Lee & Associates New Jersey transitions to WBE designation

Establishes largest WBE real estate brokerage firm in N.Y. metropolitan area

When it comes to woman-owned business enterprises, it seems fair to say that a commercial real estate firm would not be the first business to come to mind.

But Elmwood Park-based Lee & Associates is just that. The firm is breaking barriers and has adjusted its title to Lee & Associates – WBE LLC.

The transition of its regional operation establishes Lee & Associates as the largest woman-owned business enterprise commercial real estate brokerage firm in the New York metropolitan area.  Moreover, the firm, which also has New Jersey offices in Edison and Whippany, has a large national presence and is the only brand in the U.S. with a WBE-designated operation.

Jessica Vasil, the firm’s longtime regional operations leader, is serving as president. She will drive the company forward alongside the original executive team that guided and expanded the New Jersey operation of Lee & Associates since its founding nearly 15 years ago, in 2009.

Vasil, along with Principals Richard Marchisio, Brian Lynch and Jason Lynch, are thrilled to announce this next chapter for their organization, which employes approximately 50 professionals. Thirty-eight percent of the Lee & Associates – WBE team is female, and the company is actively recruiting across all levels of experience.

“Our executive team has always looked holistically at how the commercial real estate industry is changing and how we can make it better,” Vasil said. “Our transition to Lee & Associates – WBE provides our current and future brokers with additional opportunities to succeed while reinforcing our corporate culture of inclusion.

“It’s been a very interesting ride.”

Vasil feels the designation signifies a commitment to change in progress.

“The firm started in 2009, when the economy was in financial crisis,” she said. “But we did it, and it went well. We’ve grown tremendously and, with this new transition, it’s been a rewarding process.”

It also sets a new standard for what’s possible, Vasil said.

“It is rare to see other women in this industry,” she said. “My partners agreed with me and felt that this was a good shift, but, to me, I feel like it is great to be able to create a space where both women and men can succeed and lead.”

Vasil added that Lee & Associates – WBE is committed to providing an environment that can help move the needle for women in commercial real estate, an industry that still lags in the presence of female leadership at the senior vice president/partner and C-suite levels.

CREW Network’s latest study on gender and diversity shows those metrics at just 22% and 9%, respectively.

Jessica Vasil of Lee & Associates – WBE.

“To that end, our introduction of the WBE platform and the resulting empowerment have been met with great enthusiasm here,” she said.

Vasil said she sees her position as an opportunity to advocate for leadership and diversity, which includes supporting both men and women and their career aspirations.

“I think the industry should promote mentorship and development opportunities for all, because I believe diverse leadership reflecting our society is good,” she said. “At Lee & Associates, we are always looking for ways to expose diverse backgrounds, including women, to the opportunities in commercial real estate.”

Currently, Vasil said she doesn’t see it pushed as an option for many, and is trying to change that.

“We’re aiming to provide an environment in which diverse talent can experience the industry and have all the resources and support they need to thrive and develop, and then they get to assess if the industry is a good fit for them and their personal goals,” she said.

As a woman, Vasil said hard work is something naturally necessary to move into this realm, but she believes commitment to building relationships is another ingredient.

“We need to demonstrate our expertise and be visible in the contributions we make,” she said. “We need to be tenacious and resilient in the face of challenges, which will inevitably come up in our careers.”

Vasil said there was not one particular “a-ha” moment that she experienced in the past, where she just knew she belonged at the table, but, as she worked with her partners over 14 years and participated in every single executive meeting that took place, she became more and more comfortable.

“The decisions I contributed to making ended up having positive effects and, over time, led to me realizing that my instincts were valid,” she said. “Then, I even saw that my contributions also really helped to make this organization phenomenal.”

As for advice Vasil would give to a woman just starting out and how to navigate, she said she understands it is hard because there are biases out there, but she sees those being challenged more now, and the industry is more open to feedback.

“No woman can go wrong by focusing on excellence in her profession,” she said. “I feel like it would do us all good to build a personal brand that showcases our unique skills and values. And be resilient. There will be situations where you may be discounted, but it is important to move past them and just keep going, keep persevering and keep putting yourself out there. Have that confidence in yourself to know that you do have value and can contribute.

“If one person doesn’t give you as much time as they should or acknowledge you in the group, just keep yourself out there and then build on the successes that you have.”

The formal rollout of Lee & Associates – WBE occurred through the first months of 2024, with broker licenses moving from Lee & Associates New Jersey to the new entity. In late February, Lee & Associates – WBE achieved the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council certification — “the most widely recognized and respected national certification for women-owned businesses,” according to the program website.

Due to the in-depth qualification process, WBENC certification is considered the industry’s gold standard.

“From a business development standpoint, the WBE is intended to open new doors for our brokerage professionals; the WBENC certification standard is accepted by thousands of corporations and government entities,” Vasil said. “Our New Jersey brokers are now positioned to serve local, state and federal government agencies; businesses and health care networks; and property owners. Further, our new designation has enabled the creation of a nationwide Lee & Associates – WBE network spanning all 50 states and Canada.”

Vasil noted that, although Lee & Associates’ Garden State offices have a new name, the company maintains the same quality service standards clients have come to expect, with an added layer that supports them in achieving their supplier diversity goals. The Lee & Associates – WBE team brings over 600 years of combined practice in commercial real estate brokerage, receivership, property management and consulting.