Icons podcast icon for CU Real Estate CenterGet inspired to amplify your career in commercial real estate through the lens of the industry’s most accomplished leaders!

Subscribe to University of Colorado Real Estate Center’s Icon Insights podcast showcasing young alumni interviewing influential professionals on topics such as:

  • leadership
  • networking
  • resiliency within the industry


Episode 1 | Erika Vette and Ann Sperling on Leadership

On this episode of “Icon Insights”, Erika Vette interviews Ann Sperling who shares her perspective regarding management and leadership based on her experiences at Trammel Crow, Jones Lang LaSalle, and Catellus Development Group.

Erika Vette

Erika Vette (MBA'21) | Guest Host
Credit Risk Management Associate

Erika Vette is a Credit Risk Management Associate at Prologis. In this role, she utilizes financial information to assess customer credit risk and provides guidance on how to structure transactions to ultimately mitigate financial risk to Prologis. Before joining Prologis, she attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where she received her MBA with a focus in real estate and finance. While completing her MBA, she competed in the 2021 NAIOP Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge and was part of the winning team.

Prior to getting her MBA, she worked in government consulting and nonprofit development. She found her passion for CRE after working on legislation which provided tax incentives to commercial developers in Detroit. Erika now likes to spend her weekends skiing, hiking and hanging out with her dog Disco.

Ann Sperling

Ann Sperling | Guest
Former Senior Director
Trammell Crow Company

Ann Sperling, now semi-retired, returned to Trammell Crow Company in 2013 as Senior Director, focused on development and capital markets in Colorado, for this nationally renowned commercial real estate investment and development firm, where she spent many years earlier in her career. Ann currently serves as an Independent Director on the Boards of two public companies, Apartment Income REIT and SmartRent. Prior to that, Sperling most recently was in two successive roles at Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated first as Chief Operating Officer for the Americas region and then as President, Markets West. Sperling was Managing Director and the chief operating executive at Catellus Development Group, a wholly owned company of ProLogis during the previous several years. She completed a 25-year career at Trammell Crow Company during which she rose from her first job in retail leasing to become Senior Managing Director and Area Director for its Rocky Mountain region. Over her career, she has been involved in most core real estate services for corporate and investor clients, including tenant representation, agency leasing, investment sales, outsourcing, project management, facilities management, property management, construction and commercial development. She has had extensive experience in public and private company governance, operations, financial performance and new business development.

Sperling has also committed herself to a number of civic and community activities. These include serving as Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair, and as the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of The Children's Hospital and now on the Research Advisory Board. Ann also is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Gates Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology. She sits on the Board of Advisors, School of Arts and Sciences, of Tufts University and the International Advisory Board of the University of Colorado Real Estate Center. She has also held leadership roles with the Colorado Outward Bound School, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). She has been honored by the National Association of University Women, and she received the 2008 Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Denver's Women of Influence Award. In 2021, she received the Presidents’ Award for Community Leadership from NAIOP. She is a member of Women Corporate Directors and National Association of Corporate Directors.

A graduate of Tufts University with a degree in biology and psychology, Sperling earned her MBA at Harvard University.

Listen to the Icon Insights · Ann Sperling: The Essentials of Leadership Episode 1

Episode 2 | Megan Kranichfeld and Kevin Kelley on Connections & Networking

On this episode of “Icon Insights,” Megan Kranichfeld interviews Kevin Kelley of United Properties who explains the importance of connections and networking within the real estate community.


Megan Kranichfeld I Guest Host


Kevin Kelley

Kevin Kelley I Guest
Executive Vice President
United Properties

Mr. Kelley has almost 40 years’ experience in the development, acquisition, financing and disposition of properties representing nearly $3 billion in value. He currently serves as a consultant to the company’s activities in Colorado having retired from full time employment with United in October 2021. 

