Best of the Best: NAI’s Amber Brandhagen Talks Women in CRE and How to Work Your Way to the Top

Earlier this year, NAI Global announced our Women’s Alliance Champion Award – a new accolade that recognizes the hard work and dedication of one member of the Women’s Alliance at NAI Global. The award is intended to showcase qualities of outstanding leadership, business achievement, and personal growth. In other words: the markers of truly exceptional talent.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows her that the 2023 recipient of this award was the immensely talented Amber Brandhagen.

In her role as a Principal and Chief Operating Officer at NAI Global Wireless, Amber has completed in excess of USD200 million in lease sales and related transactions and manages around USD50 million in assets. All while still taking the time to mentor and motivate other women in commercial real estate (CRE), and to bring her own special blend of drive and determination to everything else she does in her day-to-day.

We recently sat down with Amber for an in-depth chat about all things CRE and her pivotal role in the NAI Global Women’s Alliance. Here’s what she had to say!

Amber, you were the very first recipient of the Women’s Alliance Champion Award. Can you expand on what that meant to you?
I feel extremely honored to be the first recipient of the award. It’s an achievement I’m really very proud of, and it’s given me an opportunity to elevate my firm and the Women’s Alliance as a whole.

It’s well-deserved! You’ve done some great work with the Alliance. Can you share what motivates that work and your approach to building the capacity of women in CRE?
Over the past year, I have had an opportunity to sit down with many women within the NAI network and hear their stories. What really stuck out to me is how similar our stories are. Many of us have the same struggles with balancing home and work life, being in a male-dominated industry, and striving to be the best we can be in all facets of life.

Being able to listen to, and learn from, other women in the CRE space is extremely motivating. As is seeing those women create and leverage strong, lasting relationships because of their involvement in the Women’s Alliance.

Personally, I’m proud to say that many of the relationships I’ve formed through my activity in the Alliance have become more than just business acquaintances. They have become great friends.

At the end of the day, we all support one another and share in our successes. Bringing the group together once a month to learn, collaborate, and celebrate one another is more than motivating; it’s fun and rewarding.

What’s your top advice for women pursuing a career in CRE?
CRE is a business made for women. Women have natural leadership abilities, and the creativity and flexibility to find innovative solutions to problems. Trust that, and forge your own path. Use your unique strengths and personality to create working relationships that will grow your business.

Also, find a mentor! I would not be where I am today without one. A good mentor will be as invested in your success as you are and will help you to learn the business. If you are a member of CREW, check with your chapter to see if they have a mentorship program. Your firm might also offer something similar.

That’s sound advice. Was there someone who inspired you in your own career?
My business partner, David Moore. David was a member of the fitness gym I managed. In 2013, he approached me after seeing my drive and determination and asked if I would like to come on board in CRE. At that time, he knew I had never worked in real estate, and I didn’t have a college degree. He has since mentored me and we now co-own NAI Global Wireless.

What was the toughest challenge you faced when you were starting out?
Being taken seriously. I started in the business when I was 24. I had no experience, I was naive yet determined and I was constantly referred to as “David’s assistant”, which was never the case. It took me several years to gain respect from my peers and colleagues. Starting at the bottom as a young female with an older generation of men is not easy. You need to have thick skin, a strong will, and determination to make it in this business. 

What change do you hope to see in the CRE industry in the years to come?
Of course, I’d love to see more women in the industry. But also, it would be great to see new CRE professionals, the younger generation, taking advantage of the knowledge and experience the seasoned brokers at their firms have to offer. Real-life experience is invaluable in this industry.

There’s certainly a lot to learn, especially for CRE professionals breaking into a new sector or specialization. Can you tell us a little more about your own area of specialization?
NAI Global Wireless specializes in wireless landlord representation across the US. We assist landlords with new cell leases, amendments, monetization, and more. It’s a niche business that I learned by reading and analyzing hundreds of leases for our team members.

I now have 10 years under my belt, and millions in closed transactions nationally, but there’s still always something new to learn. It’s an ever-evolving business.

Can you talk us through some of the trends you’re seeing?
Absolutely. There’s a lot happening in wireless real estate right now.

5G has rolled out but of course, this wasn’t considered when seasoned leases were drafted in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. So now we are negotiating rental increases, signing bonuses, and bringing other terms and conditions to market with lease amendments.

When 6G rolls out towards the end of 2024, or early 2025, it will allow for another round of negotiations and possible pay points for property owners.

In general, over the past few years, buyers have been paying astronomical prices for cell leases. But we are expecting prices to retreat as the Fed continues to increase rates and with the election right around the corner.

Amber, as a final question: If you wouldn’t mind sharing, beyond your work with NAI Wireless and the Women’s Alliance, what are you most passionate about in life?
My family. I have two beautiful children, Victoria and Ethan. They are my driving factor every single day. I’m working hard to create a legacy for them and to allow them the opportunity to come into this business should they wish to do so. I want them both to know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to as long as they put in the work.

Amber, thank you so much for sharing those insights with us. We’ve really enjoyed learning about your journey and your inspirational work championing women in CRE.