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Banking on KC – Mary Jane Judy of Polsinelli

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking On KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for tuning in today. On this episode, Mary Jane Judy, the co-managing partner at Polsinelli Law Firm joins us to provide her perspective on Kansas City's real estate scene, leadership opportunities for women, and why she's so passionate about civic involvement. Welcome, Mary Jane.

Mary Jane Judy:

Hey, Kelly. I'm excited to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

What inspired you to become a lawyer? Is it a career path that you felt destined to embrace from a young age? Or did you come to it more gradually?

Mary Jane Judy:

Certainly not destined. I mean, as a kid, I was definitely interested in journalism and politics, and I ran for every possible elected position that was available to any grade schooler or high schooler. So that was always kind of my niche, I guess. But I was actually the first of my six siblings, I'm the youngest of six, the first one to graduate from college, so I don't come from a long line of attorneys or anything like that. And actually, my mom would always kind of prod me I think more towards journalism. And I ended up going to Mizzou and majoring in political science and English.

Mary Jane Judy:

But my folks were actually, they were older when I was born. My dad was 48 and my mom was 44. And the next closest sibling to me was 17, so my mom was actually pregnant with me in my sister's wedding. And she always said that it was easier to find a maternity wedding dress than an appropriate maternity mother of the bride dress. So my parents, although they were not attorneys or anything, were certainly influential, always encouraged me to run for those positions, would help me make signs for student council or whatever it might be. And when I was in college at Mizzou, Cathy Jolly, who was a mentor of mine, she was on the city council and a state rep, from the district that I grew up in, she was running for state rep. And as you know, to win those seats, you go door to door.

Mary Jane Judy:

And she came, she was 28, a young woman running against an incumbent, and met my mom. And I was actually studying abroad at the time. And my mom emailed me and was like, "When you get back, you need to meet with Cathy Jolly and go intern for her in Jefferson City." So I did that, I reached out, set up an interview. I mean, I didn't even know really much about legislature, just being in session from January to May. But met with Cathy at her law office, and she offered me the internship. And the session in 2002, I was her intern, and it was a wonderful experience. And to have a mentor like that, a young woman, it was an incredible and definitely very formative. And so lo and behold, it's junior year in college, and I've got these political science and English degrees, and decided to take the LSAT, and didn't have any idea what kind of law I wanted to practice by any stretch, but that's how I went to law school.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, here you are practicing real estate law. What are some of the trends that you are seeing in Kansas City when it comes to real estate, commercial, residential, compared to let's say previous years, or even nationally? And what's influencing that?

Mary Jane Judy:

Spoiler, Kelly, the pandemic.

Kelly Scanlon:

I was leaving it open in case you had a broader insight than the pandemic.

Mary Jane Judy:

I don't. I don't. The pandemic. So obviously, COVID-19 is influencing everything in the market. And in March, the world, including the real estate market, was certainly just turned on its head. So for the most part, I do a lot of acquisitions, dispositions, and things like that, some leasing work. And those deals, to a certain extent, if they were part of larger M and As of companies or whatever it might have been, it was almost like people froze, like froze in their tracks. And we did a lot, there was a lot of just extensions, or, "Hey, we're going to bump this out a couple months," where people just kind of lost their footing and didn't know what was going to happen.

Mary Jane Judy:

I would say in the last three to four weeks, there's definitely been what I would call a thawing of the freeze to a certain extent. And those really high quality deals are starting to kind of move ahead. Some of the local banks are coming out from the influx of all the PPP to kind of start lending again to some of their folks on real estate deals that are really good. And so we're starting to see that. Obviously, it goes without saying that hospitality and retail are hurting. And I was listening to another podcast, cheating on you, where the person said that the pre pandemic world, that retail was kind of in what he said was the bottom of the seventh inning, and that the pandemic really just kind of accelerated basically kind of the loss of retail as we know it.

