Collaboration


Libby Lassiter and Jami Wadkins bring a collaborative approach to their leadership roles at Bayer Properties.

Jami Wadkins and Libby Lassiter don’t quite finish each other’s sentences, but it is close.

The two were named this year to head up Bayer Properties in new roles as Co-Presidents of the firm, completing a leadership transition that began two years ago.

Jeffrey Bayer and David Silverstein stepped down from their respective operating roles, but retain an ownership position in the firm and its real estate assets.  Co-founder and owner Jon Rotenstreich continues to serve as the company’s managing member.

Wadkins most recently served as Chief Financial Officer, a role she will continue along with other Administrative responsibilities including property management. Lassiter was most recently Bayer’s Executive Vice President of Retail Leasing and Development, two disciplines she will continue to oversee.

“It is very complimentary,” says Wadkins. “We’ve worked together a long time and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When we do have a debate on a topic, we always seem to come to agreement on the best path to move forward.”

Lassiter says, “We have been pretty aligned. I think people feel that co-presidents are tricky, but we laugh and say this is the millennial way and we are a millennial company.” With two women taking the top leadership roles at the company, Bayer is also female oriented; a fact the industry has taken notice of.

Wadkins and Lassiter have a combined 30 years at Bayer Properties and began assuming additional operational and management responsibilities for the company in spring 2017. With their appointment as Co-Presidents, the company completes the planned transition and installs an executive management team with a powerful combination of complementary skills for continuing to best serve the ever-changing needs of the company’s partners and clients.

Bayer Properties develops and manages a variety of real estate properties nationwide. Currently, they own and/or operate nearly 10 million square feet of retail and office properties ranging from Reno, Nevada to Mount Pleasant, South Caroline. New developments have included the revitalization of The Pizitz Building in Birmingham, and the development of The Summit at Fritz Farm, a mixed-use project in Lexington, KY.

Lassiter has worked with Bayer for 14 years, following an executive position with General Growth Properties (later absorbed by Brookfield Properties). General Growth was a major real estate investment trust with more than 100 mall assets all over the country (including Riverchase Galleria and Century Plaza). “Jeffrey and team brought me on board to be part of the executive committee and oversee leasing and development,” she says.

Wadkins began working in manufacturing at Birmingham Steel (later Nucor) doing finance, accounting and administrative work. She later moved into retail and spent seven years with Books A Million in its corporate office in Birmingham. She moved to Bayer in 2005 and became CFO four years later.

Lassiter and Wadkins’ transition to co-leadership position was a two-year transition for Bayer for its change in senior leadership. “We were quiet about it, our employees and clients knew but we never had any press about it at that stage,” says Lassiter. “To the external world it might have been a bit of surprise.

“But Jeffrey and David created a great company and the principals realized it was time for a change and so they began that process, walking before we were running,” she says.

“The retention of our talent is a big testament to this method because we have kept all of our senior talent and leadership in place. They believed in this opportunity. When you have a change of that magnitude it does create opportunities within the ranks,” Lassiter says.

With Bayer there is a lot to believe in. While well known in Birmingham, the firm is perhaps even better known nationally as a trailblazer and well-thought of operator of lifestyle centers and other commercial property.

“Our status nationwide has never been stronger. The Summit Birmingham really put Bayer Properties on the map. I don’t think a lot of people locally understand just how famous The Summit is. It is a must-see among developers and retailers who come to the Southeast. They want to check out The Summit,” Lassiter says.

The Summit here led to other national projects in locations as varied as Reno and Lexington. And in their hometown, The Pizitz became nationally a well-known project with publications from Vanity Fair to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times weighing in on its significance.

The company will continue to evolve with more mixed-use properties, adding together hotel, residential, entertainment, whatever is most appropriate for the property. It all takes research.

“You start with something basic like demographics and site research. Put the project on the table with a group of people around it and ask what are we missing? What would add value? Then the ideas just begin to come out. Is it a hotel, a grocery, could we do office, residential?” says Wadkins.

“Start with a plan and the asset and imagine what it could be. Then you have go out and say does that really work. That’s where the research really comes into play. But initially we have enough experience on our team to be able to say what belongs where. I think we have the talent that can say, here are the possibilities. Let’s put it in a plan and then take it out to market to understand if it makes sense,” Lassiter says.

“We really dig into the community with these projects, which is easy to do in Birmingham, harder in Lexington or Reno. We engage local influencers who are key in the community,” she says.

The Internet has added significant challenges to retail.

“Bricks and mortar are challenged by the Internet, that’s true. But what is happening is that Internet retailers are realizing they have to have a physical component.

“More is spent in physical stores than on-line. So they are moving to more brick and mortar. It increases their presence, their brand and their sales, from the clicks and from the bricks,” says Wadkins.

A good example is Warby Parker. Once an Internet only purveyor of eyeglasses, it opened a store at The Pizitz.

While operating in an industry that is always evolving, Lassiter and Wadkins are focused on enhancing their collaborative management of the company. They are also a beacon for the rise of female top management in the city’s business community.

Collaboration, evolution and transition have been the bywords for Bayer of late. Next year, Bayer will undergo another transition as the company moves to new space on Southside in a renovated building across from Magnolia Park.

 

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