Glass ceilings? Closed doors? Not at JLL. We recognize the success and achievements of the amazing women throughout our firm. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’d like to highlight a few of the strong, smart, and ambitious women of JLL. We appreciate them not only this month, but every day. We hope they inspire you like they inspire us.
Meet Toni Steele, Executive Vice President, Capital Markets
What is your primary focus at JLL?
I cover office brokerage work for the Los Angeles region. I work on investments for domestic and international institutions, and private client capital market requirements for acquisition, disposition, recapitalization, refinancing, planning, development and partnership/joint venture initiatives in Los Angeles (and other areas) in collaboration with the Southern California and other US regional teams. My key focus areas include creative office and life science along with support to urban and historical redevelopment/repositioning opportunities – all toward driving further brand expansion overall.
Prior to JLL, I was with Goldman Sachs for 23 years in the US and Europe. I served most recently as Vice President of Acquisitions and Asset Management in the SoCal region, while spearheading the creative office and life science product types for the firm’s US investment, lending and direct use purposes. Prior to that I spent nearly 13 years as a Goldman expat as Country Director for Italy real estate and German NPL real estate platforms, which had followed my entry role as West Coast Asset Management team leader.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to work in an office and be a mathematician – and race motorcycles. My mom worked at universities and high schools – first as the executive assistant to the President of Southern Illinois University then leading high schools, so I got to come in the office a lot – that was a wonderland it seemed with fun people and lots going on.
My dad was a mathematician and a leading IBM engineer for the space program and military work, so math was such an emphasis growing up – even in doing the most mundane or creative things like having fun working on cars with him, cooking with my grandma, and constantly sketching homes and tree houses.
I seemed to always be trying to figure things out with math and reading about different people and places – and trying to keep up with an older male cousin of mine who lived with us and was a Harley Davidson US champion racer.
Having an Italian countess as my roommate in college really changed the direction of my life – while she wanted to be “a California girl”, for me, the experience opened up an entirely new universe of discovery and our friendship (and that of our two little sisters who are especially close as well) brought me around the world on travels and to work, study and live – and it gave me the opportunity today to be the American godmother for her two children. The profound change in my life as result of that friendship in terms of life experience, awareness of history, art, philosophy, fashion and that effervescent Italian zest for life is forever part of me.
How did you get into commercial real estate?
I was asked to join a real estate development firm soon after college. It proved to be a perfect match and amalgamation of many interests. I fell in love with the entrepreneurial nature of the business: the process of taking risks, teaching, learning new markets, challenging and advancing ideas/quantifying data, seeing artist renderings realized into being functional places of design and purpose, and seeing that all emerge from concept to permitting and financing, development, leasing, and on-sale. It all connected. Commercial real estate ended up being the perfect marriage of my intellectual interests alongside that of people and places.
Growing up I had the privilege of moving around and studying in the States and in Europe (Italy, Germany, France and Monaco), while traveling a lot with exposure to new environments, cultures and ways of life early on. Learning about others and being taught by my Midwestern, farm raised folks to always respect different people and different ways of doing things as a way to learn and to enrich life. That has served as a catalyst to amazing life opportunities and friendships.
How has JLL supported you as a woman in business?
By allowing me to help advance women’s leadership roles and overall diversity and multi-generational initiatives. This is a target focus of mine. It’s so enriching to engage with the talent in a special place such as JLL. It is a wonderful means to not only meet others but to share in their story and aspirations. As an organization, it’s a proven path for the firm to continue to optimize competitive advantages in the marketplace, attract and retain talent, further advance the JLL brand and connectivity in the region and best optimize our innovative talent across service lines toward expanded business and profitability.
JLL promotes diversity in the workplace — in thinking and in individual representation. This is something I am a long-time strong advocate for – as a business leader who’s seen the accretive results it brings, and as a gay woman. It is a win/win/win – for us as individuals, the firm and for clients. There is a continual need to expand upon this, and I admired JLL for its high standards in this realm worldwide and its commitment to continue to further develop in this area and strengthen its admired brand position even further.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Be yourself, be curious and broaden your life experiences while always challenging yourself and being supportive of others and their success alongside yours in reaching full potential. The more you are open to and aware of the world around you and your own capabilities, the more you provide yourself the opportunity for deeper experiences, better insightfulness into people and enhanced awareness the connectivity of ideas and the overall potential of everyone. This, along with rigor of thought and quantitative skills, will allow you to become more creative in your approach to problem solving and realizing potential opportunities, while providing you a heightened understanding of the complexities of real estate (or business in general) with its technical rigor, but which is often applied as a balance of art as much as science.
Be forthcoming and be part of the change around you and work to understand differences in thought and give back. My partner is a decorated detective in the intelligence unit of the Dallas Police Department, serving in the dignitary unit and as community liaison and top academy graduate. She and I both believe firmly in not limiting yourself by preconceived notions or fear of doing something different. We both began our careers in areas not thought of as “for women”. Nonsense – if you have the desire, the talent, the ethics, the tenacity and the restless desire to always learn and improve – you can do just about anything. Dare to dream and surround yourself by those who inspire you and challenge you, persuade by doing, and provide a ladder to others to do the same.
Funny story – I remember when I was transferred to Italy and the first meeting there in Milan. I entered this large, wood paneled, smoke filled room occupied by all older Italian stewards of business. My first introduction was to a CEO who asked in Italian if I was Toni Steele’s assistant. There was quite an element of shock on his face when I told him I was Toni. Here I was, an American woman, non-native Italian speaker, now running a large multibillion dollar investment platform of local and expat executives. That Milanese world there seemed stopped in a 1950’s sort of culture. I remember thinking, this is going to be “un verro” adventure. And it was. All I kept hearing in my head was my parents’ words….”just be yourself, work hard and help others” in this world and you will succeed. They were right.
I am so proud of how our team worked collaboratively and with diligence and innovation, bringing together a highly diverse team by generational representation, gender, nationality, expertise and language. We brought change. Together we built Italy’s first true institutional real estate program that met and exceeded Wall Street standards. As result, we were able to successfully execute on over $8 billion in Italian investment holdings across the country with highly accretive returns and created an international business model that was taken globally for the firm. Teamwork, diversity of ideas and individuals, believing in each other and innovation delivered results – and JLL recognizes these factors in their business model.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite books are “The Rise of the Creative Class” and “Cities and Creative Class”. The books share the importance historically and today of creativity, diversity, tolerance and their role in societal innovation and role in successful working (and living) environments – a powerful reality which is relevant in the more and more connected world and growing urban setting in which we live today and our children will likely live tomorrow.
What is your favorite quote?
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” From Turing in “The Imitation Game”
JLL has been named one of the Top Companies for Executive Women for third straight year by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE). Read more.
For more information about JLL, visit jll.com.