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Women in Building and Construction - Meg Epstein

BT Blog Womenin Building March 2021

As part of our Women in Building & Construction Profile series, we’re featuring Meg Epstein, Founder and CEO of CA South, a real estate development firm located in Nashville, Tennessee. In this interview, Meg shares how she became a founder of a development firm that has $450M assets under management, the challenges she faces, and her advice for other women in the industry.

What was your career path to working in construction?

I’ve been in the industry for over a decade, starting on a jobsite in 2008. I originally thought I was going to be a financial analyst when I graduated from university. However, I spent my senior year in Barcelona and my love for architecture and building shifted my focus. When I got back to Los Angeles, it was 2008 and every major developer was shutting down.

I got a job on a construction site and started by building a high-end home in Los Angeles. I learned the ins and outs of the industry, concrete, grading, and all the trades.

Even though I had no experience, I was smart and organized. The owners had managers who were running a $60 million job site and they wouldn't use Excel and weren’t very organized. As a result, I was hired to manage the budget and schedule. I had a superintendent that mentored me and taught me certain aspects of the industry, but I was able to leverage technology and provide the owner the reporting they needed.

This was a large project—60,000 square feet chateau—with lots of consultants, amazing architecture, and very complex issues. For example, the stone we were using was mined in France, so we had to send it from a quarry there to China and then to Los Angeles.

When the market turned around, I started doing spec development in San Francisco, and when I moved to Nashville in 2016, I focused on commercial development.

How have you seen the industry change in the last few years as a woman?

I experienced a bit of a regression having moved from California to the South. For example, when I’m at a dinner party, people will think it’s my husband’s business and start talking to him. I think people may see me as unassuming and less competitive, which in a way has given me an edge. I’ve been able to scale up to $450M assets under management. I never felt like I lost a deal because I was a woman…I’ve been able to raise a lot of capital and my investors have full faith in me.

How has COVID impacted your business?

COVID has been our best year yet—we’ve seen our deal sizes become bigger and we’re more profitable. In general, it has accelerated investor interest away from primary markets to secondary markets like Nashville.

It’s also given me time to regroup. I’m involved with boards and woman entrepreneurship programs, and I participate in a lot of events. When that was eliminated due to COVID, my focus shifted to work and my husband. Our focus in industrial and multi-family has worked and been the darling of this new environment.

How do you see your role evolving over the next few years?

I started off being the only person in the company, with raising capital being my main focus. Now that we have enough capital and deals, it’s about managing a company and hiring good people as we continue to grow the business. The focus is on building a great team.

What's the most challenging aspect of your job? What do you do to overcome that challenge?

This business is not for the faint-hearted. The issues in ground-up development are complex and require you to come up with creative solutions. It’s finding the right path in these uncertain times—knowing where the smart plays are and where to go. You have to be disciplined enough to not just pursue everything. When managing a company, you have the responsibility of looking after your employees, building the right team, and providing them with a good environment.

What are some of your resources for training and/or support?

CCIM was a great resource and provided me with formal training on commercial development. I found my first investor on their networking site, so it was a great foundation for getting started in the business.

Do you have any specific successes you'd like to highlight?

Being able to build a business like I have, on my own, is one of the greatest successes. I had no money and no track record when I first started. I didn’t know how hard it was when I started, which was probably a good thing.

What’s important in real estate is owning the deal or having the money. Because of those things, I could never be replaced. There is always a deal that needs money or money that needs a deal. It’s important for women in development or building to have more roles in which they control the capital or the deal. It’s what puts you in charge and it’s a way to get ahead quickly.

What was the best career advice you received? Do you have any tips or advice for other women interested in entering the home building industry?

I have taken an unconventional route to get where I am today. My father had his own company, so I grew up seeing him work for himself, and that gave me a different outlook on a career. He’d say, “There is lot more responsibility, but a lot more freedom working for yourself.” If you’re in the position to go out on your own, you should. More women need to do that.

It’s important that you find a group to give you support. I’m part of an organization called BrainTrust. It’s a collective of women business owners who support and challenge one another in order to grow their businesses to their fullest potential. The goal of the organization is to accelerate the pace by which other women reach the pivotal $1 million mark in their business.

What are your favorite activities to do outside of work?

My days are very busy—getting up early and coming home late—so I like my down time. I enjoy going to the spa, doing yoga, reading, and cooking. My husband likes sailing, so we try to get away a few times a year.

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