Commercial Real Estate and Women
Few little girls dream of big time careers in commercial real estate. Amy Durfee West is a prominent Denver-based attorney with a booming practice specializing in all things related to commercial land and buildings. She speaks widely on the intellectual and financial rewards to be found in varied careers within the industry – and has made it her mission to steer little girls toward it. But this wasn’t the career about which she had dreamed.
A solo practitioner in the city where she was born, West says that when she was growing up she wanted to be F. Lee Bailey and save the world. So she took the requisite courses in legal representation of the poor and in environmental law at the University of Denver College of Law, where she graduated in 1979, but her highest grades were in basic business, tax, and real estate. "It should have been a clue that my talents lay elsewhere," she says.
It turned out that her first job was as a full-time law clerk for a firm specializing in banking law, but when she was not offered an associate position, she got a job at a boutique real estate law firm, working for a man she calls the "dean of Colorado real estate law." With that move, she had found her niche. She has worked it ever since.
West speaks on "Advancing the Success of Women in Commercial Real Estate" at a prospective member breakfast for ICREW (Industrial Commercial Real Estate Women) of New Jersey on Thursday, September 14, at 8:30 a.m. at the Woodbridge Hilton. Cost: $40. Register at www.icrewnj.org.
West has loved real estate law, riding 26 years of booms and busts. She even sees a relationship between the history degree she earned at the University of Colorado (Class of 1975) and law. "Real estate is really real – you drive by it," she says, "and it is historical – dusty old common law principles and new stuff like the Common Interest Ownership Act, which governs condos and planned developments."
Her job also involves a lot of leasing work, representing either landlords or tenants, which she enjoys. "In leasing," she says, "there is still room for creativity, innovations, and pulling out your negotiation, problem solving, and communication skills."
Years ago someone told her she should join the CREW Network, a North American association of more than 6,500 commercial real estate industry professionals in 57 cities in the United States and Canada, which has been around for 23 years.
For years she wrote dues check and went to lunches, but then she decided it was time to commit herself: "I realized that you don’t get business by paying dues. You have to get involved and get to know people." So 10 years ago she joined a committee in the Denver chapter and soon found herself at its helm. Next she became president-elect for CREW Denver and then a delegate to CREW Network, where she has served on committees and on the board.
CREW has two features that distinguish it from other networking organizations: it covers the whole range of professions associated with commercial real estate, and its focus is to make women successful.
Commercial real estate includes office buildings, shopping centers, and big residential developments, including planning processes, financing, and securitizing, everything except buying or selling individual houese. Professionals in the industry include appraisers, brokers, attorneys, environmental consultants, property managers, staff of real estate investment trusts, developers, and owners of rental and income properties.
Other organizations have people sorted out by professions, like the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties or the Building Owners and Managers Association, but CREW brings everyone together. "CREW is one organization where you could do the entire process with members," says West.
CREW is also the only organization with a primary goal of advancing the success of women in commercial real estate, helping them to achieve parity in opportunity, influence, and power.
"If we achieve what we want to achieve, CREW will work itself out of a job entirely or people will forget that `W’ stands for women. Either CREW will be where all the deals are getting done, or it will wither away," says West.
For the moment, women are far from parity. Last year the CREW Network commissioned an Industry Research Study to develop a baseline of women’s positions in the industry. Its conclusions are mixed. Whereas the percentage of commercial real estate professionals who are women has grown from 32 percent to 36 percent over the past five years, progress has been spread unevenly across the industry.
Women comprise 51 percent of the professionals specializing in asset, property, and facilities management; 44 percent of those in financial and professional services; but only 23 percent of those in brokerage, sales, and leasing. "Women are well represented in property management and the professions like law and accounting," says West, "but they are under represented in brokerage and development and at the C level – CEO, CFO, and COO."
Another finding is that men in commercial real estate report higher compensation levels than women in similar positions with similar years of experience, across all specializations, experience levels, and ages. Yet the people in the study, says West, "all think they’re making the same. They don’t know about this disparity, because women don’t like to talk about money."
