December 2017 Alum of the Month: Jodie Watt McLean '86
Jodie Watt McLean '86 is Chief Executive Officer of EDENS, one of the nation's leading private commercial real estate development companies. She joined EDENS following graduation from the University of South Carolina's Honors College and Moore School of Business, and has risen steadily through the company from financial analyst in 1990, to Chief Investment Officer in 1998, President in 2002, and to her current position as CEO in 2015. Her success defines her as one of the most influential women in the commercial real estate business.
McLean followed in her father's footsteps to Hotchkiss. She came in as a prep from the Elgin Academy of Elgin, Illinois, and was accomplished as a student and as an athlete. "I had a series of wonderful teachers - from prep year English with 'the Hawk' (Robert Hawkins); history with Robert Barker; math with Walter Crain; and later in my Hotchkiss career, English with Geoff Marchant." She greatly values her time on the athletic fields, the courts, and the pool. "Athletics were a huge part of my time at Hotchkiss. I earned 11 Varsity letters in field hockey, squash, tennis, and swimming. My senior year, I was honored to be the captain (or co-captain) of each of my teams, which offered me incredible opportunities to develop leadership skills. I believe participating in competitive sports as a young woman is immensely important because you learn how to take risks, fail, and quickly recover. Fear of failure was quickly replaced on the field hockey fields and tennis / squash courts with a spirit of humility, courage, and confidence."
Following Hotchkiss, McLean matriculated at the University of South Carolina, where she earned a B.S. in Finance and Management from the University's Moore School of Business. But her ambition for business was hatched much earlier. "Some might tell you that I started my business career at the age of six with my first entrepreneurial adventure - 'Jodie's Egg Route,' delivering eggs to neighbors from my parents' home." McLean is one of those rare individuals who stayed in their "first" job. "I started at EDENS as a financial analyst in 1990 and thought I would stay for two years before heading back to school for my M.B.A. But, I was given an outstanding opportunity to be exposed to all aspects of the business, and I saw that I could have a significant impact." It was a smart move. When she started at EDENS, it had a 150-million-dollar portfolio, and today it is a 6.2-billion-dollar enterprise.
McLean credits EDENS' founder, Joe Edens, for helping put her on the right path. "I have had an incredible experience here at EDENS for over 27 years. I have had great mentors and sponsors. Early on, Joe served as a wonderful mentor to me, sharing great knowledge and tough lessons about the industry. Once I understood his daily routine, I would make a point to meet him at the office coffee pot at 5:30 a.m., where I found him open to being peppered with questions. And, it was often at these casual meetings that he would offer me opportunities to become involved with different projects. In my early years, I built a foundation of financial understanding. I believe to be successful in any business you have to have a deep understanding of how value is created and determined. With that foundation, I embraced opportunity, and failure was never an option. I was never afraid to step up, even when I wasn't prepared for it. And 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."
"At EDENS, I have pushed myself to take risks, not reckless risks, but well thought-through risks. I have been able to hone my technical and leadership skills. Along with an acute understanding of financial situations, I have used my emotional intelligence to understand the broader sense of what drives consumers. Additionally, I have not backed away from bringing a different perspective to 'the table.' It sometimes resonates on deaf ears, but most people are attracted to different points of view. And, I believe because I am EDENS ultimate customer, it has been easier for me to understand how to deliver an end product that will truly resonate with our communities. When I was named CEO in 2015, I knew the hardest work - and the greatest opportunity - were yet to come."
The fact that the University of South Carolina was the first major university to name its business school after a woman, Darla Moore, is fitting. "We are all grateful for the wonderful work, thoughtful leadership, and financial support Darla Moore has brought to the entire state of South Carolina," notes McLean, who knows first-hand both the barriers and the achievements of women in business. "Some changes are shallow, for instance, dress, and other changes are deep, with impacts to policy, but there is much work still to be done."
McLean gives her time and energy to many entrepreneurs, boards, and non-profits. Her inspiration in choosing to do so reflects several things: "What can I uniquely give, and how can I grow and learn from my participation? Additionally, most all of the businesses and institutions I am involved with have a clearly stated mission and purpose that is aligned with my own values and passions. I have been given many opportunities in my career, and several people took time along the way to assist me when I showed interest and openness. I would not be where I am today without that, and it has instilled in me a deep conviction that I owe this same mentorship to others. I am simply a steward-of my family, EDENS, industry, and community. Therefore, I try to do the very best I can to make each of these better because of my commitment to this role."
In alignment with this conviction to help others, McLean established the Elizabeth Guttormsen Watt Scholarship at Hotchkiss. "I believe that education is not only the great equalizer-it is the single greatest gift we can give. This goes back to my grandmother, who deeply valued education. She unexpectedly found herself a widow and single-mother of two very young children. She had to educate herself and figure out a path for raising her children. My grandmother truly put it all on the line to send my father, Russell Watt, to Hotchkiss (Class of 1955) and Yale (she equally invested in my aunt). I believe without her fortitude and drive to educate her own children, the generations that followed would look completely different. There is a lot of focus on low-income needs, but I am concerned about the middle class - I think it is an important part of our country, and it is slipping away. When I receive a letter from the recipient of my scholarship who is certainly qualified to attend Hotchkiss, but is only able to attend because of financial aid, I am reminded of my grandmother and her dedication to education."
McLean also gives insight into her rapidly changing industry, addressing how shopping has changed owing to technology. "The biggest impact of technology is that the consumer's wants, needs and desires are shifting and therefore, we, too, need to shift how we approach our business. The store is no longer the sole place of transaction, nor can its sole purpose be seen as a place of commerce. Physical stores have to be convenient, and more high-touch than high-tech. Stores must be designed to do everything that can't be done online, such as build relationships, offer interaction with brand and products; offer service and intellect; solve problems; and upsell. Physical stores are no longer about closing a sale; they are about creating connections and loyalty. This is loyalty not only to the brand but also to the physical place and the community of people there. Our shopping places are no longer places that simply hold merchandise; they hold content and intellect, and therefore time. Motives for engagement, need, and desire drive people to arrive, stay, and purchase. And, our places are no longer about stand-alone transactions-they are about a broader set of experiences. Retail is social, and people will invest where they feel good and the community feels good."
For those thinking of a business career, McLean offers the following advice. "Thanks to technology, the pace of change in every industry is enormous. You need to understand the unique void or problem you are addressing, and stay true to that mission. Surround yourself with the very best people, and never forget, 'perfect is the enemy of great.' And never under-estimate the humanity of humans. Hotchkiss provided me three key things that I rely on every day: one, the ability to think critically; two, the foundation of leadership skills; and three, humility and courage."
For McLean, community in the "human analogue" format is more important now than ever. "Enriching community starts at home with our own people which create our culture. Enriching community in our work is about creating places that people call their own, places where people routinely come together and create meaningful experiences that lead to greater understanding, empathy, and a sense of belonging. We know that when we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, we all prosper socially, economically, culturally, and soulfully.