Mary Jane Judy:

So to that end, I don't know that trends in Kansas City are much different than other parts of the country. But the good news about here is we have land available, so the industrial market, logistics space, all of that continues to thrive because there needs to be the warehouses to fulfill online orders and get stuff to consumers quickly. We're seeing landlords and tenants kind of work together. I mean, we all heard about Cheesecake Factory saying they're not going to pay their rent, and some of those national retailers that did that. But from seeing kind of landlords and tenants of all shapes and sizes, for the most part, it's in everybody's best interest to work together to figure this out. And if that means we'll abate your rent for a few months and spread it out over the remainder of your lease term, we're seeing a lot of that and those type of things.

Mary Jane Judy:

And obviously, the economic stimulus did help a lot of small businesses. It wasn't all the Shake Shacks of the world. It was a lot of those business that really need it were able to get PPP money from lenders, so that's good. As far as what office space looks like in the future, I know everybody likes to talk about that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. The whole idea of working from home, is that going to have an impact? Are companies going to downsize or just go completely virtual long-term, do you think?

Mary Jane Judy:

Yeah. And I mean, I think, at least my personal experience, it was great. It was a little bit, I had four small kids at home, so that was not great. It was really hard. My husband and I were getting up and working from 4:00 to 7:00, so we could get stuff done before our two year old held us hostage the rest of the day, except when he was napping. So it was so, no, I don't want to do that. If they're in school it'd be okay to be home. But I think companies are starting to look at what their office space needs are going to be in the future. I don't know that anybody's running out and terminating leases or anything like that. But I think it's certainly, it's going to have an impact on companies kind of reconsidering what they actually need, and then providing flexibility towards working from home.

Mary Jane Judy:

I think that there was still some industries where "face time," not FaceTime, like iPhone FaceTime, but face time in the office, still important. I think that people really, to the extent they had not, are starting to let go of that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. Yeah. What I really wanted to talk about today is your leadership roles. As a co-managing partner of Polsinelli, that's a major leadership role in a very large law firm. And you've also held a number of civic leadership positions. You were the president of the Kansas City Board of Parks and Rec. You were on the board of trustees for the National World War I Museum and the chair of the Kansas City, I mean, I could go on, Kansas City, Missouri Liquor Control Board. And we'll talk about all those. But first, let's talk about your involvement with several programs that are designed to develop women's leadership skills and to equip them, to empower them, if you will, to hold more leadership positions. So what are some of those? Why are you involved with them? And what is the good that they're doing in this area?

Mary Jane Judy:

Sure. So the first one that comes to mind when people, women in particular, will say, "Oh, my gosh. How did get involved in that? Or how can I get involved?" And the first place that I point them is to the appointments project that the Women's Foundation runs.

Kelly Scanlon:

Great project.

Mary Jane Judy:

Definitely, definitely. So there was an issue that the Women's Foundation saw a need for, and they created a program to do something about, and it was that women were underrepresented on public boards and commissions. So you just literally sign up online, and then they kind of take you through it. But that program is designed to help women navigate the appointment process, engage with those elected officials to help make appointments that reflect the communities that they live in. So they host trainings and webinars and all sorts of things like that, that are really helpful to women as a first step because in order to get appointed to a board or a commission, you need to be on a list. And the mayor's office does a good job of going to that list to find kind of quality candidates.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. It's been a successful program. I work with the Women's Foundation myself, and I think they blew through their first 100 goal. And I think they blew through that in record time. What are some of the others you're involved in?

Mary Jane Judy:

We have a women's initiative here at the firm. For me, kind of my person experience is that you can go to panel discussions, or you can go to kind of networking events, or whatever. But for me, the way that I want to give back is to mentor young women the same way that I was mentored. To me, it's more those personal relationships and making sure that I connect with, I have an associate who's a second year. We talk about those things, and hey, let's find a board for you to get on. And yes, it may just be being on the young friends of something, but that's how you start. So definitely those types of direct mentorship is definitely where I put my focus.

Mary Jane Judy:

Also, I am on the Great Kansas City Chamber. They have an Executive Women's Leadership Council that I'm the vice chair of, and will be the chair of next year. Although a lot of people haven't necessarily heard of it because we're not really, I would say, out front, it's composed of about 30 women executives that are involved in either their own organizations, advancement programs, or they're the CEO of whatever of company it might be, or the president of the bank, or whatever. So it's definitely a high caliber of women leaders in the community. And that, from my own networking, has been fantastic.