This year CREW is continuing its research by presenting study results to chapters across the country and asking people to fill out a questionnaire about their reactions, their speculations about why things are the way they are, and what can be done.
West has her own opinions about why women haven’t advanced as they should in the field. As an analogy, she cites a little girl on her son’s soccer team 20 years ago: "She was the best player in terms of all of her skills, but for some reason she wouldn’t shoot," she says. "A lot of women in careers are like that. They have all the skills, know all the people, but don’t go in for the kill."
Musing about the reasons behind women’s second-class status in commercial real estate, she cites another finding of the study – the big difference between the numbers of men and women who have all or much of their compensation based on performance.
"I think there is a direct correspondence between the fact that very few women are working on commission and their making less money," she asserts. Why do women prefer salary to commission? Perhaps they are more security minded, she observes, but another possibility is that they are "not being mentored, trained, or taught appropriately that they can do it. Guys tend to be bolder about taking that kind of risk."
Even though girls know the boys’ rules more than they used to – from playing team sports and having moms who work – West says that women still see themselves in a web of relationships while men "naturally think of themselves as `where I am on the hierarchical ladder.’"
At the same time, she says that the way women relate to other people is a huge strength in an industry where deals are complex and require many kinds of expertise.
"The natural way that women make friends, find out about people and figure out what they can do, and help create networks is incredibly helpful in keeping a deal going, which requires getting the right people to the table, getting them talking, and keeping them talking." But there is a downside, says West. "The weakness in the female relational style is that women tend not to value or realize the value of where you are on the organizational chart."
CREW is exploring solutions that will help women succeed. One is to divvy up the commission among all members of a team, realizing that the top sales person would not have made the sale, for example, without his assistant who kept the details straight, put together a great presentation, and had everything ready on time. "Women’s work has traditionally been essential, but has not generated a dollar assignment that people recognize," observes West.
Another initiative is to encourage older women to mentor younger ones, because men are more likely to mentor younger men. "If an older man and a younger woman are hanging out," she explains, "there is a sense of the possibility of an inappropriate relationship." But many senior women in the industry are not taking younger women under there wings, and West says that one thing CREW can do is to "help women understand that they need each other across the entire career path."
CREW Careers, the association’s charitable arm, is working to interest more women in the field through programs for junior high school students about what kinds of careers are available and how to prepare for them. They are thinking now about reaching out to young women in college, on the brink of choosing a career. Another idea they have been batting around is to develop a CREW MBA.
West believes that every individual needs a personal strategic plan. "I like to tell CREW members," she says, "that each of us is responsible from the day we graduate from college for our own career – what we want, where we are going, and what resources we need to devote to get there." CREW is there to help women develop the perspective they need to be successful. West concludes, "I think women can be taught that they have more power and natural ability to make money than they think they can do." – Michele Alperin
When Is A Freelancer Really a Freelancer?
Independent contractors. Every business needs them, but do you, as an employer, know the difference between an independent contractor and an employee? Are you sure that the people who are designing your ad agency’s graphics or doing the bookkeeping for your trucking company really are freelancers? Are you positive that they are not eligible for benefits such as unemployment? Would the Department of Labor agree with your assessment of who is your employee and who is a contractor?
Attorney Mark Tabakman advises employers throughout the country on all aspects of labor relations and employment law, and on the development of corporate employment policies. He speaks on "Navigating the Legal Minefields of Hiring, Firing and Independent Contractor Status" at a Mercer NJAWBO meeting on Thursday, September 14, at 6 p.m. at the Harrison Conference Center at Merrill Lynch. Cost: $40. Register online at RSVPmercerdinner@yahoo.com.
The line between who is an employee and who is an independent contractor can be very fine, says Tabakman, an attorney with Grotta, Glassman and Hoffman in Roseland who received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell and his J.D. from Rutgers.
He emphasizes that different state and federal agencies have different standards for what determines employee versus independent contractor status. "It can be a very gray and confusing area," he says. "Each agency, such as labor or equal rights, has its own tests. But basically all of the different groups base their decision on two prongs." The first prong is control. The second is a determination on whether or not the contractor has his or her own business separate from the employer’s business.
