Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS started at the company in 1990 and now is CEO…with no end of growth in sight!

Jodie McLean of EDENS has over 25 years’ experience in real estate and retail with the unique story of having moved from intern to CEO – where she has been responsible for development, redevelopment, acquisition and disposition of more than $12 billion in retail assets

With Jodie at the helm, EDENS has developed some of the biggest retail centers in the country, including Union Market in Washington, D.C.; Mosaic District in Fairfax, VA; Fifth & Alton in Miami, FL; and Uptown Park in Houston, TX, and announced a brand-new Latin concept which opened in June, La Cosecha, in Washington, D.C. near Union Market. According to Jodie, the key to EDENS’ thriving success is community

With online shopping at its highest, Jodie is transforming retail into something greater: a lifestyle experience. Jodie likes to refer to these centers as “the living room of the community,” because they foster a strong sense of engagement and serve as a place where friends can catch up over drinks or take part in community yoga- a far cry from traditional shopping experiences that feel like a task to be crossed off of your list. 

As a trailblazer in the retail and real estate sphere – and being a working mom – Thrive shares some of Jodie McLean’s tips, work-life balance and more.

Can you tell us your background story that has lead you to become CEO of EDENS?

Jodie McLean (JM): I started at EDENS as a financial analyst in 1990. I thought I would stay for two years before returning to school for my M.B.A, but instead I was given an outstanding opportunity where I could have significant impact.

EDENS’ founder, Joe Edens, served as a wonderful mentor to me, sharing great knowledge and tough lessons about the industry. Once I understood his daily routine, I would meet him at the office coffee pot at 5:30 a.m., where I found him open to being peppered with questions. It was at these casual meetings that he would offer me opportunities to become involved with different projects.

In these early years, I built a foundation of financial understanding. I believe to be successful in any business, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of how value is created and determined. With that foundation, I embraced opportunity, and recognized that failure was never an option. I was never afraid to step up, even when I wasn’t prepared for it. I force myself to routinely slow down and journal ‘lessons learned.’ It is often our mistakes or failures that allow us to learn the most.

By 1996, just six years after I graduated college, Joe Edens asked me if I would lead the recapitalization of the company. I worked harder than anyone else and was successful in the recapitalization. When the decision was being made as to who the Chief Investment Officer would be, I sat in the room –but not at the table. All the men at the table talked about me like I was not sitting there –expressing that I was not ready for this responsibility. I found comfort in my complete discomfort in the room and finally stood up to say, ‘Yes, I accept the Chief Investment Officer position that you are trying to convince yourselves I do not deserve. Thank you, I am going to have my new business cards made.’

As Chief Investments Officer, I was hyper-focused on transactions and building the portfolio. By 2006, I was named President. I began leading our thinking and vision, shifting the company’s mentality from being purely transactional to a focus on building community. We repositioned what we did, how we did it and most importantly why we did it. We came out of the recession as a purpose-driven organization. When we aligned with our purpose, we changed our culture and became one of the most innovative and successful companies in our entire industry. 

I was named CEO in 2015, where I knew the hardest work – and the greatest opportunity – were yet to come. Since joining the company, our real estate portfolio has gone from $250 million in assets to $6.5 billion in assets.

What has surprised you most in your journey to CEO?

JM: I literally barely shifted my seat to the right when I moved from being President and Chief Investment Officer to CEO.  I thought I knew everything about EDENS and the transition would be simple and easy, and I was caught off-guard at what a radically different point of view you have as CEO. I realized that the whole had so much more potential than just adding up the individual parts.  In my previous role I had been focused on maximizing individual parts. I don’t know why I didn’t ever see it that way before. It was shocking to me how radically different the view was.

EDENS is dedicated to building and fostering community. Are there any initiatives you are most proud of?

JM: EDENS’ purpose is to enrich community through human engagement. I am proud of many initiatives.  We have corporate initiatives like EDENS Retail Challenge and our Annual Service Day.  But we also, have many small everyday things we do at our properties from being the meeting point of the local run club to yoga in the park to free outdoor movies.  All of these small routine events give community member’s routine places to come together and start to feel apart of something much larger than themselves.  We also support many entrepreneurs in all of our communities to help them build and scale their businesses – creating jobs and prosperity for all.

EDENS has a tradition of supporting and celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in the retail industry. The EDENS Retail Challenge is an annual pitch competition to discover and launch the next generation of retail. We invite the country’s most passionate entrepreneurs to pitch a retail concept to a panel of industry leaders, with a chance to receive funding and mentorship to turn their vision into a reality. Each year, I’m inspired by the finalists on their innovation, passion and hard work. 

I am also tremendously proud of the stewardship displayed by our employees at our annual Service Day. For 16 years, we have chosen one day to close our offices and volunteer with community organizations across our regions. Together, our combined efforts amount to 2,000+ hours of community service; embodying our Service Day motto “we give, where we live.”

What do you think is the secret to finding success at work and in life? Is it possible to achieve a “work-life balance”?

JM: Presence.  I believe in being present where I am.  I am not sure I know the definition of “work-life balance”.  To me, things always seem a bit tilted one way or the other.  I am, though, intentional on being very present at home when I am there and present at the office when I am there.  I have learned in order to do that I have to give myself “sacred morning time” to be thoughtful and intentional about my day ahead.  Two other things: 1. I would add is pick your partners wisely – at home and at work.  You need to be able to seamlessly depend on one another.  2. You can have it all, just not all at the same time.

What do you do to power down after a long day in the boardroom?

JM: Nothing feeds my soul like my family. For me, the time I can spend with my family is most precious. And I truly believe our best connections happen when we gather around the table and share a meal and conversation. Family dinner is so important to me and my family.

As one of the few female CEO’s leading a multi-billion-dollar company, what advice would you give to young women who are looking to make their mark in often male-dominated industries?

JM: Do not be afraid to take risks and push yourself to fail just a little bit everyday – if you are not doing that, you are not growing.  I watch women hold themselves back because they are waiting on perfection; they are waiting until they feel 100% ready to take on the next challenge – at that point the guys have far passed them by, because they have jumped off when they feel 65% ready.

I also think it is important to have mentors and sponsors.  We are all born with the ability to lead, but like most everything else, these qualities must be honed and developed. We need mentors to help us find our confidence and hone our strengths. People who help us find confidence in our discomfort will help us develop our voices and communicate a clear vision. All of this fosters a culture where diversity of thought is empowered.

Early in my career my mentors were men, many of whom are still a part of my inner circle. However, as my career developed, several women became my sponsors. A sponsor does more than give guidance and advice, a sponsor puts their own reputation on the line to create opportunities for you. 

Who do you turn to for advice? Is there any mentor whose lessons are still with you today?

JM: Absolutely.  I have several sponsors and mentors within in the real estate industry, but I have also started to open up and bring in several people outside our industry.  We are in a fast paced, every changing world and I think it is important to learn from other industry leaders who have fresh and new points of view – I believe that is where success will come from in our industry.

For more on Jodie McLean and the EDENS team, visit: Follow Jodie on Twitter at: @JodieMcLean.