There isn’t much Karen Raquet hasn’t done in the retail business – except maybe change an HVAC filter. Her retail roots run deep. Learn a little more about how Karen Raquet went from Santa’s Helper to International Director during her 40-year career in retail.
Born in Uruguay, South America she was the youngest daughter in her family. She spent her early childhood running through massive spools of yarn that would be turned into bolts of vibrant fabrics in the textile mill her dad owned and managed. Her family eventually moved back to the States, and she spent her teen years doing odd jobs – from being Santa’s helper to working in the management office of Plymouth Meeting Mall in Philly, where her mom was the marketing manager.
In 1979 at the age of 21, Karen started working full time for the same company that owned Plymouth Meeting Mall, The Rouse Company. Her first post was at Outlet Square in New Jersey and three years later in 1981 she became the first female Assistant General Manager for Rouse, and opened Burlington Center. “I never really thought how monumental it was that I was the first woman in this man’s world because I had always run with the boys. I would roll up my sleeves and run a scrubber or a gang mower with the best of them. I’ve always done whatever it takes to get the job done – and because of that I have always been treated like an equal,” she said.
Two years later Karen was transferred to the largest mall in the Tri-State area at the time, Cherry Hill Mall. She stayed there until 1988, when she took three years off to raise her two children – until she got a call in 1991 from her mentor Gary Woodward about an opportunity to manage Ocean One Mall in Atlantic City – a mall 50 miles away, but a quick drive. That was what began her JLL career – well it was actually a couple dozen years before it became JLL – back then it was Compass Retail, which was acquired by Lend Lease, ERE Yarmouth, LaSalle Partners, Jones Lang Wooton – and eventually evolved to what is today, JLL.
Karen has worn a lot of hats at JLL, from being a Regional Manager to Business Development Lead, to co-leading our once mall-only Property Management business and then evolving it to include open-air properties. Acquiring GGP’s third-party management business in 2010 and then adding regional power-house Shelter Bay to the team in 2014. She’s stepped up to take on new roles, and stepped back when she needed to.
She shared that leading the business development efforts to expand retail property management in Latin America was one of her most exciting career moments— even though it didn’t end up working out. “We thought it was going to be a booming business, but the needs in the region just didn’t match our offerings. In life and work, you can’t win it all – but it was an exciting and exhausting time, and I’m grateful that JLL had enough faith in me to give me the opportunity.”
But, Karen notes that moments outside the office sometimes matter even more. “When my dad’s health was failing we were going through one of the biggest property portfolio transitions at the time – and I happened to be at the property when he died. During the two hours that I drove to get home from Mercer Mall in W. Virginia, Greg stayed on the phone with me until I got to the airport safely. It’s when you really need someone and support that your colleagues unexpectedly step in. To me, the people and relationships I’ve developed at JLL are more important than any career moment.”
And last but not least what retail career doesn’t have a “crisis” memory. Karen’s dates back to her time at Burlington Center when their marquee event was an opportunity to parade through the mall with Mickey Mouse and his characters. The kids could play their instruments as they followed the characters in a parade – for those who are GM’s you know where this is going. “Well, 250 four-year olds showed up with their tambourine and drum sets and I quickly realized it was going to be chaos and disrupt the entire mall full of shoppers. I made a split second call and announced that the parade was canceled – and there was an uproar by the children. They started ‘chanting we want a parade’’. Needless to say we had the parade, and it’s one of those moments in my career I’ll never forget.”
So what’s next for Karen? “I want to grow Retail Property Management to where it should be. For two years we’ve been in constant flux, national – local – national. Now, we’re back as one cohesive group. We are so much more productive, powerful and successful as one group. It’s time to win new business and execute it.”