Independence. To qualify as an employee, "the employer must exercise control over the person," says Tabakman. "For example, a plumber comes into your house to fix your toilet. You don’t hand him the tools and say, `use this screwdriver.’ He chooses how he will do the job and at the end of it he gives you a bill to pay."
An employee, on the other hand, is told how to accomplish the task. His payment is based on number of hours worked, rather than on whether on not the task is accomplished at the end of that time period. "If he is paid a certain amount per hour rather than per job, that can be an issue," says Tabakman.
Benefits. If a company supplies health insurance, paid vacation hours, or personal days to a deliverer, doctor, or dog groomer doing work for it, that person is almost certainly an employee. If that deliverer, doctor, or dog groomer has an assistant or helper and the employer has a say in who that person is, it probably means that an employer-employee relationship exists. Should a question of status arise, the department of labor will look into these factors.
Business ownership. Does your contractor have his own business? This can be difficult to establish, and if a governmental agency questions whether the contractor does own a business, it is up to the employer, not the contractor, to make the case, says Tabakman. A business card is one possible proof, but an even better proof is an ad in the telephone book.
To be really safe, he recommends that employers use independent contractors who are incorporated. "Making payment from one company to another is good proof that the person is not your employee," he says. Another good piece of evidence is an employer ID number. Better yet, if the contractor makes his own unemployment payments it is "an almost ironclad defense" that he or she is a contractor and not an employee.
Hours. Another area the government will look at is the number of hours the contractor works for the employer, and what percentage of his total number of hours, or total income, comes from that employer. "If the person is working 40 hours a week for one employer, it can be difficult to prove that he is an independent contractor," says Tabakman.
Don’t pay independent contractors on an hourly basis, he advises. Iinstead pay in a lump sum based on work completed.
Record keeping.Audits by the Department of Labor are usually triggered when a person loses a job and applies for unemployment compensation. The person claims he was employed by the company, but there are no records of unemployment being paid in his name. This will often trigger a complete audit of all employees and can end in huge fines for a company if the finding goes against it.
"The potential liability is significant," says Tabakman. "The unemployment statute of limitations is four years. This can add up to a lot of money for an employer, hundreds of thousands of dollars." He says that he recently won a case where the state was ready to levy fines of over $130,000. But that employer was able to prove that the workers in question did in fact own a business, and therefore were independent contractors.
During an audit, every factor comes into play. "Does the person have several 1099s (the annual IRS form for reporting payments to independent contractors, with no taxes withheld), or does he work exclusively for one company? Is there an agreement that the person is free to look for other work? Does he sit in the company office eight hours a day? The totality of circumstances will be judged."
Workspace. Working in the employer’s office may be seen as control under some circumstances, but not in others. A contractor who works one day a week in a particular client’s office but still has several other clients and files income taxes as a business would not be considered an employee.
"I have a cinematographer friend who is the perfect example of an independent contractor," says Tabakman. "He works a few days here, two weeks there. At the end of the year he has dozens of 1099s."
While it may be tougher to prove, a person who works 40 hours a week in one client’s office may still qualify as an independent contractor. "Again, it is an issue of control. If the person is happy with one client, there is nothing that says they must go out and look for more work," says Tabakman. The issue becomes whether he is allowed to look for additional work.
While labor laws can seem gray, murky and complex, understanding the basics is the best way to stay on the right side of the legal fence.
– Karen Hodges Miller
From Ghana Roots A Princeton Business
Emelia Etse, known to one and all as Nana, had a dry foot problem that gave birth to a company, a factory in Africa, and a living wage for a number of people in her hometown of Kumasi, Ghana.
Etse, who worked for Bloomberg as an equity analyst before becoming an entrepreneur, tells the story of her company, JoeNana, at a meeting of the Princeton Circle of Entrepreneurs on Friday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Panera Bread on Nassau Street. E-mail Helen Fazio at email@example.com for more information.
Six years ago, when she was working as an equity analyst for Bloomberg, Etse, having tried a number of local cures, found relief for her dry skin when a friend brought her shea butter from Ghana. There was a problem, though. "I didn’t like the scent," she says. Shea butter, she explains, is made from nuts, and retains a strong nutty aroma. In addition, pure shea butter has a butter-like texture, rather than the creamy texture most people prefer in skin products.
