Tammy K. Jones and Kirk Sykes to Receive Swain Distinguished Service Award at REFA GalaOctober 16, 2020
BOSTON–It will be an evening of firsts at the annual Real Estate Finance Association Gala on Monday, October 19, 2020, when the 32nd Swain Distinguished Service Award will be (virtually) endeavored to Tammy Jones and Kirk Sykes. The couple will have their names etched together onto the ceremonial Boston Harbor Bowl, marking them, the first minority recipients to receive the distinction.
The duo considers the recognition transformative and humbling. “I’m so honored to be included with these trailblazers,” said Tammy Jones, Founder, and CEO of Basis Investment Group, a New York-based firm providing debt and equity to commercial real estate investments. “It’s amazing to receive an award - and with my best friend,” she added.
“For me, its validation of the things that are important to us,” expressed Kirk Sykes, Founder, and Partner of Accordia Partners, the Boston-based company focused on urban development projects throughout the city of Boston. “It’s validation especially when you are an African-American, and I’m happy to be recognized, but more importantly I am hopeful that people care about our work,” Sykes affirmed.
It is their work as trailblazing executives and champions for equality in the workplace and neighborhoods, which serves, in harmony, with the Swain Award’s mission. Sykes says he now understands the “why us?” “I was reading about all the real estate leaders before us, and they all had the same values about giving back to their communities, and then The Swain Award felt like a true fit and made sense.”
The duo’s ideologies and laboring efforts have not gone unnoticed within the profession. “Their contributions as outstanding real estate professionals are matched only by their long and enduring leadership in driving greater diversity and inclusion within our industry,” attests Richard Galvin, Co-Founder of Accordia Partners. “They certainly deserve this recognition and will now stand beside the legends of the Boston real estate industry.”
The couple’s push for inclusion in the real estate profession is a long journey that began decades ago and, as they attest, their goal wasn’t always met with open arms throughout the industry. “We’ve been poking at diversity and inclusion for over 50 years, but now it feels like a disruptive moment with companies and their leaders showing commitment like never before … it happens from the top down,” proclaimed Jones.
It was her strength, convictions, and fear of failure that she retrospects on. “It’s really lonely when you are the only woman, the only person of color, and to walk in a room and not see anyone who looks like you is very disheartening … my grit and fight and self-motivation are what drive me…that said none of us achieve success alone and I am grateful for the ‘angels’ along the way who have supported me,” she adds.
It is their competitive nature, strong work ethic, and desire to succeed at every level that is a major part of the couples bond. “Even my first job, mowing lawns, I was always hustling to get more customers, go to the next lawn … that hustle stays with you and you apply it to whatever you do,” Sykes recalled. Jones echos his ethos. “I was constantly coming up with businesses….I started with lemonade stands and eventually sold my services as a tutor helping other students … I always wanted to have my own money. “
Sykes has been a Bostonian since the late 80’s when he took a position at the architectural firm Still & Lee. He knew it was a fit after one of his first assignments. “I was assigned to a Roxbury Community College Project a few blocks from where I lived, and fully immersed in the Roxbury community - and then I knew I was on the right path.”
Ironically, it would be decades before the two crossed paths despite growing up just two blocks away from each other in Queens, New York. Ten years ago Jones and Sykes met at a Real Estate Executive Council (REEC) event in NYC - REEC is the preeminent professional trade organization for executives of color in the real estate industry nationally - where Jones is the current Chair of the Board. Since then, their mutual passion of inclusion, diversity, and strong ties to their community flourished alongside their relationship - as they continued to experience positive transformations within the real estate industry.
“Our industry was exciting, but lacked access to opportunity for people like me,” says Jones. “The industry was largely ‘male and pale,’ mostly made up of legacy companies and closed networks and people of color didn’t have access to that industry platform. To solve this systemic problem, we need to create a new paradigm, not one that just takes in interns to check a box, but one that creates access at every level.”
Jones noted that many companies focus on making diverse hires at the junior level but do not focus on retention. We have a retention problem in this industry because there are no clear pathways to success. “Inclusion needs to happen from the top-down and you can’t be it if you don’t see it,” she proclaims.
For Jones, It was her father who she considers her beacon. “My father was a jazz musician and taught me to pursue my passion and never give up.” As a jazz musician, improvisation was his thing and as an entrepreneur, like him, I have to think on my feet and go with my gut”.
Sykes, too, gives deep appreciation and gratitude for having such an amazing role model in his father. “My father was a renaissance man who traveled the world and would bring back creativity from whatever community he would visit.” His Dad, Lawrence Sykes, an accomplished athlete, artist, and photographer passed away in September in his Jamaica Plain home after complications from dementia. “He taught me that life is a trip and to enjoy the journey, every day.”
Despite the gala going virtual, the couple is looking forward to seeing their colleagues and being honored with such an esteemed group. “Sure, it would have been great to be out for a nice night, get dressed up, and see everyone. We’re both social people so it’s tough not going to networking events but we are still very much looking forward to the night,” said Jones. Sykes was quick to pay tribute to the association. “I really want to thank the Real Estate Finance Association for being such an inspirational and sophisticated group - to make such a special evening for us, despite what’s going on in the world is a real accomplishment, and we are very thankful.”
The Real Estate Finance Association (REFA), a division of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB), is a commercial real estate business association providing members with high-quality networking and educational opportunities. REFA strives to maintain its reputation for excellence by promoting the exchange of information between professionals in the real estate finance community and fostering a platform for growth and development for its Emerging Leader membership.
To Stream the 32nd Annual REFA Gala, registration can be found here.
Kirk Sykes Tammy K. Jones