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Embracing The Risk

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Julie Leonhardt LaTorre.

Julie Leonhardt LaTorre has traversed from U.S. coast to coast, building up a dynamic resum for nearly twenty-five years. Shes taught history, English and math to high-school aged girls living in a group home in the Greater Los Angeles area. Shes been a high powered real estate finance attorney on Wall Street. Shes a master of real estates affiliate-based business model, having led Christies luxury arm in that arena for four years. Shes also fluent in Spanish. And now, with 15 years of industry experience under her belt, LaTorre is the Chief Operating Officer of Sothebys International Realty.

Colleen Barry, CEO of Gibson Sothebys International Realty, sat down with LaTorre to discuss stories, insights and advice for future female leaders. . .


Colleen Barry: Tell me about a role model who positively influenced your life.

Julie Leonhardt LaTorre: My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Tripani. She was single, played tennis on the weekends, and lived life very differently. I was a creative and curious girl, always with an independent streak, and Ms. Tripani always encouraged me to follow my inner bliss. She allowed me the permission to ask questions and explore opportunities outside the mold of a traditional upbringing. She was a bigger role model for me than I realized at the time.

CB: Growing up in the suburbs certainly comes with expectations.

JLL: Unfortunately so. The prevailing sensibility is often that life as a suburban housewife is supposed to bring ultimate happiness. True for some, but not all.

CB: Youve had a fascinating career pathfrom school teacher to Wall Street lawyer, to the COO of a global real estate brand. Tell me about how youve found your way and made those transitions.

JLL: After graduating college, I began teaching in an inner-city group home and high school California. I loved my students, but was itching for some adventure. I visited New York City and fell in love with its wonderful energy. Everyone was hungry to do something great. Three months later, I packed up my car and moved across the country. I didnt have a job or an apartment; I just showed up. I served as a fashion photographer, and a teacher to children on Broadway. After getting married and having my son, I was drawn to a non-profit for healthcare where I worked with at-risk women and families from Latin America. My experience coordinating with Legal Aid and other community organizations inspired me to go to Law School. I became a Commercial Real Estate Finance Attorney at the peak of the global financial crisis. After surviving the layoffs, I agreed to play in a golf tournament with the law partners at my firm, and thats how they learned my name. One asked me to be his junior attorney, and eventually, the market bounced back. Soon after, I assumed the Senior Vice President role at Christies.

CB: Launching a high-caliber career requires taking risks, stepping out on the right limb at the right time. When you take a risk, you give up some comfort in the short term for a potential long-term gain. How did you keep calm and steady in chaos?

JLL: The thought, I think Ill just stay put, never was part of my mindset. From driving cross-country to New York City, to picking up my family and moving us to London for my career with Christies, and then returning to New York for my current position with Sothebys International Realty, I certainly felt scared at times. But reminding myself that it was okay not to know everything eased my fears. I think a lot of young women today believe they need to be perfect at what they do once they start. My advice for them is to remember that you were not hired into your first jobs because of their skill. You were hired because of your potential. Your organizations saw something that made them think you're a good investment, and they only expect your commitment.

CB: Life truly is a never-ending learning process. We need to live to acquire skills, and what matters is finding mentors to help with that skill acquisition.

JLL: Yes. Your career is a huge part of your life. But, how quickly youre climbing the ladder? Its not the only definition of a successful existence. Do you enjoy your work? Do you have a loving family or supportive group of friends? Are you healthy? Are you happy? If you answered yes to allor even oneof these questions, then Id say youre doing pretty well for yourself.

CB: Ive heard the line that Empowered women empower women! Do you think mentorships are critical?

JLL: Absolutely. On a recent flight to visiting our affiliates in India, I watched a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, possibly the worlds best known and most powerful advocate for gender parity and the rights of women in the workplace. She served as a mentor and champion for young women. Throughout my career, I've tried to use that same power of collaboration, and be a mentor and friend to females in my own industry and across other industries.

CB: Its interestingtraditionally feminine strengths, like nurture, empathy, and passion, are what helped me be successful, allowing me to lead our agents like they are family. I believe that emotion belongs in the workplace, especially in the real estate industry, where the emotions of homebuyers and sellers guide our decisions everyday.

JLL: We can boost organizational culture and success by focusing on the people around us. In the past year alone, Ive found such inspiring connections with so many women within the Sothebys International Realty network, and I hope to return the favor for years to come.

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Colleen Barry.

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