Dawn M. Clayton

Age: 32

Degree: Master of Science in Real Estate and Construction Management

College: University of Denver

Long-term career goal: Focus on asset management or acquisition management

Most admired professional: Rick Schuham, executive vice president, Studley Inc.

Dawn Clayton was the first in her family to attend college, where her professors helped her land a real estate job and find a niche in commercial leasing. Now she works for real estate brokerage and consulting firm Staubach, launched in 1977 by Dallas Cowboys' legendary quarterback Roger Staubach.

“He's very humble, especially considering all his accomplishments,” says Clayton, referring to the retired Hall of Fame player and CEO of the Dallas-based company that boasts more than 60 North American offices. For the fiscal year ending June 2006, the company completed 6,750 transactions totaling $26 billion. Clayton works as an associate in the Denver office, negotiating leases for commercial tenants. She joined the firm about a year and a half ago.

After completing evening classes at the University of Denver, next fall Clayton will earn a Master of Science in Real Estate and Construction Management with a concentration in real estate finance. “The more I understand about the finance behind the operations of the office buildings, the more effective a broker I can be,” she explains.

Clayton began to focus on real estate at DePaul University in Chicago, where she earned a bachelor's degree with a major in finance. She credits Dr. Susanne Cannon, director of DePaul's Real Estate Center, with helping to start her career in 1997 by introducing her to LaSalle Partners in Chicago, now Jones Lang LaSalle, a publicly traded real estate services provider.

“Sometimes I feel like I have an honorary law degree because I've negotiated so many contracts,” Clayton says. She routinely advises clients to have an attorney review lease agreements before signing on the dotted line, and frequently offers the attorneys guidance on terms and costs.

Growing companies and those affected by downsizing seek Staubach's assistance. “In [the latter] case, we'd help them sublease their space and recover as much as possible of the lease they're committed to,” Clayton says. She also helps executives determine whether an existing building can accommodate their needs.

“We create leverage for our tenants and show them different alternatives so we can negotiate the best deal,” notes Clayton, who works on as many as 30 transactions at a time.

What are her insights into today's market? Vacancy rates are declining and rental rates are rising, Clayton observes, with the increase driven in part by the large number of investors trying to achieve the property values assumed in the underwriting of their buildings.

In her spare time, Clayton volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, which among other things tries to find vacant land or capitalize on foreclosures to aid would-be homeowners. She has also tried snowboarding and hiking in the Rockies.

Clayton has attempted to entice her parents, who live in Memphis, Tenn., to retire in Denver, though the cost of living in Colorado is higher, she points out. “People pay a premium in Denver because the quality of life is so high here. It's a beautiful place to be.”