The Power is Now

Leadership begins with confidence and collaboration, says Marin real estate CEO – North Bay Business Journal

Being at the helm of a family-owned business can come with pressure not found in other job situations.

In the same year she was born, 1970, Stephanie Plante’s grandfather Martin Bramante started San Rafael-based CPi Developers. Today she is CEO, president and sole owner after buying out an aunt and two cousins.

While change can be good, Plante acknowledges in a family-rooted business, change from the way it’s always been done — like converting paper files to digital documentation — carries emotional strings. As can another issue: contemplating who takes over the business.

“I’ve read a lot about how you get the first or second generation after the founder to bite and stay in, but after that it gets harder. I think there is a pull to keep it going for me,” Plante said.

But she also admitted, “I’m not quite attached to it as (my grandfather) was.”

For now, she plans to continue to acquire, manage and develop commercial properties throughout California. No date is penciled in on the calendar for retirement nor is she eyeing a buyer for the company.

The following are other insights Plante shared with the North Bay Business Journal.

What is your approach to making business decisions that are tough and important?

I have been fortunate to find a few great mentors and consultants over the years that I can lean on. I have learned it works very well to know what you don’t know and ask for help.

What trends that affect your industry keep you up at night?

I think most of us small business owners worry about COVID and its variants. The resulting equity issues that have been exposed definitely concern me as do the stories about how long certain systems like the supply chain will take to recover.

What qualities do you admire in other executives that you’ve tried to emulate?

I admire people who lead with a collaborative style. I am attracted to confidence in a leader and I often seek out women who are fighting for other women in the workforce and beyond.

How have your mentors had a profound impact on your career?

Without one mentor in particular, I may not have stayed in this career. With all due respect to my relatives, family business is complicated. I am very fortunate to have a mentor who specializes in this field and he has kept me from giving up more than once.

What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career which you now recognize as an important one?

Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut. I am such a believer in what I feel is right and just, but I am still learning when to speak up and when to hold my cards. It is an art.

Even in a family business I have a tendency to want to skip to the conclusion so we can just put our cards on the table now. But you can’t skip all the chapters, you have to go through all the stops.

It’s really about patience. I’m trying to learn patience.

When I don’t have a project before the city of San Rafael and I have the opportunity to give back time and I can advocate for another organization I will speak up. I’m a community member with an interest in the good of the community. I really try to take that responsibility seriously.

With your grandparents having started the business, what are some of the added pressures of running CPi?

It’s that sense of obligation. My mom died when I was 29 so I chose to help my grandparents by coming to work and trying to pick up where my mom had left off. There were pressures from feeling like I was elevated a generation once she passed. Not only did my grandparents think of me as one of their daughters, but many people in the business community did as well.

Would you encourage your two children to follow in your footsteps? Why or why not?

Probably not. I want each of my kids to pursue their own interests. If that pursuit leads one of them back to commercial real estate or property development, I would want it to be on their own terms.

What would you re-do in your career if you could and why?

I think it’s what I would have re-done before my career began, really, and that would be to have branched out a little further. Had I known I would end up running my family’s business, I might have moved away for college and traveled abroad for my studies as well.

I went from San Rafael High to UC Berkeley.

My mom was a single mom from the time I was 10. She was divorced. She had never been alone until I went to college. I could not blame her that I was not encouraged to look out very far.

I stayed quite tethered to my mom by going to school so close and maybe that led to choices I made for work.

I have wanted to encourage my kids to go wherever they want. I think the world view expands.

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