Jodie McLean is CEO of EDENS, one of the nation’s leading private owners, operators and developers of retail real estate. Over her more than 25 years at EDENS, she has established herself as a key player in the company’s growth and expansion. A marketplace leader, EDENS is capitalized by blue-chip investors and has assets valued at $6.5 billion.
I recently sat down with Jodie to discuss her experience as a female CEO leading her company through the COVID-19 pandemic, her approach to leadership and how people who bring more diverse perspectives can have an impact in the boardroom.
It has been widely cited in the media that countries led by female leaders have been faring better during the pandemic. Why do you think that is?
I believe there are a few traits that female leaders possess that are helping them fare better during this time. For one, women are generally more vulnerable and humble. I have received more emails than ever from my people thanking me for my leadership style, which has caught me completely off guard. I am keeping them so that once we are in the new normal, I will be able to remind myself of these moments.
Women also tend to be more risk averse and decisive. My female peers and many female political leaders moved quickly to protect the downside. We also tend to be more empathetic. We acted with empathy for our people and prioritized their safety and the safety of our communities.
Lastly, we embraced what I refer to as “radical communication.” It became obvious to me that my people were scared for their families’ health, for themselves, for their jobs, for the business and for our communities. Maybe it was natural for me to feel that energy because I’m a mother of four. I didn’t have to be in the same room—I could sense it over video calls. It was critical to employ transparent, constant communication. That has actually given us the ability to steer the boat quickly and be decisive. Looking back, maybe not every decision will have been right, but acting quickly and decisively, and communicating with radical transparency, added up and led to us to being able to steady the boat as quickly as possible.
In your view, did this build trust?
Yes, our people needed to feel cared for as human beings and know that they and their families were being cared for. I hate to say definitively that this approach is purely female-centric, because I know many men that are the same way. But as a woman, it was natural to think of the safety of the family first—and it’s easy to extend that to the workplace.
In March, in the early days of the pandemic, we ordered 25,000 masks from China when we could not gain access to them here in the U.S. For us, it was a huge number and at that point, there was no consistency or clear guidance with regard to mask policies or usage. But being able to make a decision, set a policy and move quickly to take one of the risks off the table for our employees, retailers and partners made a huge difference for everyone.
Also, when employees are engaged and feel that they and their families are safe and cared for, they will be prosperous at work. Masks protected our people. Once we had handled that risk, we were then able to consider what to do for the business and move quickly.
How did your approach impact decisions for the business?
I am a hardcore businesswoman. But as a female leader, I am leading first and foremost with understanding the consumer and humanity rather than through the lens of finance or economics. It’s about knowing the consumer and making sure our business plan aligns with the consumer’s needs. Once we were into the pandemic and realized that COVID-19 was going to accelerate certain trends, what we found so empowering was that we were already on top of these trends. We weren’t caught off guard. We just got to the finish line about three years earlier than anticipated. For example, seeing e-commerce accelerate from 10%–12% of sales to 22%–25% didn’t catch us on our back foot. Needing to reposition retail space to other uses did not trip us up. We had already worked to shape our portfolio with an eye on hyperlocalization, which is going to be one of the biggest trends coming out of the pandemic crisis.
How do you think these traits will translate into the boardroom?
I’ve been a real estate developer my whole life and I’m not afraid to take risks as long as I can quantify the downside. I do think that this is something that probably is pretty central to the female experience. In good times, I look at my male peers and think, “Why didn’t I just unabashedly go for it?” But in bad times, I’ve found that I am often positioned exceedingly well because I’ve built a safety net, mitigating risks.
Until now, financial economics have always led in the boardroom. The pandemic and social unrest are bringing to light a whole new set of risks to consider. There is going to be more discussion and people really have the bandwidth to hear it now. Topics like racial inequality, diversity and culture are going to matter like never before. If you’re a female CEO or board member, you bring a diverse perspective to the table—and diversity really, truly helps us generate better results in every measurable way. These are critical points when we talk about driving the very best financial results.