Leading Voices in Real Estate

Leading Voices in Real Estate

Liz Holland | CEO of Abbell Associates

November 05, 2018

Liz Holland is now CEO of her grandfather’s over 77-year-old real estate business, Abbell Associates. She never imagined she would end up there, but she says it was amazing creating a relationship with her grandfather and becoming his colleague for two years before he passed away and continuing his legacy.

“It’s such a challenging time in retail real estate because things are transforming so quickly and certainly there have been big retail disruptors in the past and there will be bigger retail disruptors in the future, so it’s been quite exciting for us both in our real estate business and our software business to anticipate those disruptors and ride the wave.”

Early Career

Her early career in bond trading, law school, her time at Sekadden Arps, and then working in government for a congressional commission gave her a thick skin and taught her how to take risks. She also was quick to learn that she had a strong desire to be an expert in whatever field she was in and make sure that what she was learning today would benefit her tomorrow.

The Family Business

When her grandfather called her to run his business in 1997, she said yes. She started updating it with the new technology necessary for lease management and bringing a new energy to the efficiency. Her grandfather was very open to every change she proposed and she learned many lessons from him, including:

   You have to be patient.

   You have to have the long view.

   Sometimes the best deal you do is the one that isn’t done. Don’t chase it.

   The right deal for you will come along.

Understanding the Market

At Abbell, their portfolio is 75% is retail, and 25% office. However, they are looking to grow the office percentage specifically in Chicago and are excited to have Liz’s new app LayerCake assisting in guiding their development decisions.

LayerCake is changing the way developers and retailers choose their location. It allows a detailed look at the new developments going on in and around the site, as well as how customers behave at the surrounding locations.

“What’s so exciting to us about kind of the big data introduction into this analysis is any market study from the past was driving down the road looking in the rearview mirror because you were always looking at what happened in the census 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 9 years ago… but the predictive analytics component to it of knowing that what people are doing there today likely predicts what they’re going to be doing there tomorrow… is really cool.”

What’s Next

Liz reminds us that shopping is behavior and people are creatures of habit. With technology, we have so much more access to information and data on customers that stores are able to tailor what they carry in store according to their customer’s needs and wants.

People used to say retail was dead, but over the last two years, that narrative has changed (despite what the papers may say).

Businesses are discovering that there is a very narrow margin between online and storefronts, and if you want to make money, you need the customer to come into your store.

What they’ve learned is that certain retailers can change the shopper profile. For example, at one mall they added a Target, and that changed the mall from a monthly destination to a weekly destination. Now, they’re focused on creating more of hybrid assets rather than traditional malls, adding external entrances rather than the enclosed mall retailers of the past.

Liz also foresees the convergence of big entertainment venues with shopping malls as something we will see a lot more of in the future.


For Liz, seeing members of the community at a mall getting all of their needs met in a clean, safe, welcoming space is what fulfills her.


Be willing to do the job that nobody wants to do.