Before joining United Properties, Kevin was a partner with Miller Weingarten Development in Colorado and a capital markets/development partner with Faison Associates in Charlotte, NC. He started his career in the lending arena with Continental Illinois Bank, was a mortgage producer for Northland Financial (now NorthMarq) and Baird & Warner Real Estate. Kevin holds a B.A. degree in history and an MBA in real estate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Kevin is currently serving on the NAIOP Colorado Chapter Board. Kevin was 2016 NAIOP Colorado Chapter President. He is also an active member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Colorado and the University of Colorado Real Estate International Advisory Board. He is a past President of the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association. Kelley also served on the board for the Rocky Mountain Human Services organization, on the Nature Conservancy, Wish for Wheels and is considering a role with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.  Kevin is an active road cyclist having completed several Ride the Rockies and other cycling programs.

Episode 3 | Paula Chavarria and Fiona Arnold​ on Daring to be Different

In this episode of Icon Insights, ’21 Leeds School of Business graduate Paula Chavarria speaks with acclaimed Denver-area developer Fiona Arnold about her varied accomplishments and how her methodology of doing things backwards has brought her success and driven different Denver communities forward. 

Paula Chavarria

Paula Chavarria I Guest Host

Paula Chavarria, born and raised in San Diego, moved to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado Boulder and get her Bachelor’s in Business Management and the Real Estate Certificate. Upon graduating in 2018 Paula began her career working in Property Management for Cushman & Wakefield. Throughout her time spent in Property Management she realized her true passion is in the Hospitality Industry which she had spent some time in previous years. Paula then pursued a Master’s in Commercial Real Estate at CU Boulder where she competed and won the NAIOP Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge and joined the McWhinney Hospitality team immediately after graduating in 2021. Now, Paula enjoys her day to day as she underwrites potential hospitality acquisition and development opportunities, visits properties, socializes with her coworkers, and enjoys the buzz of RiNo where she resides. 

Fiona Arnold

Fiona Arnold I Guest
Mainspring Developers

Fiona Arnold is the founder and President of MAINSPRING, a Colorado company engaged in commercial and residential real estate development and retail business operations, launched in 2014.

During 2015 and 2016, she served on Governor Hickenlooper’s cabinet as Executive Director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade for the State of Colorado. From 2006 through 2013, Arnold served as executive vice president and general counsel for Vail Resorts. Prior to that, Arnold served as associate general counsel at Western Gas Resources Inc. (now Anadarko Petroleum), and prior to that, she served as vice president of legal and business affairs at Crown Media Holdings in Greenwood Village, CO. Arnold began her career as an attorney in Australia before joining the international law firm of Jones Day in Dallas, Texas in 1998 and then moving to Colorado in 2001.

Arnold holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) from the University of Tasmania; a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Adelaide; and a Master of Laws, International & Comparative, from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

She currently serves as a board member of the non-profit CareerWise, an organization introducing the youth apprenticeship system in the United States.

She has been a Governor appointed Commissioner of the Business Experiential Learning Commission, the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

She formerly served on the boards of the non-profits The CUBE, Dress for Success, Colorado, the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education and was a Governor-appointed board member of Pinnacol Assurance. She served as co-chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the University of Colorado, School of Law, as a board member of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Corporate Counsel and founded the Colorado Chief Legal Officer Group.

Episode 4 I Lucas Michieli and Bahman Shafa on Resilience and Adaptability

In this episode of Icon Insights, ‘17 Leeds School of Business graduate Lucas Michieli speaks with versatile Denver-based developer Bahman Shafa about how he built his real estate empire after getting his start in the city selling sports apparel as a street vendor. 

Lucas Michieli

Lucas Michieli I Guest Host

Lucas Michieli grew up in Breckenridge, CO, and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he double majored in finance and accounting with a certificate in real estate. He began pursuing a career in CRE at Verdad Real Estate doing site selection and store development for a variety of large national retailers.

He has been a part of the fast-growing Q Factor Development team for 3 years. In this role, Lucas has taken on a variety of different capacities with a specific focus on our new market opportunities and assisting with the asset management of our existing Colorado assets. His role has primarily been focused on taking projects from initial site selection/negotiations, fund raising, design/entitlement and into construction. 