Etse enlisted the help of her husband, Joseph Etse, a scientist with a Ph.D. in natural product chemistry, who works for Novartis in East Hanover, to help formulate a more appealing shea butter cream. He in turn received help from friends who also work as chemists. The result is a cream that contains 50 percent shea butter and that, says Etse, is pleasantly fragrant, having shed its strong natural, nutty aroma.
JoeNana shea butter cream made its official debut at the Princeton YWCA Crafters’
Marketplace in November, 2004. Etse sold some five dozen jars and decided that the product was ready for prime time. The company she and her husband formed to manufacture and distribute JoeNana is designed to make a profit – in about two years, Etse estimates – but it has a larger goal as well.
"My husband and I had been thinking of what to do to pay back our country," she says. Both were born and grew up in Ghana. Etse’s father and his family owned a number of cocoa farms, while her mother raised a family of six. Etse, who was "always interested in finance and accounting," earned a degree in accounting from Rutgers in 1993. She and her husband had immigrated to the United States when he was offered a job working on an aid project for the University of Georgia. They came to New Jersey in 1989 when he took a job with Carter Wallace.
After the idea for a shea butter product was conceived, Etse made a trip to Ghana, to the villages where the shea butter seeds are cooked and made into a cream. "I got so interested," she says. "I wanted to support the women who do it." She has made several trips since, and now employs eight people in Ghana. They prepare the raw shea butter and send it to her home in Belle Mead, where she turns it into JoeNana cream.
That manufacturing scheme is soon to change. She has built a factory in Kumasi and plans to employ 200 people to turn out her product there. The factory manager is her brother, Kwabena Asante, who oversaw construction of the facility. She says that she will pay her factory workers at least twice the prevailing wage in Ghana so that they will be able to raise their standard of living.
Etse now sells much of the JoeNana cream, along with black soap, another product using ingredients from Africa, via her website, www.joenana.com.
She was forced to design the website herself when her younger son, her computer consultant, left for Cornell. He is now a junior, studying computer science and business, and his mom has learned to program a website. "It’s a good thing," she says. "I was so dependent upon him." (Her older son graduated from Ursinus in the spring with a degree in biology and is now working for Bristol-Myers Squibb.)
In addition to building and maintaining the website, Etse does all of the graphics for JoeNana’s labels and marketing materials.
With manufacturing about to go into high gear, she is still struggling with distribution. Most sales now come from the company website and from craft fairs like the one the Princeton YWCA holds each year. Etse has also lined up distributors in Turkey and in Trinidad and is in the process of signing up a distributor in Japan. She is actively looking for more distributors and is in the early stages of trying to get JoeNana products onto store shelves. It’s been hard sledding so far. "I’ve written to Whole Foods," she says. "I haven’t heard back from them. I’m now writing an inquiry to see what they want."
Representatives from the big chains are not returning calls, and visits to smaller stores have not been terribly successful. Part of the problem in placing the product with retailers, says Etse, has been that "we didn’t have the facility in place." Now, with the factory ready to start turning out product, she is confident that stores will be more receptive. "It’s all a matter of getting to the right person," she says.
There is a long road still to be walked, but Etse is confident that JoeNana will make it, and will enrich the lives of hundreds of poor Ghana residents along with the way. – Kathy Spring
Start the Journey To Your Ideal Work
Looking at the layoffs, downsizing, and the "offshoring" of many companies, it is clear that most organizations don’t use their people as assets, says Ann Rosenblum, who calls herself a life purpose coach. "The world of work has changed so much that people view employees more as liabilities," she says. One of her goals is to help employees find ways of appearing as assets.
Rosenblum gives a free talk on "Purpose in Being," which is also the name of her coaching business, on September 16, at 8:30 a.m. at the St. Paul Networking Group at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street in Princeton. For more information, call 609-924-1743.
