• Marin Builders Member, Stephanie Plante, CPi Developers IN THE NEWS: Leadership Begins With Confidence, Collaboration

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    December 07, 2021

    Leadership begins with confidence, collaboration

    Marin County commercial real estate leader Stephanie Plante runs family business

    By KATHRYN REED For the North Bay Business Journal

    Being at the helm of a family-owned business can come with pressure not found in other job situations.

    In the same year she was born, 1970, Stephanie Plante’s grandfather, Martin Bramante, started San Rafael-based CPi Developers. Today she is CEO/President, and sole owner after buying out an aunt and two cousins.

    While change can be good, Plante acknowledges in a family- rooted business, change from the way it’s always been done— like converting paper files to digital documentation—carries emotional strings. As can another issue: contemplating who takes over the business.

    “I’ve read a lot about how you get the first or second generation after the founder to bite and stay in, but after that it gets harder. I think there is a pull to keep it going for me,” Plante said.

    But she also admitted, “I’m not quite attached to it as (my grandfather) was.”

    For now, she plans to continue to acquire, manage and develop commercial properties throughout California. No date is penciled in on the calendar for retirement nor is she eyeing a buyer for the company.

    The following are other insights Plante shared with the North Bay Business Journal.

    What is your approach to making business decisions that are tough and important?
    I have been fortunate to find a few great mentors and consultants over the years that I can lean on. I have learned it works very well to know what you don’t know and ask for help.

    What trends that affect your industry keep you up at night?
    I think most of us small business owners worry about COVID and its variants. The resulting equity issues that have been exposed definitely concern me as do the stories about how long certain systems like the supply chain will take to recover.

    What qualities do you admire in other executives that you've tried to emulate?
    I admire people who lead with a collaborative style. I am attracted to confidence in a leader and I often seek out women who are fighting for other women in the workforce and beyond.

    How have your mentors had a profound impact on your career?
    Without one mentor in particular, I may not have stayed in this career. With all due respect to my relatives, family business is complicated. I am very fortunate to have a mentor who specializes in this field and he has kept me from giving up more than once.

    What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career which you now recognize as an important one?
    Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut. I am such a believer in what I feel is right and just, but I am still learning when to speak up and when to hold my cards. It is an art.

    Even in a family business I have a tendency to want to skip to the conclusion so we can just put our cards on the table now. But you can’t skip all the chapters, you have to go through all the steps.

    It’s really about patience. I’m trying to learn patience.

    When I don’t have a project before the city of San Rafael and I have the opportunity to give back time and I can advocate for another organization I will speak up. I’m a community member with an interest in the good of the community. I really try to take that responsibility seriously.

    With your grandparents having started the business, what are some of the added pressures of running CPi?
    It’s that sense of obligation. My mom died when I was 29 so I chose to help my grandparents by coming to work and trying to pick up where my mom had left off. There were pressures from feeling like I was elevated a generation once she passed. Not only did my grandparents think of me as one of their daughters, but many people in the business community did as well.

    Would you encourage your two children to follow in your footsteps? Why or why not?
    Probably not. I want each of my kids to pursue their own interests. If that pursuit leads one of them back to commercial real estate or property development, I would want it to be on their own terms.

    What would you re-do in your career if you could and why?
    I think it’s what I would have re-done before my career began, really, and that would be to have branched out a little further. Had I known I would end up running my family’s business, I might have moved away for college and traveled abroad for my studies as well.

    I went from San Rafael High to UC Berkeley.

    My mom was a single mom from the time I was 10. She was divorced. She had never been alone until I went to college. I could not blame her that I was not encouraged to look out very far.

    I stayed quite tethered to my mom by going to school so close and maybe that led to choices I made for work.

    I have wanted to encourage my kids to go wherever they want. I think the world view expands.

    What from your childhood was a clear sign you would one day have an executive leadership position?
    I am an only child; this gave me plenty of opportunity to be bossy! It also gave me a chance to grow up fast and be around adults often. I developed a sense of responsibility at a young age.

    From an optimistic outlook, where will your business and industry be in the next five years?

    Hard to speak for my industry; commercial real estate is redefining itself. It sounds trite, but we don’t seem to need a “place” as much anymore whether it’s a place to have an office or a place to shop or a place to buy a car.

    As for my business, I am hopeful we will be adapting with the influence of a creative new CEO who can replace me.

    I don’t have someone in mind and it’s not either of my kids. I want them to find their own way.

    What is your opinion about the future of the national economy? And how will that affect your business?
    I am not an economist, but if it takes until 2023 for the supply chain to recover as I have seen in the news recently, we will have to change our time horizon for many things. It will be interesting to see who can adapt and how.

    What was your first job? What was your first career job?
    My first was as a lifeguard in San Rafael and Terra Linda. I quickly moved into a job as a bank teller because I preferred set hours. My first career job was as a segment producer for Preview Media where we produced syndicated news stories for national distribution.

    When you were a child, teenager, even in college, is this the job you thought you would have one day? If not, what were your earlier career aspirations?
    Yes, in a way as I wanted to be on the “Today” show so, after my master’s program at San Francisco State I tried to find work from some of my internships.

    I went from production jobs behind the scenes to an on camera job as a traffic reporter at the San Francisco NBC affiliate KRON.

    Any regrets you didn’t pursue being a television journalist?
    I got to do it on a local level, so not really. It’s a hard lifestyle. Having several years to do that in my 20s was a good time. I think it would be hard to do it and raise a family.

    I leaned lot of skills that I continue to be able to draw on. Traffic reports are not exactly scintillating news, but they are not scripted.

    I never worked from a script. That has served me well whether it’s talking at city council meetings, giving an impromptu speech or doing high school water polo games live on YouTube.

    What advice would you give someone just starting his or her career in your industry?
    My advice is to think broadly about the jobs you take. I have found that your first job is usually not your last. All job experience is good experience.

    What are the benefits and drawbacks to being located in the North Bay and doing business here?
    Marin is a very special place to live and I feel fortunate to call it home. But if I had not had an established business to step into, it would have been more difficult to stay here.

    The cost of living is high and there are a host of problems that come along with that.

    If you could change one government regulation, what would it be and why?
    Not sure I want to answer this one.

    You have holdings outside of the North Bay. How is it different doing business in other locations?
    Marin County is as unique as people say. Other communities are more interested in development or perhaps they simply need the development for their local economy more. That translates to an easier permitting process sometimes.

    Because of remote work businesses are rethinking the need for and how much office space is needed today.

    Do you believe in the future of workers going to work in an office? Why or why not?
    I certainly like having an office to go to when I want or need to go, but I am often alone at my office so it’s a bit of an oasis. Working from home in the midst of the business of family life presents its challenges. I believe in offering people a choice.

    How has the commercial real estate industry changed through the years — and not just because of the pandemic?
    Well, there are more women at the table than when I first started working with my grandfather in 1999. There are also more women in city government, law, consulting and every step of the real estate and development process.

    I am so hopeful that we can place more and more women in all industries as role models for our daughters and our daughter’s daughters. Maybe one day, the phrase “old boy network” will be out of our lexicon.

    My grandfather used to tease me about attending UC Berkeley where he thought I had learned women’s rights by “burning my bra.” I choose to think he would be proud to know that we don’t need those feminist symbols as much today at work or in life. I am working toward a day when everyone can have a seat at the table, no fires needed.
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