Reflecting on a more than 35-year real estate career dotted by multiple high-profile sales and leasing transactions, Cathy Ward chooses to credit her success in the industry with one word that she believes defines her – authenticity.
This year’s recipient of the NAIOP-MD Lifetime Achievement Award explains that it is impossible to earn the respect of peers, provide value to your company and make a mark in the world of community service without showing your true self and expressing your intimate feelings at all times. The award was presented to Ward at the 2020 NAIOP-MD Awards of Excellence on December 18, 2020. Watch a video of her acceptance speech.
“The real estate industry is extremely rigorous and competitive but, like many other business sectors, the key is developing, managing and strengthening relationships,” explained Ward, who handled asset management and leasing functions for Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) and its predecessor entities for 32 years. She is also one of three women to serve as president of NAIOP Maryland and the first female to be honored for Lifetime Achievement. “Credibility, integrity and honesty rank supreme and these attributes are earned over time by your consistent actions.”
After receiving real estate mentorship from two family members while in college, Ward entered the industry with a focus on developing and leasing retail centers, including Belvedere Square and Towson Commons. She joined The KMS Group to oversee the company’s Retail Division in the early 1990s with a Maryland and Delaware portfolio that featured Valley Centre in Owings Mills and Brown’s Wharf in Baltimore City.
Several years after The KMS Group was acquired by Constellation Real Estate Group (the real estate subsidiary of BGE), the entity was spun off into COPT, a real estate investment trust then headquartered outside Philadelphia. When the decision was made to completely divest its retail portfolio and focus on suburban-based commercial real estate, Ward was placed in a difficult position.
“My background entailed retail, not office, and the rug was being pulled out from under me,” Ward explained. “After speaking with Roger Waesche, Dwight Taylor and a few others, I decided to pivot by learning a new skillset and earning my CCIM designation. Dwight and John Gurley always stressed that I could ask them any question at any time without fear, and everyone could not have been more supportive.”
The decision launched her new career at COPT and also, at the suggestion of Taylor, directed Ward into involvement with NAIOP Maryland. As Chair of the Community Service Committee, she worked with Nancy Ferrell of NorthMarq to oversee the improvement of the House of Ruth in Baltimore City by generating more than $650,000 worth of in-kind donations, including new windows and an HVAC system.
Next, she became chair of the chapter’s Legislative Committee, which was overseen by Patrick Hughes of Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust. While participating in a NAIOP national convention, Ward learned about the components of a “penny per square foot” fund (companies contributed one cent per year for every square foot of space in their portfolio) that was being employed by a mid-west chapter to fund its legislative activities. At the time, NAIOP Maryland was fighting several battles in Annapolis and she viewed this concept as a way to significantly add resources to establish a long-term presence during the legislative session.
“I presented the idea at a Developer’s Council luncheon and Ed St. John literally jumped out of his chair and exclaimed, ‘We’re in!’ Then, he looked around the room and pointed to everyone saying, ‘Now, how about you? Are you in?’ Of course, many others immediately followed Ed’s lead,” Ward explained.
With a long-term commitment to fund the legislative campaign, Ward turned her attention to finding a candidate to oversee the chapter’s legislative efforts on a full-time basis. Upon receiving guidance from Tom Ballentine, who handled public policy and legislative activities for the Home Builders Association of Maryland for many years, Ward realized he was the perfect person to assume this new role.
“Hiring Tom may have been my most critical legacy for the chapter,” she said. “Under his leadership, we were able to help shift the tide in Annapolis, establish NAIOP Maryland as an important and credible voice in Annapolis and bring a new level of professionalism to our efforts. Pat Hughes did what he could while working part-time, but now we had a seasoned professional in charge. Tom made and continues to make a tremendous difference with a proactive approach.”
Ward said she “always felt that the most important tenets of NAIOP Maryland are its legislative efforts, educational opportunities and community service activities. Executing those areas in a professional way attracts membership and leads to the networking aspects of the association.”
In addition to NAIOP, Ward immersed herself with many other community service initiatives and business groups, including serving as president of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
“I gained a great deal of interpersonal, communication and leadership skills from these associations, which I took back to and applied to my job at COPT, rather than the other way around,” Ward said. “As a single mom, I emphasized the importance of giving back to my daughters and, during times I was away, they understood I was doing things to help others.”
Ward faced and successfully overcame several personal and business challenges with a positive mindset. “I always believed that tomorrow would be a better day. I also allowed myself to depend on other people. Doing this is a sign of courage, rather than an indication of weakness.”