“I’m a geek,” Fabienne Nelson admits with an air of pride. “I never want to stop learning. That’s the good thing about working at Duke Realty. It gives you the opportunity to tap into so many resources. They encourage employee growth in a way most companies just talk about.”
Nelson thinks her commitment to lifelong learning was instilled at an early age by the nuns who ran the primary school she attended in Haiti, where she grew up. In fact, she wanted to be a nun until she was around 16 years old. Growing up, Miami was a vacation destination for her family. They would visit every summer. She moved here in the late 1980s, and it has remained her home ever since.
The melting pot of cultures South Florida provides is something Nelson treasures. “I love living in Florida,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to experience so many new cultures. I have friends from Brazil. I have friends from Ethiopia. I have friends from India, Jamaica, and Aruba. It’s amazing down here.”
Around 30 years ago, Nelson was just starting a career as an accountant when an assignment with Swire Properties landed on her desk. She had only been working on the account for a few weeks when the company’s president approached her and asked if she was looking for something more permanent. “I was young,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted.” But at that moment, she decided on a real estate career with Swire and never looked back.
The attention to detail Nelson learned as an accountant is a skill she continues to bring to her work in asset management three decades later. “I am extremely detailed,” she said. “I take my time to dissect everything in order to get the correct result.”
One thing a career in asset management provides that accounting never could is variety. It’s one of Nelson’s favorite parts of the job. “You’re never bored,” she said. “Every day, a tenant will challenge me with something new. It’s fun, and it’s not just the work. It’s the people, and collaborating to come up with solutions together.”
The role with Swire led to a position in asset management with CBRE, where Nelson spent a decade. Similar to the initial leap she took with Swire, Nelson wasn’t looking for a new opportunity when Ed Mitchell and Stephanie Rodriguez recruited her to Duke Realty in 2011. “I was happy,” she said. “But the more I talked to Stephanie, the more it felt like the right move. Joining Duke Realty is maybe the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“Duke Realty has a great culture,” Nelson said. “They find people with great character and work ethic. You can rely on them to get the job done, and you can always reach out to ask for help. They make sure every department has somebody that can help you. That’s what differentiates us. We’re always thinking further ahead than the competition.”
She started in the South Florida market before getting promoted to oversee Duke Realty’s portfolio for the entire state of Florida in 2014, representing more than 10 million square feet of industrial space. Her current role draws on all of her skills: budgeting, communications, personnel supervision, client relations and customer service.
When she’s not at work, Nelson is heavily involved in philanthropic work in the South Florida area. She’s a board member and treasurer for Commercial Real Estate Women’s (CREW) Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton chapter and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Miami-Dade. When she’s not volunteering, she’s probably cooking her native Haitian food or playing with her puppy, a Maltipoo, named Toby. “He’s a COVID dog,” Nelson laughs. “I got him during the pandemic.”
When Nelson starts to think about her legacy at Duke Realty, she gets excited about bringing new technology into her role. “I’m always looking for new ways to be more efficient,” she said. “I think I can learn from IT people in so many different ways. I’m excited about using that knowledge to make my whole team more efficient. I’m hoping by the end of the year to come up with two or three great ideas.”
After three decades in commercial real estate, no one would fault Nelson for relying on the same solutions that helped get her to this point in her career. But that’s just not who she is. She has always approached her job with a healthy appetite for innovation—and she’ll never stop learning. Which is just the way she likes it.