Vivian Turok’s Pioneering CRE Journey
Divaris’ 46-year industry veteran on relationship-building, the evolving role of women and how the industry is changing.
Commercial Property Executive is proud to honor Women’s History Month by highlighting the stories of strong female leaders in the commercial real estate industry.
Vivian Turok is Divaris Real Estate’s longest-standing employee, celebrating 46 years with the company, where she now serves as senior vice president. She is one of the first female commercial real estate agents in Cape Town, Africa, where Divaris was headquartered before relocating to Virginia in 1981.
Turok boasts a multitude of awards throughout her career, including the Platinum Award from the Hampton Roads Alliance in 2009 and 2014. She was also the first woman to receive the Titanium Award – Circle of Excellence from Divaris in 2014.
Turok doesn’t need special treatment, she just wants a seat at the table, as she puts it. Once she has that, her work speaks for itself.
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You have extensive experience within the real estate industry, having started as early as 1970, in Cape Town. What led you from social sciences to real estate?
Turok: Back in the 1970s, fresh college graduates had few job prospects, and I was no exception. I lacked a clear direction and was uncertain about what I wanted to do. The Divaris’ were family friends and offered me a trial position at Divaris Real Estate, where my primary responsibility was canvassing. At the time, I didn’t expect to enjoy the work and saw it more as a temporary solution until I found my true calling.
However, everything changed when I closed my first deal and received my commission check. The financial reward was motivating, but it was the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that made me realize that commercial real estate was the career for me.
To what extent have women’s presence and contribution to real estate changed over this period? Why are diversity and inclusion business imperatives today?
Turok: Commercial real estate remains a very male-dominated industry. Over my decades with Divaris, I have seen significant increases in the presence and contributions of women, within our company, and in commercial real estate as a whole.
I have seen women at Divaris making their mark in various areas of the industry, including brokerage, development, investment and management. This inclusive workforce fosters respect and brings different perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to better decision-making, fresh ideas, and improved performance.
How can employers further accommodate women in the industry?
Turok: I don’t want my gender to define me. As women, we don’t need additional accommodations. We need a seat at the table. Give us an equal opportunity and let our work speak for itself.
Would you say the real estate industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to fostering a greater representation of women?
Turok: At Divaris Real Estate, we are especially proud to have many women at the helm, making up more than 70 percent of our team and 50 percent of our leadership and senior-level positions.
Increased representation and women highlighted through industry awards and recognitions are very inspiring. You definitely see more of that than we used to. Although it will always be an active work in progress, these advances are encouraging and show that women make significant contributions when given the opportunity.
How has the brokerage industry changed throughout the past decades? Can you pinpoint some milestones?
Turok: I have watched brokerage go through many significant changes through the span of my career—advancements in technology, shifting market trends, and evolving client expectations. You have to adapt and learn to keep on the cutting edge.
The internet has, of course, transformed the way real estate transactions are conducted, making it easier to access information about properties, advertise listings, and connect with potential buyers or tenants. The development of online marketplaces and listing services has revolutionized the way brokers find and market properties.
The widespread usage of smartphones has enabled brokers to work on the go and keep in touch via email and text messages.
In many ways, technology has expanded the traditional role of a broker, allowing brokers to work more efficiently, make better-informed decisions, and provide more comprehensive services to clients. Brokers are also increasingly acting as consultants and advisors to clients, offering insights and guidance beyond just finding and closing deals.
I will also add that the framework of my business revolves around relationship building. I have always been one to pick up the phone and have that conversation. So, I really consider these technological advances as resources that enhance our experience and skill set.
What are the most pressing challenges women face in the CRE sector today?
Turok: Many successful women in the industry have demonstrated that being assertive and confident can be beneficial to their career advancement. Too often men label these traits—which are praised and expected in men—as abrasive and aggressive in women.
Assertiveness is a positive trait that helps us communicate effectively and confidently, which is especially important in a high-pressure environment such as commercial real estate brokerage. It is essential to recognize that gender stereotypes can be harmful and should not be used to limit the potential of individuals.
COVID-19 had a great impact on the transactions landscape, especially on office and retail asset classes—your main specialties. How are you navigating these challenges? What are your predictions for the office and retail sectors going forward?
Turok: As we navigated the challenges of the pandemic, we conducted a survey of our office leasing tenants to gauge their plans for downsizing or maintaining their space. Despite the rise of remote work, our findings showed that many business owners believed their employees would eventually return to the office and were therefore reluctant to give up their current space.
Even for offices with hybrid or fully remote workforces, we have observed a new trend of maintaining the same amount of space but with more generous allotments per person and more spacious layouts to avoid crowded cubicles. In fact, during the pandemic, in the Town Center of Virginia Beach, we achieved and maintained 99 percent leased out of 1 million square feet of office space.
The strategy that has carried me through most of my career, through COVID-19, and now as we begin to navigate a post-pandemic market, has been adapting, finding creative solutions, and maintaining those relationships so we can really understand what the ultimate need is for a business owner. It’s never just another transaction and commission check for me. I am in the business of relationships and people, and if anything, the last few years have only strengthened that.
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You previously mentioned that successful businesswomen receiving awards and recognitions is very inspiring, but you also hold countless accomplishments. What are you most proud of in terms of business achievements?
Turok: Last year, I was surprised by colleagues with a celebration of my 45-year anniversary with Divaris Real Estate. It is a business achievement that I am incredibly proud of. Throughout my tenure, I have been fortunate to be part of a highly successful team with a long list of accomplishments. However, the most rewarding aspect has been the opportunity to grow my career with a team that shares my passion for commercial real estate.
Over the course of my 46 years in real estate, I have only received a paycheck from Divaris Real Estate. It has been an absolute privilege to work with such an exceptional company and be part of a team that is dedicated to delivering unparalleled results for our clients.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
Turok: Michael Divaris and Gerald Divaris, who gave me my first job in 1977 and believed in me then and continued to believe in me and support and mentor me throughout my career.
Do you have a message for all women working in the CRE industry today?
Turok: I love what Nelson Mandela said and consider them words I live by: ‘I never lose. I either win or learn.’
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