International Women's Day 2024: Georgia Desjardins

International Women's Day 2024: Georgia Desjardins

When Seacliff Properties first became a Spark customer in 2022, I was amazed to learn that some of the largest master-planned projects in BC (The Beachlands, Sandstone, Fairwinds) were being managed by a core team of only 7 people. Georgia Desjardins, Director of Development at Seacliff, leads this small-but-mighty team and we sat down with her to learn more about her attitude, curiosity and drive have helped fuel Seacliff’s recent success.

Georgia, thank you so much for being here. Why don't we start off very simple? Tell how you got your start in the industry, as well as a little bit about what you do now.

I went to UBC for commerce and was actually originally considering going into law school from there. The family of my boyfriend at the time came from a real estate family and as I got to know him and his family more, I got really intrigued by the type of work they were involved in. I ended up taking an entry level job at a small development company right out of school, and the more I worked in the industry, the more I loved it. That sort of has snowballed to 15 years later and I’m loving every minute of it. Law school is now a distant memory and I have no regrets. [laughs.]

Fast forward to today, I'm the Director of Development at Seacliff Properties, so I am responsible for a variety of our development projects that are currently underway across British Columbia, with a particular focus on some of our largest master-planned projects.  

I’m sure there’s so many of these moments, but could you share a milestone somewhere along your real estate career that has helped shape you into who you are today?

I certainly think for me, it was joining Seacliff Properties in 2013. Back in 2013, there were only a couple of us focused on the real estate side and the expansion of our portfolio. Joining the company at that point of high growth really opened my eyes and allowed me to gain so much experience across a variety of asset classes and numerous roles. It was and still remains a very entrepreneurial culture and it's something that I’m just so grateful for. I wouldn't have had it any other way. Now we’re a team of seven, and while we've remained relatively small people wise, we like to do big projects. We do hire additional experts when needed to facilitate execution but our small size in-house allows us to stay nimble, which we see as critical. We’re all very hands on with the projects that we run.

I imagine you still probably work a lot of parts of a small team, which probably makes the role dynamic and interesting for you, and you probably developed a bunch of skills along the way. What would you say are some of the personality traits that have helped you do what you do? 

I think first and foremost, I'm a firm believer that there's a solution to everything. I think having a problem solving mindset is an absolute requirement if you want to survive and thrive in the real estate development industry.

Outside of problem solving, I am a very curious person and I think you need to have an inherent desire to keep learning if you want to stay current in this industry. No two municipalities, projects or even buildings are the same. The evolving politics and priorities of a municipality are going to impact how your proposals are shaped, while changing building and technical codes are always coming down the pipeline. You need to be able to look critically and creatively at each factor and try to put them together in the most cohesive, efficient way to deliver an outstanding project for the people that are ultimately living or working in these communities.

Have you had someone that's been like a steadfast mentor for you, or maybe multiple mentors along the way? 

I had a wonderful mentor when I joined Seacliff and I worked very closely with them for close to ten years. It’s honestly hard to articulate how impactful a mentor can be in your career and that was certainly what this person was and is for me. We don't work together anymore, but it was immensely inspiring getting to work with, who I would consider, one of the smartest people in real estate. He just has an incredible perspective on real estate and was a huge supporter of mine right from the start. He gave me the ability to make mistakes on my own, but was always there and had my back along the way. I'm just so lucky to have had someone like that. 

Speaking of mentorship, what is some advice you’d give to someone who's just getting started or maybe looking at exploring real estate, that you’d like to share?

There's the base fundamentals that you have to do to be successful in any industry. You have to be authentic. You have to be hardworking. You have to be willing to learn. Those are just basics in my mind, regardless of what industry you're going to be working in. 

Now, based on my experience, I think my biggest piece of advice is to say yes to situations, tasks or roles that you might not know a lot about or maybe don't think are that glamorous or interesting. My husband always says, “something always comes from something” and I remind myself of this all the time. At Seacliff, being a part of a small organization, we work as a team, roll up our sleeves and fulfill multiple roles. I've been a property manager, an asset manager, a development manager, a construction manager, a marketing person, and even occasionally an HR Person. 

I said yes to all those different roles and responsibilities and gained the unique opportunity to explore all these different facets that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. You may not love doing every role you’re given, but you're going to learn something with every role that you take. I think that's just so important to help you find your niche because you're going to be exposed to different areas, avenues and people along the way that you never would have had the chance to meet or be a part of if you didn't say yes.

In general, we're trying to see a progression and inclusion of women in any industry and ours in particular in real estate. You've been in the industry for quite a few years now, what are any positive changes you've seen throughout your career?

When I look now versus when I first started, there is certainly a noticeable, more balanced representation of women in the industry which I think is fantastic. I look around our development, consulting and construction teams and there's a huge number of some of the most intelligent and inspiring women that I have ever had the opportunity to work with.

I think there's a really special characteristic to the real estate industry, which is this inherent collaborative and supportive effort to support each other. There's organizations like CREW and UDI that have great mentorship and female support programs that are helping attract more incredible talent into the industry and make sure that people feel empowered going forward. If you see someone like yourself in a role that you want to be in when you're more experienced, it just helps motivate you even further.