This Is Rutherford
This is Vicky Fajardo
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo Credits: Vicky Fajardo
Since Vicky Fajardo was a young child she recognized the need to set goals and work hard. Now as a wife, mother of three, and Chief Operations Director of the New Jersey Region at Cushman & Wakefield, this Rutherford resident has used her diversified skill set and dedication to make her mark in the business world and within her community. Most recently, she was named one of the Top 50 Women in NJ Biz. She has also recognized by the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Journal in their Women in Business Spotlight. She is a co-chair of the NJ Chapter of the firm's Women's Integrated Network (Win) and was interviewed by NJ Biz for a feature on "The Impact of Diversity and Inclusion."
This is Rutherford recently interviewed Vicky to find out more about her successful career, her role as mother and wife, and her impact on her community.
TIR: You currently hold the highest executive position for the NJ Region at Cushman & Wakefield. That is quite an accomplishment. To what do you attribute this success?
Vicky Fajardo: I grew up watching my father build and run a successful embroidery business and my mother juggle a fruitful teaching career while managing household responsibilities as well as finding the time to support every goal my sister and I wanted to achieve. I was able to abstract from those experiences that success comes from hard work, dedication, being a great listener, and a strategic decision-maker. Early in my career, I quickly learned that life wasn’t always equitable. However, I was able to utilize those learned attributes to overcome any perceived ‘glass ceiling’ obstacles. Success is doing great work today and even better work tomorrow and always seeking opportunities for improvement, and recognizing the impact of positive change.
TIR: Have you always been a conscientious, hard worker (even as a child)?
VF: I believe I was born an old soul. When I was 10, I started my own leaf raking business in my neighborhood and by the time I was 12, I was a mother’s helper for a 2-year-old. I started truly working at the age of 16 and think that having been such a responsible child has made me a more conscious and focused worker in my adult life.
TIR: You have recently been named one of the Top 50 Women in NJ Biz. How did you feel when you found out you made this exclusive list?
VF: I have never been one to showcase my accomplishments. I feel like everyone should do really great things at work and in life in general, and be “all in” no matter what. NJ has some of the most accredited and successful women in business, so while I knew of my successes, I was unsure how they would compare to those of the other nominees. However, after my nomination was announced, the emails that poured in were of heartfelt support and reassurance. At that point, I was reminded that I did really belong among the best.
TIR: It has been stated that some essential components of your vision are solid training, coaching, and learning and development programs. As the acting Chief Operating Officer of a $300 million NJ business, you have found ways to empower your employees. Why are these components so important within any workforce?
VF: My philosophy in life and work are one and the same. Always go back to basics to move forward through constantly reassessing, strengthening, and enhancing your capabilities. At work, having opportunities to be coached and trained allows employees to feel challenged and supported. Out of that comes a sense of pride. There is a feeling of connection, accomplishment, and support by the business as employees continue to grow and navigate their interests, talents, and future desires. The vast majority of workers do not want to remain stagnant. When an organization can facilitate career growth and open doors to future successes via training, development, and mentorship, a cultural shift happens. That shift ultimately propels businesses in their efforts to attract and retain top talent.
TIR: As a woman who is balancing work, home, and family, how have you managed since life changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic in March?
VF: I have always been extremely organized and thrive in fast-changing, challenging environments. I feel these attributes aided in “calming” the storm that came into our home during the pandemic. Workdays were long, homeschooling commenced and lots of emotions were felt. I had to remind myself to stay calm as to not transpose feelings of uncertainty onto our children, and work in tandem with my husband, so they too could work through the many challenges and changes. We made it a team effort and we made the best out of what we had, trying new things, spending more quality time with one another, and being extremely respectful and supportive. Conscious connection to my husband and children helped us all honor that we were safe and had what we needed. I am not saying it was easy or perfect. Innately I am always the caregiver, both at home and at work, and I knew I was ready to play that role for all around me who also were struggling through this. Helping others always helps me get through tough times. It gives me perspective and allows me to push forward.
Photographed below from left to right: London and Parker, Hudson, and London, Parker, and Hudson.
TIR: As a mother of two daughters, what do you hope they learn from watching you? What do you hope your son learns?
VF: I hope my girls learn that women have a choice and a voice and that with hard work and dedication, they can achieve anything in life. I hope to show my son how to balance a loving and nurturing relationship with his sisters and future relationships by watching my husband and me. I hope all of my children learn respect, commitment, agility, the importance of giving back, graciousness, and the ability to love unconditionally. These traits should always be at the core of who they are and lead them to who they want to be as adults.
