Kerry Olson Hawkins is known in commercial real estate circles as a star broker in the Boston suburbs, but in her personal life the CBRE first vice president has put down roots in the densely-populated Charlestown neighborhood, where she’s reaching out to diverse populations.
Fluent in Spanish, French and Portuguese, Hawkins serves as an interpreter at Harvest on Vine, a food pantry affiliated with her Charlestown parish, St. Mary – St. Catherine of Siena. On food distribution days each month, Hawkins helps Charlestown residents who have language barriers fill out applications and qualify for donations of groceries and household staples.
“Charity starts at home, and I was actively looking for a charity that benefits my neighborhood and the people in it,” said Hawkins, who also volunteers at Rosie’s Place and Cradles to Crayons. “What’s happened unfortunately with gentrification is the gap has widened between the haves and have-nots, which has been very challenging.”
Hawkins credits her foreign language skills to a high school-era ultimatum from her father – “It was either [attend] Catholic girls’ school or [take] high school Latin” – and she double-majored in Spanish and government at Colby College.
Starting as an administrative assistant for an investment sales team at CBRE/New England in 1999, Hawkins gained experience in various facets of the industry including financing, leasing and marketing. But she was determined to try her hand in the brokerage side of the business, becoming the only female broker in a 70-member team in 2002. Hawkins said the new position was a better fit for her personality and career goals.
“It made sense because it was fast-paced, every day is different and I really enjoy getting to see the fruits of your labor: watching the buildings go up and spaces transformed,” Hawkins said.
Since then, Hawkins has represented companies such as Marriott International and Blackberry in securing regional headquarters, completing more than 1,200 leases totaling over 9 million square feet. Currently she represents owners of suburban office portfolios totaling nearly 2.8 million square feet.
Female brokers often transition into other roles within commercial real estate companies, but Hawkins said her family’s decision to live in the city minimizes commuting times and work-life conflict. She’s seen more women enter the industry in the past decade amid the growth of college real estate programs, and the rising influence of professional groups such as CREW Boston and CBRE’s in-house women’s networking group.
Hawkins and her husband Robert settled in Charlestown 15 years ago and chose to raise their three children in an urban neighborhood with a wide range of economic levels. As their oldest child approaches school age, they recently bought a larger home on the same block.
“We’re big believers in public schools and making sure the kids realize that not everybody has had the opportunities afforded to them,” she said. “We love city living and have committed to raising our children here.”