Written by: Guneet Benipal, Marketing and Communications Associate at Matrix360

Black History Month may be over but our appreciation of the Black leaders in our community remains solid. Our Leadership X-cellence Spotlight Series has been created to amplify the voices of real estate professionals in the industry and to highlight their career and life journey. We hope to continue inspiring individuals through these stories to carve their own paths to success and build a rewarding career journey on their own terms. 

This week we feature Andrew Garrett, who is the Executive Director of the Real Estate Portfolio at Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO). Andrew is responsible for a wide range of executive responsibilities that entail growing IMCO’s $11+ billion real estate portfolio through strategy development, relationship management with domestic & international investment partners, and portfolio management of IMCO’s assets. 

Andrew Garrett, Executive Director, Real Estate Portfolio at Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO)

Where are you from and what is your cultural background?

I was born and brought up in the Toronto area. I am of Caribbean heritage, with my mom being from Barbados and my dad from Guyana.

What inspired you to work in the field that you are today?

My entrance into the workforce was an opportunity within the hotel management industry, with my first student job being at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as it exposed me to a variety of professionals. I was amazed at how lawyers, diplomats, bankers, stockbrokers and investment professionals collaborated in the world of real estate development. This fascinated me and I developed a curiosity to learn about real estate and development.  I realized this was the industry that I wanted to pursue a career in.

What was your career vision when you first started your career journey?

I enjoyed learning about financial models and the business framework. I am analytical and the function of analysis interested me a lot. I wanted to further understand how businesses operate. I was fortunate through my exposure and tenure at Cadillac Fairview that I was able to apply my knowledge with analysis, finance and development and apply it to project management-development. As the Director of Real Estate Development with Cadillac Fairview, I was able to develop rapidly and gain experience in development projects that focused on retail and mixed-use communities.  Being exposed and managing a team further allowed me to harness my leadership skills. The skills and competencies I gained allowed me to move into the position as Executive Director with IMCO.  

Were you aware of the commercial real estate and development industry as a career option for you?

As a young person, I was fairly naive and didn’t know any entrepreneurs or understand the concept of business. It was through my co-op and work exposure that I was exposed to the business world specifically the commercial real estate and development industry. As time passed and I gained more exposure to the business world, I gained an admiration towards business leaders who were individuals of colour because I wasn’t exposed to much diversity in my work environment.

When was the first time in your life that you realized you had the power to invoke change or to do something meaningful?

It was during an opportunity for a development project in Sudbury, Ontario.  I was responsible for feasibility studies for the development community around a new hotel that was being developed. I collaborated with a variety of key stakeholders and entrepreneurs-ranging from municipal officials, developers, economic development officers, planners and architects to understand how the hotel development project was financially feasible for the city of Sudbury. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. It provided a great opportunity for me to increase my face time with senior leadership teams, push forward my practical knowledge with finance, analysis and real estate development into the forefront; as I had to manage many expectations from a variety of stakeholders while balancing the realities of the city requirements and building a sustainable community for Sudbury.  I was able to embrace my business mindset and showcase my development management skills. The exposure to take a project from concept to completion was one of the many highlights of my career.

What are some of the struggles you faced throughout your career and/or life journey that you would like to highlight?

For many leaders of colour in Canada, access to the boardroom and to rooms where the “big” decisions are being discussed and executed are often limited or non-existent. These invisible and sometimes visible boundaries are far too often felt by leaders of colour in the private sector. The biases around our abilities to lead and execute at an executive leadership capacity must be removed. We have many great ideas and critical thinking capabilities that are rarely being utilized. As the Executive Director with IMCO, I am fortunate to have built relationships with senior decision-makers who trust my business acumen to lead.

Thinking more critically is so important in the times we live in. If you could go back in time, what piece of leadership advice that you know now would you give to yourself?

There is more to career development than your educational qualifications is something I strive to instill in many young professionals. I learned this very quickly during my primal years in real estate. Networking and relationship building are two key areas that are crucial to career growth. Senior and executive leaders need to see and hear from you. Especially for professionals of colour, it is important that we build and expand our networks if our ultimate career goals are focused on leadership. By raising our hands, building and managing relationships we will be able to change the misconceptions of our capabilities.

Did you have any role models and/or mentors that have shaped your career?

I was fortunate to have mentors. When I wasn’t seeing any leaders around that looked like me, I joined mentorship programs that provided me with access to several leaders where I listened to great advice about business and real estate. Also, I had amazing female mentors in my life that have been more open to inviting me into boardrooms and conversations while I was working at Cadillac Fairview.

What is your mantra or what are your words of inspiration?

A mantra that I live by is: 

To accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

This mantra continues to remind me that decisions always have a larger impact and that at times are beyond our control. It’s important to be humble about the things you can and cannot change and leave the rest to faith.

Andrew’s career journey is filled with passion and perseverance that stems from his curiosity to learn as he strives to build a better workplace for all. He believes that career growth is not only about higher learning through formal education but includes the importance of networking, relationship building, knowledge sharing and mentorship. His drive to lead with humility, knowledge, openness to learning and growth are key traits that define leadership. Although his diversity may have limited his access to key boardroom and decision making tables, his persistence in connecting with senior executives, sharing his knowledge and owning his work as a real estate development leader has catapulted his career and positioned himself as a key member of IMCO’s leadership team. We salute you, Andrew, as one of our 2020 Leaders of X-cellence!