Diversity is a popular buzzword in the business world these days, but InvenTrust Properties takes it very seriously. The Downers Grove, Illinois-based real estate investment trust—which owns, leases, redevelops, acquires, and manages open-air centers in key growth markets, primarily in the Sun Belt states—is working to diversify its board with new insights and perspectives, and senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary Christy David is part of a team leading the charge.
David has been with the company for twelve years and became general counsel in 2016. She credits the company’s executive leadership with pushing for a more inclusive board. “We think diversity better positions the board to strategically advise the senior management of InvenTrust,” David says.
Her external partners have also appreciated the effort. “It has been a privilege to work with Christy and the InvenTrust team over the years,” says Thomas Meier, vice president and director of sales for Chicago Title Insurance Company. “Christy’s continued focus on an inclusive and diverse company has always put her group ahead of the curve.”
Diversity is not just about race and gender, though. “It’s also subject-matter expertise—what the candidates bring to the table, and not just real estate experience,” David says.
Here, David speaks about the nomination process for the board in more detail—and also about how she looks to fill positions in her legal department, which has led to an increase in diversity in both areas.
Your board has added four new members in the past two years, with another expected in 2018. How do you account for diversity in the nomination process for InvenTrust’s board of directors?
The Nominating and Governance Committee is responsible for recommending new members for the board. With great support from our CEO and chairperson of the board, the Nominating and Governance Committee has taken a look at the makeup and decided to focus on bringing diversity onto the board. Given the opportunity to assist in the search for new directors has really opened my eyes to the potential of what different backgrounds and opinions can bring and add to the dynamic of a board.
How many people have you interviewed for the board?
In an effort to find the right fit, we have interviewed more than a dozen candidates in the past few months. We look at each candidate’s résumé and consider what specific skill set each individual can offer the board. We obviously look for candidates with real estate experience, but that isn’t a requirement. Candidates with technology, data analytics, finance, and other areas of expertise have all been considered. If a candidate can bring a unique perceptive to the board, we are interested.
What about when you’re looking for new internal hires for the InvenTrust legal team? What do you look for in terms of fit?
My hiring practice is to focus on fit within the department and the culture. When a candidate demonstrates the required legal skills, I then look for the added value they can offer. My department has a team approach, so you have to fit within that personality scope. I look for ambition, drive, and, most of all, a steady work ethic to push and drive results.
I want to make the department a place where people can collaborate for the betterment of the company. So, by “fit,” I don’t mean we all have the same opinions and beliefs; I mean we all have the same goals and work ethic to drive the company forward. If you work for me, check your ego at the door; the team and company come first.
What about when hiring outside counsel and other external vendors?
We look to outside counsel to function as an extension of our internal team. We use them for overflow or in subject areas in which we don’t have internal expertise and are looking for good, practical legal advice. You can hire the greatest firm, but unless the outside attorney is on the same page as you, you may not get the most useful legal advice or documentation. We look to partner with attorneys who give us creative solutions and sound business advice and offer creative budgeting.
In building the InvenTrust legal team, have you also increased its diversity?
In the past two years, we have brought on additional personnel with the hiring model I discussed earlier, and gender diversity has been a byproduct. Diversity is extremely important, but I did not hire with solely diversity in mind. I was hiring for our staffing needs and corporate culture.
Are there particular challenges or concerns when it comes to internal and external legal staffing in the retail real estate sector?
The challenge is in mitigating risk without handicapping the organization. I have been lucky, because InvenTrust’s senior leaders encourage legal to come to the table early in the process to give our feedback and advice. I need a legal staff that can see the big picture and look at the business as a whole. There is always going to be inherent risk in business that we can’t completely get rid of, but we need to evaluate and determine what an appropriate level of risk is for the organization. I don’t think this is particular to this sector; it is particular to in-house legal work. I want people who can give good legal advice and let the business move forward. We can’t be the “No Department.” I have seen that in other settings, and it deters the business from seeking our advice. At that point, we are not providing a service to the company.
It sounds a lot like how you fill the board of directors.
You’re right. It is not much different. In both, we look for cultural fit as well, not for the same opinions and beliefs but for the work ethic, to make sure this group of people works well together and has the same common goals and initiatives. It comes full circle.
Music to Her Ears
Christy David’s passion outside of work is music. She’s a member of the board of directors for Ravinia Associates, a group that shares a love for the musical arts by supporting the Ravinia Festival—the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States—and its musical programs. These events encourage the development of new audiences for classical music and contribute to Ravinia’s education programs, especially in underserved communities. “I have a musical background, and I know music helps develop different skill sets from book education,” says David, a former clarinet player. “Music education is near and dear to my heart.”
Chicago Title Insurance Company, who has worked with InvenTrust Properties group over the years, is a member of the Fidelity National Financial Inc. (NYSE: FNF) family of companies. For more than 170 years, Chicago Title has provided title insurance and related services for many of the largest and most prestigious real estate transactions, from historic landmarks to modern skyscrapers, hospitals to hotels, and shopping centers to sports arenas.
Chicago Title–NCS Chicago is a national commercial service division of Chicago Title, offering one-stop service to its commercial customers, whose real estate transactions span North America. Based in Chicago, it has more than 130 dedicated title insurance and escrow professionals who possess skills unsurpassed in the industry and service the most complex commercial transactions. NCS Chicago aggregates all the resources within Chicago Title and its affiliates and agents in order to offer the most comprehensive title-insurance products and services to law firms, developers, corporations, REITs, investors, and lenders. NCS Chicago’s staff prides itself on developing innovative solutions to the most challenging real estate, escrow, and new-construction transactions.
Freeborn & Peters LLP:
“In order to succeed, a company needs a General Counsel who is intelligent, practical, focused and aligned with the vision of the organization. During our time working with Christy, we have concluded that InvenTrust is in great legal hands. It is always a pleasure to help Christy achieve her goals.
-Richard J. Traub, Partner
Beveridge & Diamond:
“To use an old-time phrase, Christy is a “lawyer’s lawyer.” At the same time, the title Modern Counsel fits Christy because she is always open to new approaches. She is innovative and always effective.”
–John Guttmann, Principal