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How a Tampa exec navigated 2 recessions in her career — and is bracing for another

“Sometimes you get busier digging in trying to uncover opportunities during the downturn because they’re just not all coming in the door,” North and Central Florida market director LaShawn Bates said.
A headshot of LaShawn Bates, JLL's Central Florida market director.
A headshot of LaShawn Bates, JLL's Central Florida market director. [ Courtesy of JLL ]
Published Jan. 18|Updated Jan. 18

North and Central Florida market director LaShawn Bates has seen a few seasons of economic turbulence. She weathered them at pivotal points in her commercial real estate career.

Bates switched from the debt and equity side of real estate to investment sales during the 2008 recession at Cushman and Wakefield. Then she was hired at real estate firm JLL as a North and Central Florida market director in Tampa a few months before the pandemic hit. Now she’s bracing herself for another potential recession.

In this interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Bates explained how she navigated the economic headwinds and what she’s watching for in the region’s commercial real estate space. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the first economic period of uncertainty that you faced in your career?

Definitely, the great financial crisis in 2008. I just joined Cushman and Wakefield on the office and industrial investment sales team. It was a very interesting time.

How did you navigate that period?

Like any period of uncertainty, especially in what we do, you kind of have to dig in a little deeper. When everything is good, every commercial real estate shop has an opportunity or a position to go and sell their services. But at a time of uncertainty, you have to lean in more as an adviser to your client, because that’s when they need your services more than ever. So during that time it was about proactively reaching out to our clients, a lot of them were were calling us, but also we were being proactive and communicating what we’re hearing in the market and just continuing to be that consultant and advisor.

What were you feeling while learning a new segment of the industry at that time?

Learning the brokerage business versus the financing side of the business, they’re very different. And so, really just having to learn from both my clients and my partners at the firm, doing a lot of reading of the major commercial real estate outlets and a lot of talking to people. I was feeling a bit of uncertainty, but honestly I’ll tell you, sometimes you get busier digging in trying to uncover opportunities during the downturn because they’re just not all coming in the door.

Fast-forwarding to the pandemic, how did you navigate that?

With the pandemic, that was a bit different. At that time, as a leader, you’re really focusing on your people. It’s just something we had never ever experienced. The differentiator between that time in 2008 and that time in 2020, was really the added responsibility of being a leader and showing compassion and concern for the health and well being of our people.

What is the most common mistake that people make during economic uncertainty in their careers?

Don’t be so reactive. Reacting to everything externally that you’re hearing, whether it be on the news or what people are saying, I think sometimes we can just be reactive versus let’s sit back and observe. Let’s talk to experts in whatever field you’re in and really understand on a deeper level before making a decision. Slow down your reaction time, listen and observe before making a decision.

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Now that economists are predicting there’s going to be a recession, how are you preparing? If it happens or not?

We’re doing a few things. First of all, I would say we’re a people business. JLL doesn’t produce. We’re not a manufacturer. We really sell our service and the expertise of our people, so really just leaning in and making sure we have the right people, understanding the business plans in each market, what is each market’s differentiator and what our clients need in each market. We’re also looking at the business overall and making sure we’re proactively seeking out industries that maybe are not necessarily recession proof, but opportunistic during this time. So if it’s health care or or renewable energy, things like that.

How has commercial real estate in Florida changed over time and what are you keeping an eye out for?

Florida has evolved. I’ve been here for just under 20 years, and I would just say we’re less of a retirement market now. Technology is being driven here, we’re urbanizing more than we ever have. When you look south, Tampa is starting to see a lot of international influence. And by the way, people still keep coming here so demographically we’re growing at unprecedented numbers. It just keeps happening. And so those influences of folks coming from either the West Coast or Chicago or New York, New Jersey are really starting to have an influence on our business here in Florida overall.