Mary Jane Judy:

So the EWLC, our goal is to promote and advocate and kind of instill some best practices to help women succeed and be leaders in the business community in Kansas City, so we host a few networking events that are geared towards female audiences and small businesses, or things like that. We give back to the community. And we had, the last two years, participated in the Urban Youth Academy's Queens of the Diamond Softball Tournament, which is amazing. It's so fun. It's all women. They do a fantastic job. Of course, kind of our signature event is the annual Athena Award celebration, where we recognize the Athena Award winner, which is a national award, but to our local community, to the Athena Award winner, and then there's also a Young Athena Award that we do each year. So I've really enjoyed meeting and getting to know women certainly in the EWLC.

Kelly Scanlon:

What unique skills do you think women bring to the table when they are in positions of leadership?

Mary Jane Judy:

Yeah. And I hate to obviously totally generalize men as one way and women as another, but certainly, we all know that there's all types of people that make the world go round, and on the leadership spectrum. But women definitely bring, I would say, a more collaborative approach to leadership that I find really valuable, where it's kind of making sure and listening to everybody at the table, and really taking into account the various perspectives.

Kelly Scanlon:

There have been multiple studies that show that organizations that do bring women onto their boards tend to be more profitable. And actually, that there's some argument that they're better community citizens as well, might go back to the collaborative characteristic that you talked about. Now on the flip side, at least traditionally, women aren't known for having strong negotiating skills. And you personally are well known for your strong negotiating skills and bringing those to the table when it comes to your real estate transactions. So in your work with women executives, is that a skill that you think that, as women are getting more into these positions of leadership, do you think it's a skill that they're mastering? And what impact does an inability to negotiate have on women's careers long-term?

Mary Jane Judy:

We kind of have to toe the line between seeming too aggressive or too soft. So I think in negotiating, that's certainly the case. And I think it's something we all still struggle with. And sometimes that's even unconsciously. I don't hop on a call to negotiate a lease and think, "Ooh, I'm really going to have to buck up on this one." But I think it's important that women find their own negotiating voice that's authentic to their personality, or they're not going to be successful. Right? Because you're going to sound like you're faking it. And people can smell that. And it takes time and it takes experience.

Mary Jane Judy:

I remember the first couple of deals that I negotiated. I'd love to have them recorded and listen to the things I said. I mean, it obviously helps to know your material, but definitely my particular method, it leans towards the kind of you win more bees with honey approach. And real estate, for the most part, both parties want to do the deal, and it's our job to be a strong advocate for our client. But normally, you have a buyer who wants to buy and a seller who wants to sell. So both parties are incentivized to get to the same place.

Mary Jane Judy:

So at the same time, when push comes to shove and you do need to stand up for yourself, and I remember I was about 10 days before I had my fourth child. It was first part of July three years ago, and it was about midnight. And I was on a call with about 15 people, and it was just, I basically had, had it. And I kind of read this guy the riot act. And I got an email from a partner in Nashville that was like, "That was amazing." So sometimes you do just have to step up and just let it rip.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, especially if you're not known for doing that, it makes people sit up and listen. I mentioned that you've held a number of civic positions as well. And I mean, when I say a number of, I mean a number of. Let's talk about some of those, why you're so passionate about civic engagement. Sounds like you've got your hands full with the kids. You've mentioned you have four kids. You're involved in all these women's organizations. You have co-managing partner, a major leadership role there at your firm. Why do you still make the time to get involved in things like park and recs board the World War I Museum and a multitude of others that you are involved in?

Mary Jane Judy:

I affectionately call these little gigs my side shows. I never have done anything just for the sake of doing it. Every one of the ones that you mentioned, I really had a passion about, especially the parks board. I think it's important for us to, it sounds like cliché, to give back, but to lend our skillsets to the community. It's important that my kids see me doing that, so if ever somebody had a day off school, had to stay home for whatever reason, and we had a meeting, I would bring them. In fact, I brought a 10 day old to a parks board meeting because we weren't going to have quorum unless I was there. So I think it's important that my kids see both my husband and I engaged in the community.

