Cresa employee spotlight: Craig Zodikoff, Managing Principal
Cresa is committed to building an inclusive workplace that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our employees. Our employee spotlight series gives our team members the opportunity to share their unique experience.
Craig Zodikoff is a Managing Principal of Cresa’s Bay Area Offices. With over 23 years of experience in tenant representation, Craig started his career as a practicing attorney in Chicago, IL. He moved to the Bay Area in 2000 where he lives with his husband Jay of 24 years and their two children, ages 12 and 15. Craig has focused primarily on global and national portfolio clients, as well as on significant local work in a variety of industries. He has been with Cresa for 11 years.
Craig with his family in Paris.
How did you get into the industry?
After law school, I went to work for an established law firm in Chicago. At that time I was just coming out and soon learned that certain partners in the law firm had shared amongst themselves that they were not going to work with me because I was gay. This was around 1996, when protections in the workplace were relatively new and there was a stigma to speaking up for yourself. I felt uncomfortable in the office and the quality of my work suffered. I was told by a well-meaning colleague that if I did make an issue out of this, “good luck getting hired by anyone else.” Shortly thereafter, I decided to change career paths, largely because I was determined to make sure that no one would ever stand in the way of the future I wanted for myself. I was working on real estate transactions at the time and the entrepreneurial world of tenant representation resonated for me, so I networked and got multiple offers. I started with Chicago-based Equis Corp. who ultimately gave me the opportunity to move to San Francisco to head up their office there. Later I joined Kidder Mathews, and subsequently joined Cresa in early 2010. At each of these firms I focused on tenants’ needs.
What are some challenges you have encountered during your career and how did you overcome them?
When I started in brokerage I was determined to bring my whole self to work, regardless of whether or not that was acceptable to anyone else. Frankly, that is a driving principle of any DIB initiative. The best work environments are ones where people are encouraged to fully be themselves. As a leader at Cresa, I am acutely aware of my role in driving this value. That said, I was still concerned with whether or not this would prevent people from working with me. I have had to endure some thoughtless comments throughout the years, but the quality of my work and my transparency has allowed me to build trust with my peers. And yes, as is true with so many marginalized groups I have often felt that I have to be that much better than the average professional to get ahead.
Another challenge I have faced is in my own bias. Commercial real estate is a straight male dominated culture. In the early years I feared how coming out would impact my career path and so I made assumptions about people’s comfort level with me based on who they were. One example that comes to mind is an interaction I had with a senior broker who was my early manager in Chicago. I assumed that when he learned I was gay he would be uncomfortable. Interestingly, he approached me one day and said, “I hear you’re gay.” I was not sure what to say. He went on, “My sister-in-law is a lesbian, and she and her partner hang out at our house all the time. The kids love her.” I remember how kind that was to hear. It was his way of saying, “Lighten up. We’re good.” I’ll never forget that moment when I realized I might be just as wrong about people as they are about me.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
I love working in an environment where you can combine business and creativity. From the earliest days of being a broker, I enjoyed having so much face time with clients, and seeing the impact my work has on their lives every day. My favorite projects are the ones with the most complexity, because I know the end result will be transformational for their organization.
Are there any specific projects or contributions to Cresa that you would like to share?
There are so many contributions I am proud of here. One that comes to mind is building a great region with an exceptional team of colleagues. When I joined Cresa, there were four employees in the Bay Area, two of which were not long for the business. We had one great broker, Janna Luce, who is now one of my partners. I used to pray every night that Janna wouldn't quit on me. Seriously. Now ten years later we have over 30 people, 6 principals and a formidable growing practice. On the client side, there have been many highlights, but working with Brad Metzger and Liz Roberts on Fortune 500 global portfolios stands out. We are always looking for ways to raise the bar with the work that we do together. Again, it's the complexity of these kinds of clients that makes it rewarding.
What organization(s) are you currently involved with?
Along with my involvement on Cresa’s Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Executive Council, I have served on many non-profit boards over the years. Some local and some national. I currently serve on the board of the Horizons Foundation, an LGBTQ Foundation that raises money to support underserved LGBTQ organizations in California. We recently hit our goal of raising $100 million in deferred gifts, which was unprecedented in our community. Horizons gives around $3 million a year away to non-profits in every corner of the LGBTQ community. Otherwise, my husband Jay and I are active philanthropists, supporting a number of organizations throughout the year, including our children’s schools. Jay is on the Board of Trustees of our Daughter’s High School in San Francisco. Volunteering is a family value of ours.
How do you think we can better promote Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) within the CRE industry?
As a member of the Diversity Inclusion and Belonging Council, I think about this question daily. First of all, we need to acknowledge that discussing differences is often uncomfortable. But this discomfort is not a reason to avoid the conversation. Unfortunately, Commercial Real Estate is behind many other industries in terms of being inclusive, so I suggest we take the lead from our clients, and not our competitors. Corporate America has too many barriers to success based on bias. The employee resource groups at Cresa are a great way to give a voice to underrepresented people in our business and to support people who need help identifying and removing those barriers. This effort needs to continue to be reinforced by our leadership. The best way to understand the barriers people face is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who lives with a different perspective. I look forward to seeing where this conversation takes us as a company.