By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 2009
In the parking lot just yards from the field at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County, Joanna Lohman's car has at times turned into her personal office space.
Lohman will flip open the book full of phone numbers she carries with her everywhere and make the calls that have become as natural to her as striking a soccer ball as a midfielder and defender for the Washington Freedom, which faces the Chicago Red Stars in its home opener today.
In the Women's Professional Soccer league, where only a select few players make enough money to rely solely on their careers as professional athletes, Lohman has become a prime example of the possibilities for success away from the field.
As a vice president at Tenant Consulting, a commercial real estate brokerage firm based in the District, Lohman, 26, has established a successful business career. All the while, she manages to train and play with the Freedom, which opened its season with a 2-0 road loss to the Los Angeles Sol on March 29.
Lohman's accomplishments have shown other players the possibilities that exist away from the field, and she has embraced the idea of being a role model as someone who is balancing jobs in professional sports and corporate America.
"There are 130 women in this league that would make for amazing women in the corporate world, amazing salespeople," said Lohman, who has made seven appearances with the U.S. women's national team. "As a professional athlete, you're goal oriented, you have leadership capabilities and you're used to not winning every game and coming back. . . . You have the desire and ambition to make it to a higher level. And I think that works really well in the business world.
"My goal was to lead this movement and to make women in my league [see] that besides playing soccer, there is corporate America out there that we can take to our advantage."
Juggling different activities has always seemed natural to Lohman, who was an All-Met selection at Springbrook High in 1999 and a three-time all-American and academic all-American at Penn State. Along with her professional, athletic and academic endeavors, Lohman has maintained an active social life.
The self-declared "mayor" of her group's tailgates at Washington Redskins games (she goes to every home game), Lohman is a person who once, on a whim, tried to get tickets to a Celine Dion show in Las Vegas at the last minute and ended up in the fourth row.
Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra called Lohman the "self-social chairperson of the team." Goalkeeper Kati Jo Spisak said Lohman is "very extroverted and at times can be wild and crazy." Freedom defender-midfielder Emily Janss called Lohman "a free spirit."
"People tell me I can make friends with a plastic bag," Lohman said. "I truly enjoy being social. It's one of the things I value a lot."
Those traits made her a perfect fit for the commercial real estate world, said Craig Lussi, who met Lohman three years ago and eventually introduced her to the business. Lussi was looking for someone to help coach soccer at his daughter's school in Bethesda, and a club coach in the area recommended Lohman. Upon interviewing, Lohman was offered a position as a "soccer consultant," and she worked at the school with several teams.
Lussi said he soon saw in Lohman the attributes he thought might translate well to corporate real estate: competitiveness and an outgoing personality that seemed to draw people to her.
Lohman quickly picked up on the intricacies of the business, Lussi said, and soon she obtained her real estate license and joined Lussi at Studley, a commercial real estate firm.
"She became very successful very quickly," Lussi said. "If you get a meeting every day in this business, you'll be very rich. She got three meetings from the parking lot in Laurel before practice."
At Studley, Lohman and Lussi, in coordination with the conservation organization American Forests, helped develop a carbon-neutral calculator that enables companies to reduce or eliminate the carbon footprints in their offices, and Lohman was recognized by former vice president Al Gore in 2007 as an environmental leader.
Having established a career in the area, Lohman looked for a way to remain in Washington after she was chosen by St. Louis Athletica in the WPS general draft in October. In January, Athletica traded Lohman's rights to the Freedom for a pick in another draft that took place after the WPS combine.
"I knew we had a team here and I knew it could be possible for me to come to Washington and have kind of the ideal situation," Lohman said. "So the GM called me and I said, 'I'm not coming.' He was a little bit upset about it, but he understood my circumstances. And I was lucky enough that [Gabarra and Freedom assistant coach Clyde Watson] wanted me to come on the team and they were able to finagle the trade, so I ended up here in Washington. But it never crossed my mind even one second to leave here."
In December, Lohman and Lussi left Studley to relaunch Tenant Consulting, which Lussi originally founded in 2002. The company, which Lohman described as a "niche" business, has not suffered in the economic downturn, instead finding success in working with tenants who are looking to extend leases at current low rates or are searching for ways to become more cost efficient.
Lohman hopes to eventually manage a WPS team. She has already started to work with Mark Washo, the Freedom's president and general manager, in the front office.
A Freedom reserve, Lohman did not travel to California for the season opener. But Gabarra praised her intelligence and versatility -- she can play midfield or in the back -- and Lohman said she will work in whatever capacity is best for the team. She also will continue to mentor her teammates on their career prospects apart from soccer, and encourage companies to look into a valuable resource she feels is untapped.
Her impact is already being felt by her Freedom teammates.
"That whole idea of the real world, the business world, is kind of scary," said Janss, who is learning about corporate real estate under Lohman's guidance. "So when you see one of us being able to step in there and kind of grab it by a hand and run with it, and manage it, too, and be able to train and still play at the highest level, I think kudos. You take that example and try to run with it."