“The workplace has been designed for men. We need the people at the top to redesign the workplace so it works for everyone.” Gilda Perez-Alvarado knows the struggles faced by women working in commercial real estate. She’s spent the past nineteen years crafting a global career that mirrors her international upbringing and that has allowed her to create her own personal brand—both as a woman and as a minority. Now, she’s looking to be one of the people at the top who can change the outlook for the women coming up behind her.
Perez-Alvarado is the highest-ranking Latina at JLL, an innovative professional services firm focused on real estate and investment management. As global CEO of the organization’s Hotels and Hospitality Group, she manages a team of 350 hotel professionals in the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East. Perez-Alvarado also coordinates investment sales, equity placement, asset management, debt, and strategic advisory.
A lifetime of experience has prepared Perez-Alvarado for this global leadership role. The self-described “global citizen” was born in Costa Rica: her father is from El Salvado, and her mother was born in the United States to parents from Costa Rica and Nicaragua. By the time she was twelve, she had lived in North Africa, Europe, and Central America. At age thirteen, Perez-Alvarado came to the United States and settled in Indiana, where her parents pursued PhDs at Purdue University.
Perez-Alvarado wanted to be a scientist or a biochemist and dreamed of finding the cure for AIDS. But when she took organic chemistry at Cornell, she found herself staring at the clock instead of reading the textbook. “I realized that I needed to rethink my career path and find my true passion,” she says.
Perez-Alvarado’s mother was a hotelier, and some of Perez-Alvarado’s fondest memories involve her grandmother’s hotel and restaurant and her mother’s work as the manager of the largest hotel in Costa Rica. Inspired by her family, the young college student changed courses and enrolled in Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
Upon graduation, Perez-Alvarado started her career as a hotel consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she spent nearly two and a half years completing feasibility studies in the Caribbean. The job required lots of interviewing and plenty of travel. “I broke in and got a great feel for the regional market and a deep understanding of clients’ needs,” she says. “But I wanted more experience in finance and transactions.” Perez-Alvarado called a mentor, who submitted her résumé to JLL.
As Perez-Alvarado has risen through the organization, she’s led teams, perfected her skills, and stacked up impressive accomplishments. She started as an analyst in 2004 in Miami, where she worked in both investment sales and asset management. In 2005, she transferred to New York, where she started working on cross-border assignments, and in 2007, she jumped on the opportunity to participate in the firm’s exchange program and transferred to London.
“Something needs to change. If we just go back to the office, we’re not going forward.”
After a year in London, she was transferred to Madrid, where a new business line was started to adapt to the realities of the market at the onset of the Great Financial Crisis. In 2010, when the US market was recovering, Perez-Alvarado went back to New York, where the Global Hotel Desk was started and the group’s cross-border investment sales team was formalized. During her time at JLL, she has also coordinated the global marketing campaigns in the sales of the Montage Beverly Hills, Four Seasons Toronto, St. Regis NY, and the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Perez-Alvarado’s global and entrepreneurial career at JLL has not only given her a strong financial acumen in the field of hospitality capital markets, she says, but has also enabled her to build her leadership skills and develop strong connections with both her colleagues and clients. “If you want to stand out and be the best, you need to focus on one true passion,” she advises. “And my passion is global.” Perez-Alvarado has built her own style of brokerage, championing diversity and uniting colleagues from around the world to bring best practices home to the corporate office.
Of course, Perez-Alvarado—like so many other executives around the world—has recently had to rethink how she approaches her work. When she became a mother in February 2020, JLL had just completed a major merger. Perez-Alvarado was starting her second full year as CEO of the Americas for the Hotels and Hospitality Group. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As JLL transitioned to a remote setup, Perez-Alvarado moved to Nicaragua for a year, where she relied on her family to help her balance her professional and personal duties as a new mother. Her family support, Perez-Alvarado says, made 2020 manageable—and led her to think about better ways to support working parents, caregivers, and new mothers. “I experienced for the first time how difficult professional life is for working mothers,” she says. “Without support from my family and the flexibility to work from home, I would have had to make a difficult choice, and I probably would have quit my job.”
“If you want to stand out and be the best, you need to focus on one true passion. And my passion is global.”
That life-changing event is impacting Perez-Alvarado’s leadership approach as JLL begins to reopen its offices. She’s thinking more about what it means to redefine the workplace and how she can drive change as a leader. “Something needs to change. If we just go back to the office, we’re not going forward,” she says.
JLL has tested what it means to allow more flexible work environments. Perez-Alvarado expects some policies to change and is working to influence other leaders at the massive company, which has approximately ninety thousand employees. Now back in the US, she is not only focused on growing the business and maintaining JLL Hotel’s number one market share but is also working with JLL leadership to focus on diversity and inclusion.
Today, Perez-Alvarado does her best to juggle the competing demands of work and parenting. She rises early to care for her daughter before starting international calls with clients and colleagues in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia at 6:00 a.m. For women, minorities, and other working moms, her advice is simple. “Just bring your entire self,” she says. “Be the worker, the woman, the mom, the wife, the daughter. You don’t have to leave it behind.”