Lesia Bates Moss is a senior vice president in the Real Estate Finance Group of Moody’s Investors Service, one of the world’s most widely used sources for credit ratings, research and risk analysis. Not only does she manage a diverse and complex portfolio of commercial real estate firms, funds and government-sponsored agencies, she also is the senior analyst for Japanese real estate firms. A frequent speaker at real estate conferences at home and abroad, Bates Moss was one of the presenters on the groundbreaking panel, Black Women on Wall Street, at the Executive Leadership Council’s 2004 Black Women’s Economic Summit. The Network Journal caught up with Bates Moss after the summit.
TNJ: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Lesia Bates Moss: Delivering a thoughtful, independent opinion to the investing public that provides a high degree of comfort to investors that Moody’s has considered all important factors in its ratings decision. In so doing, we are helping investors make informed, relative-value investment decisions. Our ratings are forward-looking and thus it is important that they consider the key risks and opportunities facing a firm over the near to medium term.
TNJ: What is a typical day like for you?
Bates Moss: There is no typical day in my position. As analysts we must always be prepared for the unexpected. I may have a perfect day planned, but unanticipated events can happen as soon as I walk in the door. It’s not uncommon for a company to announce a major acquisition or to see a breaking story in the newspaper, which means that Moody’s may need to immediately issue a statement about the event and the implications for the ratings. I then would have to be available to respond to investors and the press to further explain our rationale for the action taken.
TNJ: What were some of the obstacles you faced in climbing the corporate ladder and how did you overcome them?
Bates Moss: Being impatient about climbing the corporate ladder and not identifying strong mentors early on in the industry that I was interested in entering. Being successful in corporate America is as much, if not more, about politics than about being a “star” performer. I have learned through my career that there are few things in life that I can control. The person who hired you may not be your boss when you start the job or may leave for other reasons. It is important to cultivate relationships with senior managers and your peers throughout the firm as a support base in times of change. As I have progressed in my career I have learned that there is a difference between mentors and sponsors. Mentors help you identify and weigh the consequences of your next career step, while sponsors get you to the next step.
TNJ: What led you to be interested in real estate and business?
Bates Moss: It’s funny, but I landed in this career. I was law school-bound in college, until I took a career planning class in which the professor assigned us the task of pursuing an internship opportunity in an industry we were least likely to go into. I chose banking. After conducting my research, I was able to have an on-campus interview with a senior vice president at Chemical Banking Corp. who was recruiting for full-time positions. He was impressed by my knowledge of the firm and in particular with a new product that was being launched to corporate businesses. It just so happened that he was the innovator of the product. The next thing I knew I was being flown to New York City for a full day of interviews for a summer position. It was the best summer experience I could have ever imagined. When I returned to school in the fall, I had an offer from Chemical and I decided to postpone law school for a year or two. The rest is history.
I should also mention that I grew up in a construction family in rural Virginia, so [real estate] was in my blood. While at Chemical Bank, I was very involved in residential mortgage sales initiatives. In my public sector roles, I was involved in leasing activities for commercial retail space in housing developments throughout the city and was extensively involved in the construction management process at the Department of General Services. I was responsible for corporate real estate matters with the New York State Insurance Department of Insurance Liquidation Bureau.
TNJ: Where would you like to be in five years?
Bates Moss: That’s a difficult question for me to answer. My career has been built on my openness to opportunities, not a strategic plan. For me, life is about the journey, not the destination. I have learned that God has blessed us with talents and abilities beyond our comprehension. Most of us, however, are not comfortable stepping outside the box to experience them. I’ve always believed that I would know when the right opportunity presented itself, and I would know when it was time to move on from a place. Now, having a child and other responsibilities make those decisions more difficult to make, but I still believe in being fulfilled in whatever I do in life. For if I am fulfilled, I will be productive and will add value. In turn, I will be rewarded appropriately for the value that I add. If I had to decide on a dream job, it would be [working as] a philanthropist.
TNJ: What do you do when you aren’t working?
Bates Moss: Being a mom to my son, Callan, and a wife to my husband, Sean. Both of the men in my life remind me of how amazing God is, and how blessed I am. My greatest joy is my son; he is an amazing kid and God’s greatest creation. I decided to start a family late in life. A good friend of mine told me that I needed a child to slow me down. She was right; my son helps me to understand what’s really important in life.
Over time, I hope to reincorporate a lot of my other interests, especially my interest in producing films and other arts-related projects, into my hectic life. My sister and I had the opportunity to co-produce an independent film a few years ago, The Gilded Six Bits, an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s book. We worked with a very talented filmmaker, who was completing his studies at NYU Film School. There are so many talented and creative artists out there, but many lack strong business and financial skills. I like to believe that I have an eye for talent and can raise the capital to fund good projects. I also love to play tennis and listen to jazz music. My new pastime is interior design, a natural extension of my interest in real estate. Because my life is so hectic, it’s important for me to have a space that is calm, inviting and stress-free.
TNJ: Do you find many African-American women in your field? If not, why?
Bates Moss: There are very few women in general, and African-American women in particular, in the real estate finance industry. Real estate, traditionally, has been a very close-knit and family-owned industry. The emergence of real estate investment trusts (REITs) has helped greatly to move real estate into the hands of the public, which is a good thing. I’d love to see more women in executive level positions, CEO, CFO or COO, as head of investments, or on boards of these companies. The lack of women in key positions in the industry is disappointing, but not surprising. It has not caused problems for me in that I have carved out a role in the industry that gives me a competitive edge. I am optimistic that there will be more opportunities for women and in particular women of color, but it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, many of us have the experience and networks to start our own real estate firms or investment funds. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.