Last week, The Commercial Observer spoke to nearly one hundred prominent women in commercial real estate, most of whom were happy to report that industry complaints about mistreatment or outright sexual harassment are now few and far between, compared to five years ago, yes, but especially in comparison to 20 years ago, when fewer than half as many women in New York held top executive positions in the industry.
But the problems created by such disparities still persist, as evidenced by myriad anecdotes relayed to Commercial Observer reporters during interviews last week. Below, one executive’s sordid tale of a negotiation in the early ’00s with a well-known financial services company honcho and her well-behaved male boss on the eve of the Great Recession.
We had a large block of space with a major financial services company—this is [REDACTED]—and [REDACTED] and I go in there to discuss a 200,000-square-foot lease. It’s a big deal. It would be a big deal if the building were in Midtown. And we’re having a difficult time coming to terms. And [REDACTED] wants to see us.
Now, [REDACTED] is a big deal. But [REDACTED], at the time, was a huge deal. He was riding high, really at the top of his game. And [REDACTED] was untouchable in so many ways, at least in the view of the Wall Street folks. They had great credit; they were [REDACTED]. This was [REDACTED] for a very big amount of space.
At the time, we were building other developments—the [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. When we got into his office, it was truly absurd. Like a den, this dark cave—a man cave. We literally sat down and he hit a button and the massive door closed behind you. It was that crazy.
He then proceeds to sit down in front of us, light a fat cigar and hoist his feet up onto his desk. Really, who does that? So, obviously he’s a character.
Then he says, “I was reading the [REDACTED] today, and I saw you’re building with [REDACTED]. Boy, they really love [REDACTED] at the [REDACTED].” He kind of made reference to the fact that the [REDACTED] has an issue with [REDACTED] because they think [REDACTED] is against developing [REDACTED] because they’re [REDACTED] with us in Soho. So, he said, “They think you’re in bed with [REDACTED].”
He said, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind being in bed with you.”
And [REDACTED] is sitting there. And we sort of let it go. Then he started talking about employees at his company’s other location in [REDACTED]. And he says, “You know, these people could be in fucking Calcutta for all I care. So I’m not really here to fight for this lease. I don’t care where these people are.”
“But let’s talk about you,” he said. “Tell me what you do and what you’re doing here.”
And [REDACTED] says, “Well, [REDACTED] practically runs the company for me. She does all the [REDACTED].” And [REDACTED] starts making these really inappropriate overtures and comments—everything from “getting into bed together” to “it must be nice to have someone like her around, huh [REDACTED]?” to “Gee, let’s not talk about the real estate transaction. Maybe I want to have you around me.”
During this meeting he really reduced me to a piece of property. And he did it so blatantly and so offensively that at some point [REDACTED] and I looked at each other and we said that we weren’t certain there was anything more to talk about, that we’d be in touch with the brokers and we would be going on our way.
So we walked out of the meeting, but not in a way—well, we should have done even more than that, because it was so offensive.
And he had the broker call me the next day, which was so—again, it was so absurd. Here’s a man who essentially runs this multibillion dollar empire who can’t comport himself in a meeting if there’s a woman in the room. And historically he had women around him in trading positions. And trading is a difficult spot.
I said to myself, it did not feel good to be a real estate professional that day. But what must it feel like to be in trading at [REDACTED] if you’re a woman?
[REDACTED] and I, for a long time, had a lot of conversations about the need for [REDACTED] to have his comeuppance. But it put us all in a jam—it was a huge transaction, with [REDACTED]. And [REDACTED] really wanted to get up and throw the stapler at the guy. But he didn’t—we left. And we almost left in defeat in the sense that we hadn’t told him what we wanted to tell him. We both felt like we needed a shower.
I said to myself—all the advancements you think we’ve made, that this could happen in the corridors of power—I think that this was not different from how he dealt with most everybody. And I’m sure women in brokerage are still treated that way.
I was humiliated, horrified. From then on I dealt with the broker. And we got the deal done. [REDACTED] was just in it to play. We dug in on the deal points, and that’s how we got our revenge. We said: he’s never leaving. He doesn’t care. He’s going to pay the number. He’d shown his hand—it was a pimple on the ass of an elephant.
He really did himself a disservice. We had, clearly, no reason to accommodate him. We ended up making a better real estate deal but recognized we had no relationship at the top of that company and never wanted to see him again. We dealt with his underlings. And all I got to do was read about his demise in the paper.