Rosenblum finds that the vulnerabilities of losing a job can focus people to ask themselves what they really want from a career. One of her coaching clients had been laid off from an IT firm. "He was on the fast track, had his career all mapped out, and suddenly got downsized," she says. "It takes that kind of event to wake people up to look at more reflective, inner questions."
Her client realized he was passionate about staying in the same industry, even though it was moving further and further into recession. "Through perseverance, social networks, and contacts, he was able to identify an opportunity that would allow him to exercise his entrepreneurial spirit and take on a senior level role," she says. And he’s still there after two years.
Another client, in her mid-20s, was in a miserable job and in the wrong relationship when she came for coaching. Rosenblum helped her to pinpoint her priorities and to realize that she was passionate about being of service to others. She quit her job and is now in master’s program to become a guidance counselor. "She’s getting straight As and loving it," says Rosenblum.
Rosenblum’s own professional life could serve as a guidebook to career change, or at least to career adjustment. Born in Baltimore, she moved to New Jersey at 12 when her father took a job as an electronics engineer at Bell Labs. After graduating from the University of Delaware in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, she realized that print journalism meant meager wages and a tough road, and she didn’t want to go into broadcasting because her interest was in writing and interpersonal communication.
Her first job out of college was in fundraising and public relations as an administrative assistant at the Simon Wiesental Center, where she worked on the campaign to raise $35 million for the Museum of Tolerance. When fundraising efforts shifted from New York to Los Angeles, she got a job with a penny stock company by networking with people she had met through the Wiesenthal Center. But after a year, she quit. "I didn’t like selling stock to people who I knew would never see their money again," she says. "I have better ways of being of service to the world."
Rosenblum’s next career step involved a wholesale cookie distribution company she started in Connecticut with her then boyfriend. She attributes her entrepreneurial side to her mom who, although she had been a kindergarten teacher before she got married, was a successful real estate agent after the kids left home. When the
relationship with her boyfriend fell apart, she moved back to New York and regrouped, realizing that she belonged in a corporate setting.
She got a temp job in recruiting, which, she says, "combined the skills of building relationships, creating trust, and helping people find the right livelihood." The job became permanent and a woman at the temp agency became her mentor and taught her all about staffing.
"Fifteen years later, I’m still doing variations on the theme of staffing," Rosenblum says, but her tack has been a little different over the last five years. In 2000, as she saw the dot.com collapse coming, three difficult personal events occurred in succession in a three-month period – her mother died, a long-term contract ended, and a relationship ended – causing her to take stock and ask, "What do I want in my life? None of this is working."
Rosenblum went on her own personal journey, discovering tools and resources along the way, and in 2001, the week before September 11, she launched a career/life coaching practice, Purpose in Being. Its goal is to help people find a soulful approach to working for a living – rather than living only to work and get a paycheck.
She quickly had plenty of work, running career transition workshops and programs for Drake Beam Morin, an outplacement career counseling company. Then she worked for two-and-a-half years as a consultant at Bristol-Myers Squibb, first in internal career coaching and then in staffing. More recently she has done staffing work for a finance company in Livingston. While at BMS she got connected with St. Paul’s, where she is holding this workshop.
Rosenblum’s workshops help people to find their life purposes, the idea being to "soul search before you job search." Using a series of exercises, Rosenblum helps people identify their talents, skills, passions, knowledge, relationships, and their own personal vision for productivity and fulfillment:
Develop a high-level view of what makes you tick. Using Calling Cards, developed by Richard Lieder who runs the Inventure Group in Minneapolis, Rosenblum helps people identify what calls out to them or, as she puts it, "What do you love so much that you lose track of time while doing it?"
Participants go through the 52-card decks and isolate the five cards that best describe who they are and what they would like to contribute to the world.
Decide how much of yourself you are able to express in your current or most recent role. If the answer is none, chances are that you are highly dissatisfied, and may need to find other avenues for contributing your talents.
Use a career inventory to uncover new job possibilities. Rosenblum recommends John Holland’s career inventory system. Holland, who writes on careers, created a career inventory, available for $9.95 on his website, www.self-directed-search.com. He maintains that individuals have certain career preferences based on personality type.
