Lead to learn. You don’t have to have all the answers to lead. Regardless of your title or responsibilities, if you approach leadership with the mindset of learning and you are there to learn, the people you lead will teach you a lot and you’ll certainly grow a great deal through the experience. There were times in my career when I was managing people with more experience or technical knowledge (in architecture, construction, development, law etc.) than I had. I had the benefit of knowing they knew more than me so I tried to understand what was needed so they could thrive. I asked questions about what was working and not working, what they needed, what would make things more efficient, what motivated them. I met with people one-on-one for a walk or a lunch and then I worked to collaboratively make changes and to continue to evolve our teams and organization for the better.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Hovey, President of Optima, Inc.

For more than four decades, Optima has been developing, designing, building and managing the most striking urban and suburban luxury residential communities in the United States. Since its inception, as a family-owned and -operated company Optima has reinvented housing by integrating all the functions involved in new construction within one company by controlling and executing every aspect of the process. The result has been the creation of over 40 award-winning developments in Arizona and Illinois that have been locally and nationally recognized. Tara is responsible for setting and implementing the strategic vision of the company, directing all pre-development planning and deal evaluation as well as the capitalization of the firm and its new developments. She has led the capitalization and financing of over 1.5 billion dollars in real estate, including construction financing for new developments, recapitalizations and building dispositions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

I am an architect’s daughter and our home growing up was my dad’s experimental lab, so my experience of home has always been alive with the creativity inherent in how he imagined and built our home. I internalized living in a space that was at one time just in his imagination as encouragement to dream. I felt excited to express creatively and I loved to paint and dance. As I grew up, I was always aware of how spaces made me feel and how much better I felt in spaces with more natural light, open floorplans and a connection to nature and the world around me. I remain fascinated with how we choose to live as human beings and the many different expressions of those choices. Architecture is art and science, and both have unique abilities to connect and inspire. What most excites me about the real estate industry today is my interest in how we can intentionally cultivate connection and community, inspire the people who live in and around those communities, and ultimately, how we coexist with nature and the natural world in a way that is sustaining and enhancing of all life. There is so much we can still learn from nature.

I lived, studied and worked in New Zealand after college and when I moved back to the United States there was a shortage of construction superintendents and Optima, our family business, needed more people in that position to meet construction deadlines. I raised my hand and offered to go to the construction site to help. I had a great mentor on the construction site, Mike Schwerzler who leads construction in our Illinois office. Optima is unique in that we serve as the architect, developer, general contractor, sales agent, and property manager for all the developments we do. My early career in real estate was driven by me working where I saw the greatest need for the business. I cared about my family and the people and wanted to help and contribute wherever I could.

Because the team at Optima wears many different hats and those early years were marked by the great recession where it was all hands-on deck, I had the opportunity to contribute to countless areas of the business. My experiences in construction, sales and marketing, development, corporate finance, executive management, as well as my coursework and experience in real estate finance and capital markets outside of the firm all gave me a greater appreciation for the important work done by everyone in each of those areas and a more complete understanding for how the business as a whole operates. These experiences were important to me because they gave me greater empathy for how challenging the responsibilities in each area can be as well as an awareness of what I don’t know if I am not in the trenches of any one of those areas daily. Connecting directly with those doing a job every day is the best way to understand what is working or not working and what can be improved. My experiences outside the firm at large corporations also guided my belief that it is important for everyone to understand how their job relates to the company’s goals and to make sure our team knew how their day-to-day work was directly contributing to our larger purpose. The great recession shaped me as a leader and furthered my belief in the importance of the work we were doing at Optima and, importantly, how we were doing it.

That is why after completing my MBA and working in capital markets in New York City, I returned to the business in 2014 to lead it with my brother, David. I believe in what we are doing at Optima and why we are doing it. I care deeply about people and the environment so that is where I put my attention.

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