Carolyn Laidley Arn Shares Her Experiences in the Commercial Real Estate Industry

Carolyn Laidley Arn

Senior Vice President • Sales Representative

At Lennard some of our top values encapsulate freedom and work-life balance; Carolyn consistently showcases these within her actions throughout the interview.

Q: How did you get started in Real Estate?

A: Real estate was really my third career, even though each was linked to the other creating a solid foundation, much like the three legs of a stool. I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Interior Design. At the time it was the only interior design program in Canada with a university accreditation. I practiced interior design for about 9 years. When my daughter Stephanie was born, the field wasn’t right for me because of the long and unpredictable hours, so I changed direction. My next job was in the interior commercial construction and project management field. Eventually I was promoted to vice president and did the business development and executive project management for a mid sized company that built out about 1 million square feet per year. At the time, I was the only woman doing business development, and now many of the contractors have female representatives. When it was time to move on, I was faced with the difficult choice to either continue in construction and set up a new company with a close partner/friend, or to completely switch fields, start from scratch to build a business and only be responsible for myself. I chose the latter. Financially I would have been better to have continued in construction, as my former partner/friend has an incredibly successful business. But I like the ability to not be responsible for others, choose my hours, choose who I want to work with and when. I’ve been blessed with great clients who are mostly repeat and referral. 

Q: What have you learned about yourself over the years and what are some traits that you really had to work on to be successful in this industry? 

A: Starting out in real estate after having been very successful in two other industries was very hard. Initially I would pick up the phone and what was very easy before was newly challenging. It was also difficult emotionally, and hard to go from ‘hero’ to ‘zero’. But I persisted, and after those first 15 deals, it became much easier. I think I was lucky in many ways. I’d already established a profile and many friends in the industry through my previous businesses and through Toronto CREW, so I had connections and credibility. I had learned to take a creative approach to the business and to adapt my previous skills to suit the new career. I was fortunate to have the senior experience in interior design, commercial construction and real estate and to the best of my knowledge I believe I am the only person in Toronto with such a background. I would say that Lennard was critical to my success, and at the time I joined there were less than 20 people in the downtown office. I worked very hard, and crazy hours to learn as much as I could and aligned myself with senior partners on deals where I did a lot of the heavy lifting and running but learned a lot from. I was treated with respect and as an equal and encouraged to grow. 

Q: How did you get involved with Toronto CREW? Was there a motivating factor?

A: I got involved with Toronto CREW in 2002. At the time I was in business development so wanted to try and surround myself with decisionmakers who I could connect with and build relationships. My last two careers have been male dominated - probably 95% male. At the first Toronto CREW meeting I attended, I remember looking around and seeing such smart, successful women. It was a very different dynamic than I was used to. Believing that you get out what you put in, I joined a committee, two years later was on the board, then the CREW Network Convention committee, then became a delegate traveling throughout the US (I think to 26 different cities which I’d never otherwise see) to conferences and conventions and in 2007 I became the President of Toronto CREW. I did a ton of committee work during this time. I learned leadership skills through committees and the board, initiated new programs for young women, got committees and leaders working together for the same goals and developed the confidence to speak in front of 200 people.

I also mentored young women through the Toronto CREW mentorship program and have been working with another young woman outside of the program who I felt showed great promise. I always want to help where I can. This year I won the Lennard “Mojo Award” for most positive attitude and largest contribution to the company because there were particular skills needed (in a non-business situation) that I had that nobody else had. At the time I provided assistance without any conditions because the expertise was needed and to help my colleagues.

Q: What advice would you give someone considering a career in Real Estate? 

A: To be successful in sales of any type you have to have thick skin and be very resilient. The deals don’t come to you, you have to go out and find them. You are often in unchartered territory which can be very uncomfortable and scary. You need to be respected by colleagues and others in the industry and be firm in negotiations as the other side will always sense a weakness or lack of confidence. Reputation is everything. Other agents will remember if you were difficult to deal with or easy, and they’ll remember if you are fair, especially when the tables turn. 

I also think for a young person it’s really, really tough. I came to real estate as a third career and I guess already had the ‘stuff’ and had experienced success, so it was easier. It’s important to work really hard and stand out, then align yourself with a senior person who you can assist you as a true partner, who shows a vested interest in your success and will help you work through those early years. Then remember the fundamentals: work hard, with integrity, help others, give back, join associations and become known in the industry and always do the right thing for you and for your client. 

Q: How have you found your experience at Lennard? 

A: It has been great, and Lennard is the right place for me. I was given opportunities, embraced them and was rewarded for working hard. Lennard’s ‘work to live’ attitude says everything about the way the company conducts itself. 

Q: What do you like most about Lennard? 

A: I love the attitude and the freedom, and that you can be who you are. There’s no time clock or dress code. Differences are celebrated, not discouraged. And people work very hard and for the most part care about one another. I can work at home or at work, it’s my choice. 

Lennard celebrates family first and encourages work-life balance which has enabled me to follow my passion and dream to become an artist. I spend most of my non-working time as a practicing emerging artist. Over the past year I have become very involved in the art world, participating in many art shows and in 2018 I joined the board of Artists’ Network. In the summer I built a small art studio in my backyard which I share with my daughter Stephanie, who is also an artist. This year I am planning to participate in 10-12 outdoor art festivals and artwalks in the Greater Toronto Area and have some lofty goals for achievement. Last year many of my Lennard colleagues and clients came out to support me at Riverdale ArtWalk, Queen West ArtCrawl and Bayview Art Tour which was very heartfelt. 

If I had a regular 9-5 job, or someone checking to see if I show up every day it wouldn’t be possible to take on a second career as an artist. I think having interests and passion for things outside of work makes you more effective and allows more creative thinking. I have no interest in getting dressed up and coming to the office every day. But I do have interest in being successful, on my own terms, so without a doubt, Lennard is the company for me.

“Remember the fundamentals: work hard, with integrity, help others, give back.”

~ Carolyn Laidley Arn


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