His assessment, which takes about 15 minutes, creates a three-letter code out of six different categories: artistic, social, enterprising, realistic, conventional, and investigator. Out of the six, people usually have strengths in three, and he uses these to recommend occupations.
"Some of it is dated," says Rosenblum, "and may not reflect all jobs available. But it is a good starting point to try on different ideas you may not have thought of."
Rosenblum says that after identifying work preferences job seekers need to do more investigation and research, networking, and then informational interviews.
"Talk to people doing those types of jobs," says Rosenblum. "See if something would appeal to you; learn the pros and cons, and the trends of what is happening in that industry." And don’t ignore the nonprofit sector, which is frequently overlooked because people think it is low paying.
One of four quotes on Rosenblum’s website is from Dag Hammerskjold, who said, "The longest journey is the journey inward." Rosenblum has taken that trip, and highly recommends it. – Michele Alperin
Clean Energy Initiatives For Business
Mike Winka’s life’s work is energy conservation. Winka, director of the Clean Energy Program (CEP) in the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities since 2003, studied environmental science and environmental engineering at Fairleigh Dickinson and West Virginia universities, and then went to work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
He stayed there for 22 years, serving as chief of the department’s Bureau of Resource Recovery and administrator for its Office of Innovative Technology and Market Development. He was also responsible for overall management of the New Jersey Sustainability Greenhouse Gas/Climate Change Action Plan, which set the first statewide reduction level in the country.
By jumpstarting the sustainability movement in New Jersey with rebates for renewable energies and other payback options, says Winka, the Clean Energy Program has created business opportunities for both new and existing companies. These involve products that increase energy efficiency for heating and air conditioning systems and for whole-house insulation. The ripple effect from these more efficient systems creates business for energy service providers, installers, energy consultants, and home surveyors who make recommendations on improving efficiency, and also for architects and developers who use green building design.
"Because of rebates, net metering (to ensure that consumers get full value for electricity produced by their solar energy installations), and solar renew energy certificates," says Winka, "we have had 300 percent annual growth in the solar market over the last three years, and are projecting 300 percent this year." The number of installers has grown over about the past five years from two to more than 100. "If we were on NASDAQ," he says, "we’d be on fire."
Winka is a panelist at the session on "New Jersey’s Solar REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) Market" at the New Jersey Clean Energy Conference on Monday, September 18, at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Cost: $195. Register at www.njcleanenergy.com/conference.
Other topics at the day-long conference, at which Governor Jon Corzine is slated to give the keynote, are "Market Transformation in a Global World," "Market Opportunities for New Jersey Businesses," "Green Building Design," "Energy Pricing and Procurement," and "Federal Tax Credits."
The drive for clean energy comes from an awareness of the damage that polluted air is doing, both to individuals and to their environment. So while the goal is purer air, water, and soil, along with a reduction in greenhouse warming, its side effects include new market opportunities for New Jersey, including:
Products that increase energy efficiency. With energy prices rising, the first step businesses and homeowners can take is to increase the efficiency of their appliances, in turn creating sales for businesses that supply these products. Although heaters and air conditioners may be the first products to come to mind when talking about improving efficiency, other energy-stingy appliances can affect a business’s bottom line – dishwashers in a restaurant, for example.
When it comes time to buy new dishwashers, restaurateurs have a big decision to make, and Winka has some advice: "Instead of installing cheaper equipment, they should be looking for dishwashers that use less water and heat and have better performance. Then energy costs are less, and the business is more profitable."
Another new energy product is an integrated structural component developed by Jack Armstrong of BASF in Monroe Township. It provides a new way to build the walls of homes with super insulation already inside them. "This will lower the size of heating and air conditioning systems, yielding both a lower cost to build and lower operating costs," says Winka.
Services that support energy efficiency. The Clean Energy Program’s Energy Star program trains and certifies energy service providers to do energy audits for homeowners. These auditors analyze the cost savings from more efficient appliances against their purchase prices, figure in rebates offered by CEP, determine the payback period, and then match the customer up with utilities that will finance a new furnace or air-conditioning system. The audit costs about $200, but says Winka, the recommendations arising from it can cut that much from energy bills in the first year.
