Patty Bender | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Patty Bender


Vista Private Equity Group was founded in 2006 to invest in real estate and other industries. Partner Patty Bender joined the Houston company in 2016 after a 33-year career at Weingarten Realty Investors, where she directed the leasing, marketing and market research departments; was responsible for the net income of 350 shopping centers; and directed transactions in existing assets, redevelopments and new developments. Her projects included the Centre at Post Oak and the Village Arcade and the redevelopment of the River Oaks Shopping Center, all in Houston. She’s currently working on expanding University Commons, a retail center in Sugar Land. She also teaches a real estate class she developed for Rice University’s Jones School of Business.

The Mistake:

Seeing things only in black and white.

Early in my career, I was a high school English teacher and track coach. One time my principal observed me from the back of my class. Later he made the comment that I needed to be more flexible and more open to other people’s viewpoints. “Don’t be so black and white. Sometimes things are gray,” he said.

Years later, I moved to Houston in 1979 to seek my fortune, as many people did, and I worked as a fashion buyer at Foley’s [department store] and then in leasing at Weingarten. I was always meeting people and making all kinds of decisions. I couldn’t believe how emotional some of these negotiations became.

My mentor, who was also my boss, told me that I needed to be more relaxed, let the customer talk, soak up the information and look for the win-win. He said the same thing the principal had said: “Don’t look at things in black and white, but in gray.”

I could not have been a good manager if I didn’t have mentors advising me to be more flexible.

The Lesson:

Seek out the gray. Ten years later at Weingarten, I was told I was going to be the developer and leasing agent for the Centre at Post Oak, which was at the corner of Westheimer right across from the Galleria [shopping center]. I was faced with a very meet-in-the-middle, gray situation.

The big box phenomenon was going on and I had TJ Maxx and Old Navy clamoring to be at that intersection. I also had Morton’s Steakhouse and FAO Schwarz. I was faced with, “You can’t combine all these upscale retailers with off-price retailers.” So we designed a shopping center that’s really two shopping centers, with the north part the off-price section and the south section housing the more upscale outlets. It was a real test: I had to take a deep breath, be creative and place odd merchants in the same center. And it worked.

I could not have been a good project manager if I didn’t have mentors and supervisors advising me to be more flexible.

Photo courtesy of Patty Bender

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