DiscoverREALtalk - Conversations with Commercial Real Estate LeadersREALtalk – with Toni Rossi (Infrastructure Ontario)
REALtalk – with Toni Rossi (Infrastructure Ontario)

REALtalk – with Toni Rossi (Infrastructure Ontario)

Update: 2021-03-05


On this episode of REALtalk, Toni Rossi, President, Real Estate Division at Infrastructure Ontario, joins REALPAC’s CEO Michael Brooks and COO Carolyn Lane, to talk about choosing a career in real estate, being a woman in commercial real estate, professionalizing government real estate, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.

The episode covers:

  • Toni’s journey to joining the real estate industry

  • Lessons learned from the sporting world

  • Public sector real estate mechanics

  • How to thrive in a male dominated industry

  • How to bring others along: ensuring an equitable approach

  • Professionalizing Government real estate

  • Being the first woman Board Chair at REALPAC

About Toni Rossi:

A 30-year real estate professional, Toni Rossi leads the Province of Ontario Real Estate Portfolio – one of the largest in Canada – and served as Infrastructure Ontario’s (IO) Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. Toni was also President of IO’s Lending Division and a key member of the Executive Team merging the Ontario Realty Corporation and IO in 2012.

Prior to joining IO, Toni was with Oxford Properties and Cadillac Fairview. Having her ICD Designation, Toni shares her knowledge and experience with industry and community. She is a Director for Habitat for Humanity Canada. Toni also served as Board Chair for Habitat Toronto, was the first Chair of the largest Canadian Women Build and the inaugural Board Chair for a Canadian Olympic Athlete’s Fund, ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, was Board Director for Toronto CREW, and a member of Toronto’s Legacy and Toronto CivicAction committees.

Toni currently serves on Ryerson’s Realty Advisory Board, ULI’s Advisory Board, co-chairs the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Realty Committee, co-chaired the 2017 Toronto Real Estate Forum and is Chair of the REALPAC Board.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): I’m pleased to welcome Toni Rossi to REALtalk. Toni is the current President, Real Estate Division of Infrastructure Ontario, where she has been for the last 10 years, maybe 13 if you add in the Ontario Realty Corp experience to it. Before that, she was Director of Development for two years at Oxford, and before that, a 17 year stint with the Cadillac Fairview Corporation in three roles as General Manager of the TD Center, as Director of National Operations, and as Director of National Marketing. Quite a tour of duty there. She’s a past Director of Toronto Crew, a co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at ULI and is a Director at Habitat for Humanity Canada.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Fun fact. Toni was a professional beach volleyball player, as was her husband. But most importantly, Toni is our current REALPAC Board Chair and our first woman Board Chair ever. Welcome, Toni.

Toni Rossi (REALPAC): Thank you, Michael.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): I’m also pleased to be joined today by my colleague and co interviewer Carolyn Lane, the Chief Operating Officer at REALPAC and the Vice President of Member Engagement. Welcome, Carolyn.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Thank you. Michael, I’m happy to join you today.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): All right. Today, Carolyn and I will be talking to Toni about her journey from the sand to the bricks and mortar, a career in a male dominated business, Canadian commercial real estate. We’ll also talk about themes of bringing others along, which we’ll explain as we get into the discussion, the lure of public sector real estate and Toni’s view of the way forward. So with that, let’s get started, Toni. Question on top of people’s minds, how does one jump from playing beach volleyball on tour to a career in commercial real estate? Are there any parallels between the two?

Toni Rossi (REALPAC): Yeah, well, you know what? Before we get anyone’s hopes real high, the tour that we had when I was playing beach volleyball years ago was a very small one today. Today, the tour is huge. But so it was, I’ll call it an extracurricular. I love sports. I’ve always been a sport individual. You can call me a tomboy from the get go. So I spent a lot of time as a kid playing in every sport possible, spent a lot of time in high school. I went to an all girls school, so I was on every team. And fun fun fact as well, I wanted to be a lawyer, believe it or not! But when I was in high school, I had a lot of my teachers saying to me, don’t waste your mind. Why would you ever want to be in sport? So being a little bit of a rabble rouser, I ended up not going into law school. I ended up actually taking science and kinesiology at the time. It was physical and health education. But but at UFT which which truly helped. If I take a look at all of the things that I had done from a sport perspective in what I am doing today, it truly helped in all of the elements. It helped with respect to, you know, how I lead the team that helped with respect to including people. It helped with respect to helping your teammates and working as a team always in getting the best results. It was always excellence driven and very focused, as in making sure people bring their best self and and support brings that out in people.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Carolyn, over to you.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Thanks, Michael. OK, so, Toni, during your career, you’ve been in the private commercial real estate sector and in the public real estate sector. How do you manage your career in what has been and largely still is an industry dominated by white men?

Toni Rossi (REALPAC): I guess I have to step first and say I actually have a ton of respect for old white men. I’ve lived with them. I grew up with them, and I spent all my time around guys. And I talked a little bit earlier about being a tomboy. Well, I’ve had a great role modeling right through from my dad to my brother, who really exhibited an ability to actually include women. So my dad obviously coming as a young man over to this country and starting with nothing, building a great home. And my love for real estate probably came a little bit from my dad in his ability to make a home, the place where people gather to understand what it takes to build equity. My brother is almost seven years older than I am, and maybe I got my love for sport from him, and he would be always playing with the guys, street hockey, basketball, you name it. And of course, being the annoying little sister that I was, I constantly would be at his coattails and never let him go at anywhere without me tagging along. And I would find myself being the only girl ever going out at one point after three, four or five, six times going out and watching and cheering and doing everything you could. Somebody didn’t show up, so I got the honor of actually being shoved in for one of these games. And I think I surprised not only myself, but I surprised all the guys that were playing hockey that day. What I found was, as I became part of that group, in that team, conversations occurred and and inclusion occurred. And then the following year, I found other brothers had their sisters coming. So we really had almost the makings of a beginning of hope and inclusion and diverse group on our street.

Toni Rossi (REALPAC): And I think that to me has helped me along the way, both in the real estate world in my career, I’ve always found myself being at boardroom tables, normally with men older than I was, and always found myself being very curious, being very respectful, but also just doing the work and wanting to be at that table. So my career has certainly benefited from a ton of great guys. But probably my love of real estate, funnily enough, has come from a great woman. My grandmother on my dad’s side was the sole survivor of 11 children and so found herself to have land. And she would always talk to all of her grandkids. I thought she gave them all the same advice. But I find out later that the advice that she gave to me was only to me. And she would say to me, look, I may not have been the prettiest woman in town, but boy I had land and I had brains. And because I had land, I had a choice. We’re talking early nineteen hundreds in a small town in Italy. And my grandmother happened to be one that had choice of her future because she had land. So she instilled in me right from the get go, you know, the desire, the love of land and real estate. And then it was blessed with having just great people around me my whole life.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Well, that’s great, Toni. Thank you. Those are those are excellent stories.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Yeah. One of those stories kind of ties into one of the other themes, the idea of bringing others along. What does that mean in the context of being a woman or indeed any visible minority in commercial real estate? How do you bring others along in this industry?

Toni Rossi (REALPAC): Well, I think, again, when I started in my career, there wasn’t a lot of women in senior roles, period. There was a few. There always needs to be

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REALtalk – with Toni Rossi (Infrastructure Ontario)

REALtalk – with Toni Rossi (Infrastructure Ontario)