Businesses around the financing of energy systems. An industry is developing around the ability to trade emissions credits for the energy reductions achieved by the new technologies. Businesses can generate solar renewable energy certificates for every megawatt hour they produce, and because electric suppliers must have a certain amount of renewables, there is an open market for these certificates. The Clean Energy Program established the trading system and monitors it to prevent manipulation and to ensure that there is not an undersupply or oversupply of certificates.
Meanwhile, banks are looking at the financing of renewable energy systems. "They are looking at solar systems like any other power plant," says Winka. "Someone will buy that electricity, and they know they will get the money paid back."
All in all, New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program is managing to improve the environment by lowering greenhouse emissions, while expanding business opportunities. "It’s a win-win scenario," says Winka. – Michele Alperin
Princeton Seminary Steps Out Into Town
Iain R. Torrance, president of the Princeton Theological Seminary, has been asking a lot of questions since he arrived in Princeton two years ago: What is the Princeton Theological Seminary? How is the world changing? How are the church and Christian communities changing? And, finally, how can the seminary better serve the church and the community?
"When we look at the world," says Torrance, "we see an isolated America, a multi-faith world, an ecological crisis, huge developments in digital technology, big changes in the church, and a burgeoning Christianity in the global south."
In response the seminary is looking at its resources – an excellent library and faculty, a strong and diverse student body, the Institute for Youth Ministry, the Hispanic Theological Initiative, and strong ties to the Center for Theological Inquiry – and coming up with answers: "We are saying to ourselves `We have many resources; we must use these resources intentionally in the service of the church, the community, and the wider world."
Torrance speaks at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s "Business before Business" breakfast meeting at the Nassau Club on Wednesday, September 20, at 7:30 a.m. Cost: $25. Register online at www.princetonchamber.org. For more information, call 609-924-1776.
The seminary has been reviewing its curriculum, patterns of governance, and collaborations, and Torrance has written a strategic plan, the seminary’s first, and he has even put it on the web and invited comments from alumni. "We are using that as a means of energizing and revitalizing and realigning our focus," says Torrance.
One new effort is to form better relations between the seminary and the community. "We have found that lots of people in Princeton know all about the university, but relatively little about the seminary," he says. He is encouraging the seminary to reach out to let its neighbors know what it has to offer.
The seminary’s first outreach effort has been to develop an extensive and varied continuing education program, headed by Hui Chen. "As a woman, a Presbyterian minister, and, in her previous life, an attorney and federal prosecutor," says Torrance, "she brings energy and focus."
A recent course on "What is Buddhism?" brought in 70 people, most of whom had never before been to the seminary. A seminar by a biblical scholar and a philosopher of religion on intelligent design drew teachers from six different school districts.
Upcoming offerings include a biomedical ethics class for medical, legal, religious, and social services professionals, on Monday, September 25, and a seminar on Thursday, October 26, on empowering communities against gang violence, which will bring together Detective Frank Clayton, 20-year veteran of the Trenton police department; rapper and hip-hop recording artist Reverend Charles Atkins, who is also chief chaplain of the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility; Reverend Karen Hernandez-Granzen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in Trenton; and Andrew Zuckerman,
principal of the Lawrenceville Middle School. Find full details at www.ptsem.edu or call 609-497-7990.
Torrance received a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, a bachelor of divinity degree in New Testament languages from St. Andrews University, and a Ph.D. in Syriac patristics, the study of early Christian writers, from Oxford University, where he studied Syriac versions of early Christian writings.
Before he came to Princeton, Torrance was president of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He started there as a professor of Christian ethics and early Christianity, next became department head, and then dean of the faculty of arts, before becoming president. He served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 2003 to 2004. Torrance also holds the uniquely British honor of being chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen in Britain.
Torrance’s talk to the Princeton Chamber is part of the seminary’s broadening role and visibility in the community.
"What I want the chamber to see is that we’re trying to get engaged," says Torrance. "We have a long tradition of scholarship, great students and faculty, and we also want to get connected with the world."
– Michele Alperin