Mary Jane Judy:

Obviously, there were a number of initiatives when I was on the parks board. We were able to authorize a process to kind of codify the boulevard and parkway standards so that projects built on boulevards and parkways are held to a higher development standard than just a regular arterial street, to help keep them beautiful. All of those things have been really rewarding. When our last meeting at the parks board, I'm sure it's on channel three, you could dig it up somewhere because they're all recorded. But I basically sobbed the entire time. So actually, if I ever wanted to run for office, that would be my opponents, definitely some for them to get, would be me crying, to put in a negative ad.

Kelly Scanlon:

You could turn around and put a positive spin on that, you realize. [crosstalk 00:15:30]. You're passionate. You're passionate, that's not a bad thing. How has your involvement in these shaped your view of Kansas City? You've seen a lot of, for lack of a better word, the underbelly, how sausage is made, whatever phrase you want to use to talk about being at the table when a lot of the major decisions around Kansas City get made. How's that shaped your view of Kansas City?

Mary Jane Judy:

It's been great because it provided me the opportunity to meet with folks from all different sectors, where we really all have to come together. And that is from the mayor and the city council as electeds, and the appointed folks at the parks board, and then private developers, and how everybody really has an important role to play, and that by and large, the momentum in this city is moving forward. And people want to do the right thing. The Parks Department, the World War I Museum, all of those, everybody is trying their hardest to make Kansas City the best it can be. And for me, it's the idea that if my kids go off to college, that it's a no brainer for them to want to come back to this city to live and raise their family. So that's kind of the end goal. And there are so many good people working for that, working towards that in this city, that it just gives me a lot of hope.

Kelly Scanlon:

Do you say that you think that's the best thing that's going for Kansas City at the moment, is just that strong desire to move it forward?

Mary Jane Judy:

I think so. I mean, if you even think about the streetcar line, so the expansion of the streetcar. People could poo poo that, and they did, and we still built the initial line, and still work on expanding it. So that's just one example, the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in the city is just something that we should all be really proud of and that we're building something and growing and moving forward.

Kelly Scanlon:

If you had to look back to all of the different things that you have participated in over the years, what, so far anyway, would be the project or board that you're most proud of?

Mary Jane Judy:

Being on the World War I Museum board during the centennial celebration was really special. The World War I Museum is the only kind of national memorial that's not located in Washington DC. And World War I isn't always kind of as sexy, or whatever, as World War II, but there's so many important lessons to learn. Even during a pandemic, I am so impressed with the staff there, that they've been able to really up our online reach to students and to teachers, even about the Spanish Flu and the lessons from that. I mean, it was just like there are so many things to learn, and when folks come to Kansas City, one of the first places that I say, "You've got to go," certainly enjoyed my time on the World War I board. And the museum and the grounds certainly are the front doorstep of Kansas City. And the memorial is in so many images. We're on Monday Night Football, or whatever it might be.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that one of the best things Kansas City has going for it is the collaboration among its citizens, among its leaders, to move Kansas City forward and to work collaboratively towards that. Is there a particular direction or a particular thing that you would like to see happen in Kansas City?

Mary Jane Judy:

I think the public transportation. I mean, I think that really, on the extension of the streetcar to UMKC is really important. I think it needs to go east, west. But I mean, I really think that in order for us to continue to build and to grow, and especially kind of that more in fill development in the city, we really need to put a focus on public transportation.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have had so many insights today. It's been wonderful talking with someone who is on fire about Kansas City. And I know that you'll still be benefiting from some of your activities for many years to come. Thank you so much for being on the show today.

Mary Jane Judy:

Thanks, Kelly. This was so fun.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Mary Jane Judy for joining us on this episode of Banking On KC. We appreciate Mary Jane's business and civic leadership. She is both a mentor and a role model to our next generation of leaders. As Mary Jane said, it's important that her kids see her giving back to the community. Country Club Bank's former chairman, Byron Thompson, was a firm believer in mentoring the next generation and instilling the importance of leading through community service. Like Mary Jane, he led by example, lending his time and resources to a number of community causes. The current generation of Country Club Bank leadership continues Byron's community first philosophy, and we're proud to mentor our associates to continue that legacy of service to Kansas Citians for many generations to come. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City.

Country Club Bank, member FDIC.