Bahman Shafa

Bahman Shafa I Guest


Focus Property Group

Shafa is the CEO of Focus Property Group, a Denver-based investor and developer of high-quality office, retail, residential, hospitality, and mixed-use property in Denver and across the United States. Focus Property Group’s assets include Enterprise Coworking in Denver’s RiNo district as well as Greenbox Self Storage, which has four facilities across the Greater Denver Area supplying the community with cost-effective ‘green’ storage solutions. Shafa founded Focus Property Group in 1987, and has also served as a Leeds Mentor for the CU Leeds School of Business since 2021.

Episode 5 I Alex McPherson and Karen Klerman on Navigating Your Early Career

On this episode of “Icon Insights,” Alex McPherson interviews Karen Klerman, long time banker, who shares tools, strategies, and advice regarding navigating your early career.  The podcast should help listeners find their next wonderful job.

Alex McPherson

Alex McPherson I Guest Host

Alex McPherson is a Portfolio Manager at Independent Financial in the Commercial Real Estate Group. In this role, Alex is responsible for managing a portfolio of existing commercial real estate loans and for assisting in closing new facilities between $5 and $20 million. Prior to joining Independent Financial, Alex was an analyst at US Bank in their Real Estate Investment Trust Group. She started her career at Wells Fargo as an analyst in the Business Banking Investment Real Estate Group.

Alex grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and attended the University of Connecticut, where she competed for the women’s NCAA swim team and later transferred to University of Colorado at Boulder where she majored in finance with a certificate in real estate.

Karen Klerman

Karen Klerman I Guest

Karen Klerman has a strong history of helping businesses and individuals achieve their goals with over 25 years of commercial real estate, wealth management and leadership experience.

She is a Senior Director of Community Banking at FNBO (First National Bank of Omaha).  In this role, Karen works closely with local real estate investors and developers to satisfy their financial needs, including land loans, construction financing and term debt.  She collaborates with other FNBO advisors to provide treasury management, deposit, foreign exchange, letters of credit, credit card, and wealth management solutions for her customers.   

Prior to joining FNBO, Karen has held roles at Wells Fargo, US Bank, Heller Financial, Citicorp and Sears Roebuck & Company.  Most recently, she was a Private Banking Advisor working as part of a team to help meet high-net-worth clients’ comprehensive wealth management needs.  Prior to joining the Private Bank, Ms. Klerman led Wells Fargo’s Business Banking Investor Real Estate Group for the Colorado Region; managing a team of six lenders in CO, MT, and WY.

Karen earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Northwestern University and an MBA from the Wharton Business School.   She serves her community by volunteering as a Board member for Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board, and Better Boulder. Prior to that she served 10 years on the Board of Boulder Housing Partners (The Housing Authority for the City of Boulder).  In addition, Karen was appointed to CU Real Estate’s International Advisory Board and is a Board Member of Better Boulder.

Karen is married, lives in Boulder, and has an adult son and daughter..

Episode 6 I Lily Colley Ferguson and Christina Hill on Asset Management and Sustainability

In this episode of Icon Insights, ‘21 Leeds School of Business graduate Lily Colley Ferguson speaks with California-based real estate veteran Christina Hill about the connection between asset management and sustainability, the challenges facing downtowns and certain sectors in a post-COVID world, and the lessons she’s learned after more than two decades as an innovative leader and respected mentor in real estate.

Lily Colley Ferguson

Lily Colley Ferguson I Guest Host

Lily Colley Ferguson, vice president, is an Investment Specialist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Real Estate Americas (“REA”). Lily is a real estate product specialist responsible for strategic support and institutional client advisory for the firm’s REA platform. She joined J.P. Morgan after various roles with Denver’s EverWest Real Estate Investors focused on their NFI-ODCE fund’s capital strategies, positioning, reporting and operations. She previously held roles in the Private Equity space as a founding team member and vice president for Kalyx Development [nytimes.com], a private REIT beginning in 2013. At, Kalyx, Lily was responsible for firm-wide functions including; capital raising, investor relations and asset management. While at the firm, she also led various PE-backed portfolio companies’ marketing strategies in a consulting capacity. Lily has an MBA focused on Real Estate from CU Boulder where she was the President of the Graduate Real Estate Association (“GREA”) and a B.A. in International Affairs and History from GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Lily is a founding member of Project Elevation [projectelevationre.com] (a real estate industry DE&I peer group), serves on the CU Real Estate Forum’s Advisory Council, participated in NAIOP’s Developing Leaders Program and spoke at SxSw two years running. She holds the Series 7 and 63. 

