A Prodigal Returns: Highland Village’s Masa Liles
Written by Hannah Saulters
In the span of a 30-year career in retail and property management, Masa Liles has lived in almost every major U.S. city: Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and most recently, Washington, D.C.
Two and a half years ago, when a headhunter sent an InMessage on LinkedIn asking if the Jackson native knew of anyone who would be interested in managing Highland Village Shopping Center, she replied, “What about me?”
Soon after, Liles made the move of a lifetime and returned home. “I didn’t even know I wanted to live in Mississippi again until this came up,” she says with a smile. But the relocation has proved only positive.
When she graduated as one of thirty seniors from Rebul Academy in Learned, Miss., Liles dreamt of becoming a fashion designer. A tall and lanky teenager, she had trouble finding clothes that fit. To this self-described “worker bee,” designing them herself was the most obvious solution.
Liles studied fashion merchandising at Hinds Community College, but preferring the real-world to a classroom setting, she moved to Dallas to pursue her career before graduating. “Retail is just the greatest training ground,” she reflects. “It teaches you business skills, but also how to manage and interact with people.”
Liles quickly progressed in the field, eventually moving to Atlanta to manage Lenox Square Mall, a prestigious shopping center, and later, AmericasMart, a marketplace and meeting center for top retail brands. Although it was easy, in these positions, to get caught up in the first class lifestyle and travel accommodations, Liles appreciates something else from this time. “It gave me an amazing perspective on the world, how retailers work in different cultures and how global business really functions. I wouldn’t take anything for it.”
It is this global worldview and business acumen that makes her so excited about her current position as General Manager at Highland Village in Lefleur East.
First, she saw it as an honor to be trusted with this Jackson institution, “where I’ve been shopping since I was fifteen.” But, Liles also acknowledges the pushback the transition and redesign initially received. “The fact that a major national developer saw potential in Highland Village and in Jackson speaks to its promise and potential. Of all the places where they could’ve invested, I’m proud they chose here. Even though some people were frustrated Highland Village isn’t owned by a family anymore, the beauty of it is that WS Development did choose a native to manage it.”
Liles’ understanding of community culture continues to bring new texture to the Highland Village redesign as she puts into practice their mission of building “a place where people just love to be.” She has renewed efforts to expand outdoor dining and gathering opportunities and is working on integrating more public art projects, including murals and other permanent installations.
Her status as a local has proved invaluable in business, but she also just appreciates being home.
“Having been the prodigal daughter and been away for 30 years, I value being here. I’ve got my family all around me, so my focus has changed from going out with friends when I was alone in big cities, to spending time with the people I’ve missed.”