Vicky's mantra is to "Be brave, be strong, and be you. It's not gender that defines you, it's your courage, commitment, and work ethic that will lead you to success."
TIR: Tell us about the Next Generation Leadership Committee of which you are a part.
VF: The Next Generation Leadership Network was created in 2019 and is comprised of 125 of the highest-performing professionals who demonstrate leadership and significant contributions to the firm. As part of this committee, I have been tasked to advise executive leadership on how to ensure we are meeting the needs of our population. Our input will help influence the development of our business strategies and culture, as well as enhance collaboration opportunities.
TIR: You co-created and co-lead the NJ-based LEAD (Leadership Exploration And Development Program). Why is this program particularly important to you and your company?
VF: This group is one I co-created with the Managing Principle of NJ and is the only group of its kind in the Americas at Cushman & Wakefield. It consists of brokers who are 7-20 years in the business and was created with the intention to bring together, those who we consider “rising star/next-generation” brokers. The intent is to cultivate and strengthen a sense of community and philanthropy, a change in leadership style wherein they are empowered to be stakeholders and decision-makers, to hold them and us accountable for creating a favorable future and to mentor the incoming generation. We are coming into our second year with this program and due to its successes, it is being disseminated into other markets to bolster the importance of perpetuating change and progressive leadership.
TIR: You’ve been integral in organizing charitable events and community outreach programs in your role at Cushman & Wakefield. Within your personal life, you have also found ways to give back to your community as well. Can you explain some of the ways your company has supported various causes and how your family does so as well? Why are these types of opportunities important to you?
VF: In the almost 5 years I have been at CW, we have consistently supported Tackle Kids Cancer via 5k runs at the Meadowlands Race Track, The NJ Food Bank, packing and shipping food to those in need as well as supporting the Million Meal initiative, raising funds alongside other Commercial Real Estate firms to provide one million meals in the state of NJ. We have also taken part in the Pack to School initiative, wherein we raised funds to supply children in Clifton who are living under the poverty line with brand new backpacks and supplies, in union with The Clifton Boys & Girls Club, participated and raised funds for Verizon 5K in support of battered women in the state of NJ, and Habitat for Humanity, through which we have helped build homes for those in need.
Personally, we have supported the local food bank in town, donated cookies via our girl scout troop to the children at Hackensack Hospital, and have always donated our toys and clothes to those in need locally. It is not only important to me but for my children to have the opportunity to support those who may be less fortunate and understand and honor the importance of giving back.
TIR: Now that we as a society are relying more and more on virtual communication such as virtual meetings, seminars, etc., how are you finding ways to continue to reach your business goals and support those that look to your leadership?
VF: Commercial Real Estate is built on relationships. For over a century, we have relied on in-person communication, hand-shakes, and client-focused events to bolster opportunities both internally and externally. With all of that transferring to a virtual world, staying engaged has been our number one priority. We hold several large scale team meetings a week, continue to engage with one-on-one virtual meetings at the same cadence as we did when in person, as well as have expanded our reach from just NJ focus to creating new virtual meetings with Tri-State leadership, America’s leadership, and others. We have gathered that intel and transposed it back to our NJ market and clients to extend the sharing of knowledge and resources we have throughout the organization. Through these channels, we continue to focus on revenue, performance, and personal goals. I would say I am more connected than ever, as I continue to expand my reach to the broader population. In that, not only can we achieve our local business goals, but we can better align with those of the greater Americas, as well as continue to drive cross-collaboration.
TIR: As a Board member of the REF, how have you been able to use your experience in the corporate world, as a community member, and as a mother with school-aged children to best help the REF reach their goals?
VF: For many years, I have been a major contributor to corporate fundraising events at work. This has aided in fostering the mission of the REF, which is to continue to drive large and small scale events to raise money to fund grants for the Rutherford school system. Community contribution has always been of the utmost importance to me, and with three children in the school system, I thought being a part of the REF would make the most impact for not only their future but for all the children in town.
TIR: How many years have you lived in Rutherford? What drew you to this town?
VF: Gerry and I moved to Rutherford in 2008 after having spent many date nights dining at the wonderful restaurants in town. Each time we came to Rutherford, we fell more in love with the beautiful homes, the great food, the proximity to NYC, and the overall vibe of small-town USA with a mix of urban influence. We also knew that when we started a family, we wanted to live in a town with a great school system. We have since made our house our home and made so many great connections in town. Our family also enjoys having a downtown and so many other things accessible in close proximity to our home.