Can you tell us a bit about your role?
I’m the Country Head for Romania and I’ve held this position for a year and a half. In this role I’m in charge of the key operations, team and management of the BNP Paribas Real Estate company here.
Can you tell us about your career path?
The way that I arrived at BNP Paribas Real Estate was somewhat convoluted, as I’ve had a real mix of roles during my career. I was teaching after graduation, then I was translator in Romania, after that I worked in the construction sector in Moscow and then got into the real estate sector thanks to my Russian language skills and work experience in CIS. When I moved back to Romania after the experience in Russia, I was contacted by a real estate company to be part of their team and help set up their activities in Ukraine. This company had their regional hub in Warsaw so I became the connection between there and the offices in Bucharest. After the crisis hit and the operations didn’t happen, I was recruited for a job in Warsaw. I then became in contact with BNP Paribas Real Estate through the Polish market and I was offered a job to help re-position the brand in Romania and bring stability to it. After five years in Poland, I very much welcomed this opportunity to run a project in Romania and the chance to move back to my homeland.
Going from teaching to the position I’m in now has definitely been a huge change. What I can say has driven me forward though is my daughter. Having her made me realise I had to provide the best life I could for her, so this really pushed me into progressing in my career. It’s unbelievable how many things we can do as women that we are often unaware of. Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult situations and it is only then that you discover what your potential is and what you can do. It was a tough but incredible lesson.
Has it been more difficult being a woman?
Yes, as I think our chances and opportunities are very different from men’s. As woman I have experienced so many obstacles within the companies that I’ve worked for. I think we have to accept that things won’t change over-night. There are changes though, and the fact that I am where I am today is because people have made an effort to understand that the discussion is not about whether I’m a man or a woman but about my competences and skills.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
I want to see Romania grow quicker and to develop in ways that I see within other countries such as France and Germany. So it’s been a lesson for me to accept these limitations. I’m now working on what I can influence with my small but wonderful team and focus on what I can do on a local level, there are many things that I cannot do but many things that I can.
When I started in BNP Paribas Real Estate I had around 10 people in the team, this has now grown to about 20 people. Even if that doesn’t seem enormous compared to other companies and countries, I have focused on keeping the best people and bringing in the right people to help me build our company.
What is the most rewarding?
If we look at the situation that we have today, what’s really rewarding is seeing the team that we have. As a manager, you can’t do anything if you don’t have the right people supporting you. That really motivates me in everything that I do, and that should never be underestimated. For me, in a big company you can sometimes feel like a number instead of a person, and I really would never want my team to feel like that, so I work hard to make sure it’s not the case, as I care very much about them.
What are you most proud of achieving in your career?
I’m proud of my job in Russia as it was not an easy place to work, especially as a young woman. At the time, I was in charge of a construction project with 90 people, and I feel proud of being brave enough to do that job.
What we have now in BNP Paribas Real Estate Romania is also something which I am proud of, I have managed to reposition our company on the market and to give more credibility to the brand in Romania. We now have the right elements to build on this as we have stabilised the company.
As Country Head, how do you help support women coming into the business?
I think the first step that we all have to take is to give women the same chances as men, without questioning it. Thanks to the experiences I have gone through, I think this is natural for me. As Country Head, I am encouraging people to speak out and take initiative in their work. For example, here in Romania we have organised a meeting called, ‘Express Yourself’ which gives all our staff the chance to take the floor and speak out in the way that they want, it could be complaining about something, or chatting about something interesting they want to share with us. This is all about giving people the equal opportunities to share their opinions and grow closer as a team.
In my career, I have at times felt that when I walk into a room as a woman, people in the room don’t feel confident in my abilities. This is certainly something I never do when interviewing new candidates, there is no difference for me when I greet a man or a woman. For me equality is treating everyone the same and giving them the same chances, along with the same benefits.
How do you think you’ve got to where you are today?
I’ve learnt that when something is meant to be, you can always find a way to make it happen. I’ve also taught myself to make peace with the things I can’t control and follow my feelings and instincts. It’s better to have regrets for the things you’ve tried to do than the things that you haven’t.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career similar to yours?
To be brave and to believe in yourself. At one point I was a very pessimistic person and was afraid of taking risks. Now I see that when you trust your feelings you can achieve so much. I trust the way I feel and very rarely am I wrong.
What does success mean to you?
I think success is so relative and different for everyone. For me it is not about money, but it’s about the journey you take to having the money to be able to buy a house or travel the world, what you put into it. To me success is feeling balanced in your life and how you juggle your work and home life.
- Women in Real Estate: Sharon Walsh, Director, Retail Transaction, Dublin