While changing one's career from medical device development to real estate development may seem like a big leap, for Mariah Weyland Gratz, engineering was the common thread between the two.
Mariah Weyland Gratz
Gratz, who earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering in 2002 from the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, in October became chief executive of Weyland Ventures, her family's urban real estate development company that specializes in mixed-use and historic rehabilitation projects in Louisville, Ky., particularly in the downtown area, and has been credited with changing downtown Louisville. Some of the firm's signature projects include the Hillerich & Bradsby Co.'s Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Glassworks District, the Whiskey Row Lofts and the Liberty Green development, a $200 million, mixed income community that replaced a 1940s-era public housing development. The company is expanding outside of Louisville with a project under construction in Dayton, Ohio.
She joined the company in 2009 after working for six years in medical device development for Abiomed, a Boston-area medical device firm, starting as a systems engineer and eventually leading development of the AbioCor artificial heart.
"It was about as complicated as you could get from a medical-device perspective," she says. "I was used to coordinating a team of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, biomedical engineers and the manufacturing team and dealing with all of the issues that come along with having that complicated of a device."
Gratz applied the same engineering tactic to real estate when she returned to Louisville to join the family's company, then known as City Properties Group LLC, to work in real estate development and to continue to company's growth.
"Real estate also is a very complicated product where you have to deal with a lot of input from a wide range of people to push everything forward so that it makes sense," she says. "Approaching it from an engineering product-development perspective let me put a framework around it for what I understood and knew I could do, then I had to figure out the niches and nuances that are unique to the real estate industry along the way. My background as a systems engineer was critical."
While the real estate industry slowed during the economic recession in 2009-2010, Gratz said the company completed about $30 million in work during that time to sustain the company.
"I really started to take to the family business and the advantages of being in a family business where you have more control over where the business is going and how it's going to get there than you would in a corporate job," she says. "I continued moving up and expanding my role beyond development to become more of a COO role and to manage day-to-day operations across the company."
Her role has been recognized by others. Earlier this year, Gratz was named among the Louisville Business First's "Forty Under 40," which recognizes young professionals making important contributions in the business community. She also is an active member of several boards in the Louisville area, including serving as chairman of the board of the Louisville Downtown Management District this year.
Gratz played on the soccer team at WashU, was a Woodward Scholar and worked two summers and a semester co-op during her junior year at Abiomed, so she didn't have time to study abroad as an undergraduate student. Instead, she chose to pursue a master's degree in engineering and physical science in medicine from Imperial College in London. She earned an MBA from the University of North Carolina in August 2016.
With her father recently stepping back from his CEO role into a chief strategy officer role, Gratz and her two brothers, Kent and Lee, will continue growing the company and changing neighborhoods.
"We really focus on the properties that are just on the edge of a downtown area with a focus on revitalization," she says. These properties have often sat abandoned for 20 years. The way we approach projects is with the community in mind. We're trying to make a positive impact on the community, not just trying to hit a number on the bottom line."
The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 21,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.