Vice President with KeyBank Real Estate Capital, and Marcy Thomas, CCIM, CCMS, Vice President, Portfolio Loan Manager with Grandbridge Real Estate Capital, sat down with MBA NewsLink to discuss MBA’s COMBOG DE&I Council.

MBA Vice President of Commercial Multifamily Finance Member Engagement Kelli Burke serves as MBA staff contact for the COMBOG DE&I Council.

MBA NEWSLINK: Tell us about the history of the MBA COMBOG DE&I Council. How does it fit into efforts from the industry, and MBA, to increase diversity, equity and inclusion?

MARCY THOMAS: When this was introduced to us back in 2020, it was set up as a task force. With that in mind, you come in, you shake it out and you move on to another initiative or project. But diversity, equity and inclusion is a movement, not a moment. We really want to do it right, so we transitioned the task force into a council.

AMBER RAO: We want to really amplify the voices of those in our industry across a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The COMBOG DE&I Council is a resource for the industry to learn about best practices and advancement opportunities to promote diversity.

THOMAS: The initiatives and goals the Council focuses on will evolve and change over time, but right now, we’re focusing on relaunching with support and solidarity from our other member companies.

NEWSLINK: Tell us about the relaunch–what goals did you have in mind?

RAO: We relaunched in October 2022. We sought to be very deliberate and thoughtful about the relaunch process, so we took a few months to really organize and develop three pillars we wanted to focus on as they relate to DE&I. These pillars guide the committee’s direction.

The first pillar is diversifying the industry, the second is increasing supplier diversity and the third pillar is financial education.

DE&I is a massive undertaking; it can seem overwhelming at times. We think these concentrated pillars will help us do a few things very well. That’s the theme for our committee this year.

NEWSLINK: What projects are you working on?

RAO: The first initiative we’re rallying around is creating a speakers’ bureau database of diverse individuals who can speak to various topics within commercial real estate finance, particularly the type of finances MBA member companies are a part of.

Whether the topic is servicing, origination or other subjects like alternative lending or agency lending, we want to create a database of speakers and be a source for folks to refer to when they’re planning conference panels and speakers. This should help diversify the type of individuals that are represented at conferences.

A stretch goal for us would be to make this resource available outside of MBA, so that we can really be a force for change across the industry as a whole.

We’re also collaborating with existing organizations within the commercial real estate space to see how we can combine efforts to be a force for change.

And we’re working on a potential case study, to be launched in 2024, in partnership with an existing MBA conference. There will be more info to come on that!

NEWSLINK: MBA nominated Christine Chandler of M&T Realty Capital Corp. to serve as its 2024 Vice Chair, and she has a long history in DE&I efforts. Have you had any conversations with her about your goals?

RAO: Yes, we had a meeting with Christine and several other COMBOG members before we had our very first meeting about the relaunch. She was super helpful to us and helped us narrow our focus a little bit.

THOMAS: I think what Christine brings is her genuine, authentic self. She comes with the honest truth, and she’s able to embrace hard conversations in a very sensitive way. She’s very easy to relate to as a leader, not just within MBA and at M&T, but as a resource for us and a mentor for us with this DE&I Council.

NEWSLINK: Let’s zoom out a bit to wrap it up. What would you like to see come out of the COMBOG DE&I Council down the road?

RAO: As we were brainstorming during our initial go-around of the committee, a lot of us shared very similar viewpoints in terms of what we’d like to see change. One of the main things that we all agreed upon is that impacting the next generation of diverse talent is going to be critical to really changing the look and feel of our industry as a whole.

We’d love to see younger adults and undergraduate students introduced to the world of commercial real estate finance and give them the tools to succeed in our industry. This would create a strong bench and feeding pattern into leadership roles for the future.

One thing that I really strongly believe about DE&I is that it really captures all of us, and we are all unique in different ways. We all bring different viewpoints, talents and expertise to the table.

THOMAS: Now, more than ever, we just need to be very inclusive with people and supportive of each other in the industry, which is the main focus for this Council. This is an exciting time for the DE&I Council. We want people to want to join as a general member. We want people involved. It would be fantastic if by the end of the year we can grow our membership significantly, to include our lenders, our servicers, our counsel and our vendors. That’s why we’re getting the word out today about the Council.