This October, Stephanie Appiah, JD/MBA ’15 is celebrating one year at Detroit-based Bedrock, a full-service real estate firm specializing in acquiring, leasing, and managing commercial and residential space. The role is a far cry from her initial professional ambitions to serve as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State, but her detour comes with no regrets.
“Did I intend to end up in real estate? No. But I think the diplomatic corps and the private sector require similar skillsets: project management, collaboration, and relationship management,” she explained. “Any sort of manager or senior leader needs soft skills and empathy to help people from different backgrounds to work well together as a team, whether that’s at an international or more local level. The competencies travel well from one to the other.”
Appiah initially joined Bedrock Detroit as a project planning director where she served as a non-administrative chief of staff to the CEO and a strategic planning leader for the COO. She served in that role for nine months, and in June 2020 assumed her current position as Senior Vice President of Property Management. Appiah leads a team of over 70 employees responsible with managing a portfolio of 100+ commercial, residential, and retail buildings that account for over 19 million square feet throughout the city of Detroit. Her team also oversees $18 million worth of capital projects.
“Where I am now, I am able to make an impact on people. I believe that my best place of impact is doing the work of providing a good resident experience, a good tenant experience, and keeping our team members safe in times of emergencies,” she said. “I’m at my best use when I’m capitalizing on the positive momentum at the top of the organization, and bringing it down to my entry-level team member by making it a good experience for them.”
Pivoting from Service to Business
Appiah was raised in Mechanicsville, Virginia which is located just north of the Commonwealth’s capital of Richmond. She attended Swarthmore College where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Political Science.
Following college, she joined Teach for America and worked as a middle school writing instructor and as a high school Spanish instructor in Philadelphia. But in the spring of 2011, she was presented the opportunity to join Soapbox, a consumer goods start-up located in Alexandria, Virginia. Appiah became the Chief Development Officer and helped to support the organization’s mission to empower consumers to affect change through health and hygiene initiatives in communities domestically and abroad.
That experience led Appiah to consider returning to school to earn her master’s degree in business.
“The cost calculus for me was scholarships and being close to family,” she said. “My husband’s family is from Baltimore and my family is still in Richmond, so William & Mary made sense. It was important to me to establish a community as I went through an intellectually challenging experience. It was a good thing that William & Mary made me stretch myself in terms of learning and build rigor in terms of how I took in information and analyzed it. But being close to my family while I was doing that was key.”
Balancing Law with Business
Appiah applied to, and was ultimately accepted into, the joint JD/MBA program at William & Mary which allows students to simultaneously earn two graduate-level degrees through the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and the William & Mary Law School.
The dual degree program was three years long which afforded Appiah the opportunity for two summer internships versus the traditional full-time MBA experience which only offers one. Appiah opted to spend both summers as a President’s Associate in the Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation’s MBA Rotational Program.
Her first summer, Appiah built databases, created metrics, implemented programs, and served as a Culture Ambassador. The following summer she rotated through compliance management, process optimization, operational logistics, and start-up project management. These experiences coupled with her William & Mary education are what she says have set her up for professional success in the long run.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned professionally is to stay humble. Having the degree is only as good as the relationships that you leverage and the people that you work with to get things done,” she explained. “My degree gives me the analytical skills to better help me understand motivations or understand how to strategically move a situation, but my relationships with people in the workplace are what gets things done.”
Appiah also credits the diversity of her fellow classmates’ backgrounds and the insights they brought into the learning environment for broadening her view of the world.
“At William & Mary, I had to work with people coming from other countries, and I had to learn how to give up some control and how to trust people. I wouldn’t have had that without my William & Mary experience, and it’s translated emphatically well to the work that I do now,” she said.
Championing Diversity and Inclusion
Armed with an MBA from the Mason School and her Juris Doctorate from the Law School, Appiah parlayed her experience with Caesar’s Entertainment into a position with Horseshoe Baltimore where she worked as a Continuous Improvement, Service, and Special Projects Manager.
After nearly a year, she moved over to JACK Entertainment where she held several roles doing functional deep dives with senior leaders, optimizing processes, overseeing staffing, influencing long-term strategic planning, and developing the teams for the operations, human resources, and design and construction executives.
While at JACK Entertainment, Appiah was also admitted to the State Bar of Michigan and is currently a licensed attorney. Though her current role at Bedrock Detroit does not explicitly require her to practice law, she uses a combination of her law and business skills to guide her team through successful real estate transactions.
“These opportunities presented themselves, some through networking and others through former leaders asking me to come work with them in new places. I was flexible about where and how I work, and I was able to carry those skills across jobs,” she explained.
In addition to her position at Bedrock, Appiah also serves as the Vice President of Financial Affairs for the newly established Mason Alumni of Color Network.
“I ended up on the Leadership Council because my fellow classmate, Montique Warren, reached out to me in 2014 when we were both still at William & Mary and said we need a focused alumni network for people of color,” she said. “Six years ago, we started with that idea and it has been a long road working with the Administration to take that idea, manifest it, and bring it to life.”
Along with her fellow Leadership Council members, Appiah is working to establish a safe space for open dialogue among the Mason School’s alumni of color. They’re doing so through various speaker series, events, book club discussions, and collaborations with the Mason School to bring in more diversity and a greater sense of inclusion at the business school.
Yet with all she is managing, Appiah keeps her eye on her ultimate goal: to become a CEO by the time she’s 40 years old.
“I’m 31 years old now and I’m a Senior Vice President. My next role will be one where I lead multiple verticals and teams to build a business, whether it’s one I found or one I’m recruited for,” she said. “I envision myself as a leader of people and a leader with pride that I am making an impact on an organization in a positive way.”