Nadine Watt tried to avoid the family business. Now she helps run it
Watt’s company can be greatly affected by economic downturns, such as the 2008 housing industry meltdown. Diversifying and expanding limits exposure to retail turbulence at a time when malls are struggling to keep tenants. “I’m not always going to be able to find a ‘We Work’ to move into my abandoned department store space,” she said.
Several family members are still active in the company or on its board, but Watt never intended to be one of them. She learned French, Greek and Italian while attending Georgetown University’s foreign service school. She also had an interest in acting, directing or producing. Watt earned a graduate degree in filmmaking from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and worked for MDP Worldwide, a foreign film sales company, until 1999.
“I was selling scripts with actors attached to get the film made. It was like going to business school without actually going to business school,” Watt said.
When MDP struggled financially, Watt left and felt the pull of family, especially her father, Scott, who still serves as chief executive. She jokingly referred to him during this period as Darth Vader, asking her to come back to the dark side.
Watt recalled her father telling her in 2000, “‘I still want you to know what’s going on at the company and be able to read a balance sheet and to know how our company works. So, you can send out resumes, you can make phone calls, you can go on interviews, but I want you around here,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe I’m doing this.’”
There can be great resentment when a person who has shown no previous interest in a family business suddenly looks like he or she might rise up in the company without deserving it. Watt felt that immediately, from family members and colleagues. “My father and my grandfather made me earn it. The employees were skeptical. I had to come in very humble. I had to come in admitting that I didn’t know anything, starting at the bottom. I had to earn the respect to become even assistant project manager, then project manager.”
Once Watt had surprised everyone by sticking to her initial two-year commitment to work for the family, there was even more to learn beyond her initial job as an assistant in leasing and property management at Century City’s Watt Plaza office complex, one of the crown jewels in the company’s portfolio. The company’s then chief financial officer, Ryoko Takata, took Watt under her wing.
“I had to work in each division and learn how it worked,” Watt said. “Takata set up a curriculum for me with a notebook and sent me to USC to learn what a profit-and-loss statement was and learn what a balance sheet was and how to read it. They really groomed me.”