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New at the top: Taking the road less traveled

By Interview with Vanessa Small,

It was August of 2002. I was vice president of investor relations and capital markets at Federal Realty Investment Trust. We owned a large development project on the West Coast, which was outsized relative to the size of the company overall. I was on Interstate 270 on my way home when I got a call from our West Coast communications person. Our project was on fire.

You’re kidding me.

The idea of not stepping up wasn’t really an option for me. I took the last flight out of Dulles.

I’ve been through a fair amount of adversity in my career. I worked at Criimi Mae, which was a mortgage real estate investment trust in Rockville, for four years — two before its bankruptcy and two afterward. I learned a lot about how you think through the way things work out in an adverse situation.

Even here at First Potomac Realty, the company has certainly faced some issues over the last nine months.

But I believe those things that don’t kill us make us stronger.

As a child, I refused to take the easy road. All my friends were playing football, and I played tennis. For college, the comfortable thing would have been to attend University of Maryland, where all my friends were going but instead I went to Indiana University, where I didn’t know a soul.

Establishing a career in investor relations was, until recently, not a career someone would choose.

It’s those things that allowed me to take the road less traveled and prepared me for adversity.

When the big project we had on the West Coast caught fire, someone really needed to work with the senior team to go and pull together a strategy, work on communications and get relevant information to our partners, tenants, investors, banks and institutions. I think that’s where I had the ability to stand up and shine.

It was an interesting time. From a finance perspective, we had just gone to the bond market for the first time in a long time.

There were a lot of questions. Could we still close the bond deal? What were we going to do? We hadn’t really been through a tremendous amount of crisis communication in the past.

Leadership became instinctive.

I really had to rely on people to do their jobs. Leadership and being a boss are two very different things. Anyone can be a boss. It’s just a box on an organizational chart. Leadership is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of people on your team, providing them good direction and stepping in where you need to.

The amount of stuff that needed to get done after the fire was overwhelming. That was the moment that I realized that I couldn’t do everyone’s job. It comes down to trust.

We were able to price the bond deal later that year. The project ended up opening and is now tremendously successful. The greatest demonstration of success is that no one thinks of it at all. It’s like it never happened.

I’m finishing up 12 years at Federal. I want this position at First Potomac Realty Trust to be my last good job. I want to invest the time, strategy, focus and leadership that it takes for this company that is in some ways suffering. I am excited to bring to bear my skills in a way that makes everyone here successful.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Andrew Blocher Position: Executive vice president, chief financial officer of First Potomac Realty Trust, a Bethesda commercial real estate investment trust. He starts Oct. 8. Career highlights: Chief financial officer, Federal Realty Investment Trust; senior vice president, Federal Realty Investment Trust; vice president of capital markets and investor relations, Federal Realty Investment Trust; director of structured finance marketing and modeling, Freddie Mac; president of capital markets, Criimi Mae. Age: 47 Education: BA, finance, Indiana University; MBA, finance, George Washington University. Personal: Lives in Vienna with wife Carolyn and daughters Charlotte, 9, and Audrey, 5.

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