Innovation lightbulb.

An interview with Pui Wong, principal at Cypress Capital Group; Silicon Valley and New York.

Pui Wong Pui Wong, Courtesy photo

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle as a woman in your particular role? How have you overcome those obstacles? 

The biggest challenge is being taken seriously in a very male-dominated industry, less so in the office but especially out in the field.

We are fortunate that we write the checks and do not tolerate anything but excellent service.  As a co-founder and principal of our firm, I am an integral part of the organization and the development of our culture of inclusion and diversity. Persistence with questions has been an effective tool to demonstrate that I should be taken seriously, and I am not going anywhere. My motto is that there are no bad questions, only bad answers.

What about your current role/position at the company are you most happy with? As a co-founder and principal of our firm, I am fortunate to be an integral part of the organization and the development of our culture of inclusion and diversity. On the real estate side, I am most happy when our projects come to life and having a positive impact on our communities not only through developments, but also through our company’s donation of 10 percent of our profits to charity.

Real estate has historically been a challenging industry for women. Where would you say the real estate industry needs to improve for women? On the development site, it can be physically intimidating for women at times, but it is a challenge we must overcome because there is no alternative but to get the job done. In the office, the environment is more professional, and everyone is on an even playing field. Out in the field respect can be gained through the setting of expectations and setting a culture of excellence.

How can women better position themselves for success both in general and in your specific area of focus? Having great mentors and support in the organization is the best way to set yourself up for success. Look to join organizations that foster and culture of inclusion. Great culture attracts great people who deliver great results.

What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry? Do not be afraid of failure. Our firm is based equally in New York City and Silicon Valley. New York City has a tough, can-do attitude. Silicon Valley celebrates new ideas, new entrants with a very high degree of collaboration in our startup culture. Fail early. Learn fast.  We draw strength from both communities.  

How would you advise any younger person to begin a career in real estate? Real estate is very tangible and scalable. While real estate is a business, there is also a lot of creativity involved. Each project has its own set of challenges: lot shape and size, field conditions, etc. Trying to solve a problem and succeeding is very rewarding. There is nothing better than to see one’s creation from vision to architectural design to physical reality. If someone is interested in real estate, I suggest they get their foot in the door as early as possible. Internships are a great way to see an industry before making a commitment. If you want to be an investor, start early and stay away from paying rent. Rent puts money in your landlord’s pocket while paying a mortgage goes towards building up your equity in a real estate asset.

Please share with us the best lessons learned or a surprising component about your unique journey. Be your authentic self. Life is too long to do something you do not enjoy. Pick the occupation which you would do even if you were paid nothing.  I am a firm believer in hard work, perseverance and grit.

In your opinion what take-a-ways did we learn from the COVID crisis? COVID has taught us to be more flexible with work schedules. Covid may have started a new WFH trend but I do not believe in an all-or-nothing approach. True community building and collaboration is more difficult to develop behind a screen. Brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaboration is best done in person.

Find more CRE career advancement tips and inspiring stories from Industry Leaders in our Pay It Forward Series.

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