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If you don’t know Brenna Walraven by her USAA credentials (she’s executive managing director of national property management, overseeing a 35-million-sf property portfolio) there’s a good chance you met her for the first time in last week’s Commentary about women’s progress through the glass ceiling. But as incoming chair of the Building Owners & Managers Association International, Walraven has a responsibility that transcends issues of women in the workplace, so using that as our starting point, it is appropriate as well to transcend the Commentary to explore those other issues now:

GlobeSt.com: Other than the fact of your presence, how do you as BOMA chair spread the gospel of women in the C-suite?

Walraven: I don’t look at it as my role just to be a woman. I look at my role as serving the organization and being a leader. Hopefully in doing that we’re putting forth a positive image and sending the message that by being active in an association, particularly one like BOMA, you can build those leadership skill sets. Think of the tools you need to be in a leadership position in any company. You can learn those on a volunteer basis as well. I believe BOMA can serve to close the gap in leadership development skills as young, middle and older members attempt to transition and grow within the industry. That’s part of what I hope my experience as chairman helps to demonstrate.

GlobeSt.com: There are a lot of issues that BOMA is tackling. What will be key in your tenure?

Walraven: Our organization is enjoying tremendous success. It has for the past several years. So my first goal is to keep that momentum. We have our advocacy efforts, and we haven’t suffered a major legislative loss in issues important to BOMA in more than 10 years. We want to keep that momentum as well. Our educational programs, including the energy-efficiency program and our partnership with Harvard University on our leadership program, have not just been well-received but have exceeded all attendance expectations. In terms of our building standards, we’re now in partnership with ICSC on a retail floor-measurement standard and we’re partnering with NMHC on a mixed-use standard. We want to continue to lead on those issues as well.

In another area, and for me personally, sustainability is a very important issue. Our membership tends to be very conservative, and because education on the subject has traditionally been non-existent, people tend to be afraid. Our goal is to provide the tools and resources so our membership can execute on the business case for sustainability.

There’s a growing role not only for sustainability but also for this concept of social responsibility and creating an environment where people can grow–being fully “there” when you are there and when you aren’t there, putting the Blackberry down and being with family and friends. It’s a concept I support, although I don’t execute it very well.

GlobeSt.com: How do you intend to forward those initiatives?

Walraven: As it relates to our core areas, we have key partnerships and alliances with other organizations on such issues as measurement standards. We’re looking to expand the Experience & Exchange Report, which is already the largest database in the market, and I mentioned our partnerships with several different groups to make that happen. I also mentioned our Harvard University partnership for our Emerging Leaders program.

As it relates to sustainability, we have signed a letter of intent with the US Green Building Council, and we’re looking to expand our educational offerings. Our position is that USGBC has the data and the expertise in the green space. We have the membership base and we know how to speak to our membership. If we can combine those two, we can provide world-class education. That would mean taking the BOMA energy-efficiency program and expanding it to include more messages about sustainability.

We’ll also be doing green-specific programs in our convention and building a library of resources and best practices so members can go to our web portal and access cleaning standards or a strategy sample. We have a three-year grant from US Environmental Protection Agency for the energy-efficiency program. This is a huge partnership and they’re helping us leverage our marketing and promotion and education. These are the means by which we’ll continue to execute those plans.

GlobeSt.com: You mentioned putting the Blackberry down. How do you detach?

Walraven: It’s hard. There’s so much on the plate. USAA has been wonderfully supportive. And my commitment to them is that I would not shirk the responsibilities of my role. That means a lot of hours, and I’m enjoying it. I will get back to a better sense of balance when my term is done. Exercise is huge. It helps me manage stress.

GlobeSt.com: And when the term is done, how do you want to be remembered?

Walraven: As much as anything else, that I was giving something back and giving my best. It’s so hard today with so much constant bombardment between cell phones and Blackberries and it’s really hard to be truly present and focused on the person in front of you. The biggest thing I hope is that people will say that when she was there, she was there.

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