Executive Profile: CBRE's Arden Karson on the best career advice she's received


Age: 57

Birthplace: New York City

Residence: Bay Harbor Islands

Current position: Senior managing director for South Florida, CBRE

Previous positions: Senior VP at the Related Group, Lennar and LNR

Organizations/boards: Executive board member, Friends of the Underline; advisory board, University of Miami Masters in Real Estate and Urbanism program; Ross Real Estate Fund at University of Michigan; ULI South Florida; Deepblocks

Education: MBA, Harvard Business School; B.A., Tufts University

In the real estate business for 25 years, Arden Karson oversees one of South Florida’s largest commercial real estate and property management firms.

When she’s not helping CBRE’s 400-plus regional employees adapt to virtual meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, she makes time to provide leadership on several organizations’ boards, and works with the Friends of the Underline to create a linear park along the Metrorail in Miami.

CBRE’s building engineers and facilities teams are keeping the buildings the company manages in operation until the bulk of the workers can return.

To show appreciation for those on the frontline treating patients, she committed to launching the Fort Lauderdale chapter of Frontline Foods, which delivers meals to health care workers.

It is the latest chapter in Karson’s long history of community involvement.

Growing up, where were your favorite South Florida hangouts? We used to spend a lot of time at North Shore Beach. I love water sports. I spent a lot of time on boats and waterskiing. I also spent a lot of time at Miami Dolphins football games. We were founding season ticket holders.

What was your first job? I worked a bookkeeping job, running the bank accounts for my family. I earned $25 a month. I would pay the bills, write the checks and balance the checkbook. My first job outside of the house was at As you Like It, a women’s clothing store at Dadeland Mall. That is where I first developed my interest in fashion.

Did your family influence your entry to the real estate field? My grandfather was one of the original real estate developers in South Florida. He came to South Florida from New York City in the ’20s. He was part of the development team that actually developed Bay Harbor Islands. My grandfather’s name is on the plaque. I have always been fascinated with real estate and engineering and construction.

What was the best career advice you received? Get out of the office. Not to just sit in a private office, but to spend time talking and listening to people, including employees and customers, because you can learn so much.

How did you make the transition from working for a developer to the brokerage and management business? The position I’m in now brings together all of the real estate experience I’ve had. Starting out in the business world as a banker, I learned about the debt side of real estate. I learned about the equity side of the equation. I’ve been involved in facilitating transactions. I’ve worked on condo conversations and learned about the condo market, so I applied that as a developer at the Related Group.

What was the most challenging time in your career? The downturn of 2008. I was working for a firm that did condominium conversions, so we got a little bit upside-down on a couple of deals that, ultimately, we were able to work through with our lenders. But at the same time, the downturn enabled me to do something I always wanted to do: a startup business. I was always interested in health and wellness, so I founded an organic produce e-commerce business. I stayed with the business a couple years and then got the call from Jorge Pérez to join Related. It was easy to get back in the industry.

Why did you get involved with Friends of the Underline? Being so inspired by Meg Daly. She is a high-school classmate of mine, and she and her family have been such great community supporters. When I learned about the initiative and how it touched all the things I’m interested in, it was easy. The health and wellness component. Transforming cities. The landscaping component. The arts element of it. Seeing the impact that the High Line in New York has had on the city really motivated me to get involved in a big way because I truly believe the Underline will be transformative for our community.

What attracted you to the property technology firm Deepblocks? I have this interest in startups. I was also drawn to the founder of the company, Olivia Ramos, her commitment and her intellect. She was really onto something.

What are your hobbies? I’m obsessed with design. I make it a point to tour many new residential and commercial properties. I love to see best-in-class design and new materials. I have a list of projects I haven’t seen yet on the residential side and commercial side, and hospitality, as well. With the pandemic and everything shut down, I’m checking out virtual tours.

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Author Olivia Ramos
Founder and CEO of Deepblocks, holds master's degrees in Architecture from Columbia University and Real Estate Development from the University of Miami. Her achievements before Deepblocks include designing Big Data navigation software for the Department of Defense's DARPA Innovation House and graduating from Singularity University's Global Solutions and Accelerator programs.