Sarah Abrams thought for sure she would be a real estate lawyer, especially as she was making her way through law school at Cornell.
But in her third year there, Abrams learned about a brand-new master’s degree program for commercial development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the school’s Center for Real Estate.
So, once she earned her law degree and passed the bar exam, Abrams, now Iron Mountain’s senior vice president in charge of global real estate, shipped off to Cambridge, where she graduated in the very first class out of MIT’s new real estate center in 1985.
“It really hit home with me,” Abrams told Banker & Tradesman of her time studying real estate development. “There are a lot of things that I like that real estate pulls together – business and commerce, figuring out how to maintain and build a competitive edge for business and using real estate as a tool to enable business. I like buildings and construction and design and seeing a project through from beginning to end.”
After receiving her degree, Abrams started down the road of building buildings as a project manager with a now-defunct development firm. From there she struck out on her own, heading up commercial projects in Massachusetts and New Jersey.
It was in this capacity in the early 1990s when Abrams got a call from U.S. Trust, a firm eventually acquired by Citizens Bank, to become part of their real estate-owned (REO) department in the early 1990s. Then in 1996, she was recruited by Fidelity for their corporate real estate unit, her first foray into corporate real estate work from the development world.
She worked her way up, eventually landing as president of Fidelity’s real estate arm, in charge of all office development for the financial services giant.
Then, in 2010, her son was turning 10 and Abrams felt it was time to focus more on her family, so she stopped working full time, although she continued to lecture at Babson and was president of NAIOP in Massachusetts and active in other industry groups.
“It’s not easy balancing work and personal life, but my husband has been able to work primarily from home, and that has given us some flexibility,” Abrams said. “We chose to live in Newton for a variety of reasons, including that it’s close to the city and minimizes commuting time. But it’s still hard.”
While she relished the time she was able to dedicate to her family, the work bug caught up with her. Abrams joined Iron Mountain just last January to help drive the firm’s globalization and transform its corporate real estate practice into a strategic business partner with the primary business. The information storage and management firm has operations in more than 35 countries and a real estate portfolio in excess of 65 million square feet in over 1,100 locations.
“Whether in her role as senior vice president of global real estate for Iron Mountain, as president of NAIOP, NEWIRE or CoreNet, or as president of Fidelity Real Estate Co., Sarah has consistently challenged and inspired all those around her,” wrote Marc Margulies, principal for Margulies Perruzzi Architects, who nominated Abrams for a 2013 Women of FIRE Award.
“She thinks deeply about the impact of real estate on business, and is always seeking better, more creative, more efficient ways to provide a productive work environment for our community,” Margulies added. “She has a unique ability to foster a collaborative environment while insisting on the same standard of individual excellence that she sets for herself. Sarah is universally recognized by those who know her as one of the hardest-working people they know, but she also finds time to ask questions, to teach, to mentor, and to listen.”