Christina Hill

Christina Hill I Guest

Christy Hill is a managing director at PGIM Real Estate and the head of Americas Asset Management. Based in Los Angeles, Christy is responsible for representing the Asset Management function as part of the Americas leadership team and partners with the U.S. and Latin America portfolio teams to lead and implement PGIM Real Estate’s asset management strategy for all our investments in the region. She is a member of the U.S. Management Council, Americas Executive Council, a member of the Debt Investment Committee, PRREF Investment Committee, and the U.S. and Latin America Investment Committees.

Prior to joining PGIM Real Estate, Christy was with Clarion Partners as a managing director and assistant portfolio manager for the firm’s flagship core real estate fund. In that role, she was responsible for acquisitions and dispositions, asset management and investor communications.

Prior to that, Christy was a senior member of Clarion’s asset management group, overseeing investment results of core and value-add investments in multiple West Coast markets. Previously, Christy worked at American Realty Advisors for more than a decade in senior roles across asset management and portfolio management.

Christy has a bachelor of science in sociology from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree in real estate development from the University of Southern California.

Episode 7 I Randy Nichols & Brinete Chavez on The Perfect Project at the Perfect Time

In this episode of Icon Insights, ’19 Leeds School of Business graduate Brinete Chavez examines some standout projects from the career of Randy Nichols, an acclaimed Denver-area commercial and multi-family real estate developer and the President and Founder of The Nichols Partnership, Inc. 

Brinente Chavez Headshot

Brinete Chavez I Guest Host

Brinete Chavez is an Associate commercial real estate broker at CBRE. She specializes in Industrial warehouse leasing and sales throughout the Denver Metropolitan market conducting business development, site selection, negotiation, advisory, and transaction execution on behalf of local, regional, and corporate occupiers with experience managing single transaction values as large as $11 million. She works closely with her business partner Jim Bolt, Colorado’s top-producing Industrial broker in creating best outcomes for their clients.

Brinete attended the University of Colorado Boulder where she studied Operations Management, Information Management and completed a certificate in Real Estate. She is a member of CREW, an associate member of SIOR, a member of CBRE’s HOLA, treasurer of CU’s Real Estate Alumni Board, a member of Association for Corporate Growth, has completed CCIM coursework and continues to pursue opportunities for professional development which elevate her expertise at best advising her clients.

Randy Nichols

Randy Nichols I Guest

Randy Nichols is President and Founder of the Nichols Partnership, Inc.

The company is based in Denver, Colorado, and specializes in the development of commercial and multi-family real estate. With over 41 years of experience in real estate development, brokerage and management, Randy started his career in real estate brokerage in 1981 with LaSalle Partners in Denver. In l986 he became a Vice President of LaSalle’s New York office representing the firm’s corporate clients in commercial brokerage transactions across the country.

Randy co-founded a private development company in Chicago in 1989, then returned to Denver to pursue commercial development opportunities in Colorado, establishing the Nichols Partnership in 1993. The Nichols Partnership has developed over 3M square feet of office, multi-family, hotel, and retail including such prominent urban Denver/Boulder projects as “One Platte”, “Clayton Lane”, “SPIRE”, “1899 Wynkoop”, “Galvanize”, “Turntable” and “PearlWest”.

The company’s vision has expanded to include ownership in two projects outside of Colorado – “Stanly Ranch Resort Napa” and “Immortal Estate Vineyard”, both in California. The addition of these projects enhances the company’s expertise across all types of real estate development.

Randy holds a Master’s degree in Real Estate Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Colorado State University.