Q&A with CREW Atlanta Director Abby Schmit

October 13, 2020

As a way to get to know the CREW Atlanta leadership better, we will be interviewing the board members on their thoughts on CREW Atlanta, the commercial real estate industry, workplace issues and life in general. This month, we caught up with CREW Atlanta Director and Fidelity National Title Group Vice President, Abby Schmit.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your world?

Well, most notably, I had a baby in the midst of the pandemic. She is now five months old, so this has been an interesting and exciting time. Her arrival has been a special break from the stress of the pandemic, and I’m grateful that my husband and I have had time at home with her. In a normal year, I would have been traveling and my husband would have been at work, and we would have missed so many milestones.

COVID-19 has definitely impacted how we do business. My daily life before was breakfast with clients, lunch and then drinks out, with very little time in the office. Now, willingness for our customers to meet with us has been challenging to figure out. We’ve had to learn how to build relationships without the benefit of face-to-face interaction. We are playing a lot of golf and getting creative, though, which has been fun.

Q. What attracted you to commercial real estate?

Right out of college, I started in commercial real estate. At the time, I was representing landlords in office buildings, working for Childress Klein Properties. My mother is the one who led me to title insurance. She actually runs a region of the company for Fidelity. I knew I wanted my next role to be in sales, and she introduced me to a fantastic salesperson in Chicago who ultimately recruited me, and that was the best thing to ever happen. I started with Fidelity in Chicago and moved back home to Atlanta three years ago.

Q. What do you like about working at Fidelity?

It’s a big organization. Like I mentioned, I was in a smaller company before, which had a lot of pros as well, but because of its size, Fidelity meets me where I’m at in my life. If I want to be working at home to spend more time with my new baby, that’s okay. Company leadership understands who I am and makes sure that I am taken care of as an employee. As with other Fortune 500 companies, there are endless opportunities to be involved in various projects and even to be a stockholder. It’s a limitless job.

Q. What keeps you up at night?

Like many people, I think a lot about the way the world is right now. Even though there are transactions happening, we’re honestly still spinning to figure out a new normal. One year from now, things will look different, and I think a lot about how can I be a catalyst in that change.

Q. What is your biggest challenge?

I’m learning how to be a salesperson virtually. Finding new ways to connect with people – especially new clients – is a delicate balance. We have to read the situation correctly, understand someone’s willingness to meet and converse, and ultimately figure out how to get the deal done. The upside is that we are leveraging our creative muscles, and while transactions slowed from March to May, we have seen a real uptick since then. At the end of the day, those who have capital recognize their obligation to their businesses to move it along.

Q. What is the most important thing you’re working on right now?

Figuring out how to successfully grow our sales team and find new clients is always my most important job.

Q. What makes a successful leader?

Patience and understanding. A good leader is willing to say, “We tried something and it didn’t work. Let’s try something different.” Tenacity to keep going is critical.

Q. What commercial real estate trend is top of mind?

We’re all thinking about working from home and its impact on how offices will look very different for some time, perhaps even until this time next year or beyond. I think a lot of people will go back in some sort of fashion, but now employees definitely have more leverage on what that looks like compared to employers. There is a unique opportunity for office owners to make a massive impact in the industry.

Q. What is your best advice for women in commercial real estate?

Know up front that if you are a woman in commercial real estate, you are automatically outnumbered. But at the same time, I’ve always found success by finding people who will advocate for me. They aren’t necessarily in a similar role – they could be finding debt or purchasing a building – but they are in the industry and understand how important it is for us to support each other. Make these people your friends, and once you build a network, you will all grow together and benefit from one another. When you create an environment where you have advocates, you are then able to do the same for others.

Q. What are you most proud of?

This year in particular, it’s becoming a mom while continuing to be successful in my role. I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to continue building foundational relationships with friends. We have to check in on each other often to be sure that we’re all doing well. Surviving and thriving is a real thing, and it’s okay to recognize what a big deal that is right now.

Q. What are your favorite words of wisdom?

When I first was interviewing for my first company, Don Childress came in and gave this advice that I’ve never forgotten: He asked, “Do you know what’s going to make you a successful salesperson?” He said to find out a potential client’s biggest question, get the answer – but don’t tell them immediately that you’ve found it. Instead, acknowledge their challenge and tell them that you are going to find a solution. Then, when you come back with the solution, you will be the one who got it fastest. Plus, you have a reason to call them back again.

Q. What keeps you busy outside of work?

I play golf and tennis as much as possible. I love spending time with my amazing family. Highlands, North Carolina is one of our favorite places, and we’ve been lucky to be able to keep going there during the pandemic. It’s fun to take our baby hiking and we can tell that she’s already starting to love the outdoors.

Q. What would you like to share about your family?

They are fantastic and make my work so easy. I think many of us in commercial real estate forget to thank them often enough, but they are really in this with us.

Q. What would you be if you weren’t in commercial real estate?

I would like to think I would be a great Good Morning America host!

Q: What has CREW done for you?

CREW has done so much for my career. When I was in college, I received the CREW Network Scholarship, which really catapulted me into a career in commercial real estate. I got to intern with Prudential and really figured out that I wanted to be in sales. No matter where I’ve lived or what I’ve done, CREW has been a backbone. The organization has taught me how to be a leader as well as how to encourage others to be leaders.