Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 11, 2010, 3:20 p.m.
The Commercial Observer: Why don’t you both summarize what happened in your particular niches in 2009?
Suzanne Sunshine: Mom, do you want to start?
Louise Sunshine: No, you should start.
Suzanne: In general, nonprofits stayed active in the market because they tend to be counter-cyclical. They’re usually formed during hard times, so they don’t disappear during hard times. However, I would say that expansion was difficult for them. In a nutshell, a year ago from today was a difficult time for them. They lost confidence in their ability to expand because of the volatility and the economic downturn.
You mentioned elsewhere that funding was drying up. Is it still?
Suzanne: People are recouping their endowments. Foundations have to spend 5 percent a year on their grant-making, so to the extent that the endowments are either the same size or 20 to 30 percent smaller than last year, they’re still spending on grants. There’s still funding, both from the private foundations and the government.
What about you, Louise? What’s happening in the marketing world?
Well, in my sector, I have the luxury, in this stage of my life, of being a consultant, and I’ve been working a lot with various real estate companies and repositioning residential real estate and taking it through this challenging cycle. But really the main focus of my life right now is working with my daughter, Suzanne, and seeing how we can work together. Because, you know, my first go around with the Sunshine Group, my daughter wasn’t involved, and this go-around we’re trying to work together and combine our talents into doing interesting things together.
Why don’t you tell me what it’s like working together.
Suzanne: Well, there are three things that we’re exploring together. One is, on the charitable side, we’re being honored in April by Baruch College together—mother-and-daughter honorees. It’s the first time we’ve ever accepted an honor together for our work in each of our sectors: Me in the nonprofit and my mother in the residential. And then we’re exploring two other things together. One is the repositioning of a large site in Manhattan that is being taken over by lenders. We can’t name the site, but it’s a major site in the Plaza district in midtown Manhattan.
What kind of project?
Suzanne: It’s a project in distress. It’s being taken back by the lenders, and they’re going to reposition it. It’s a mixed-use project. It’ll have hotel, residential, maybe some nonprofit, retail. It will be completely mixed-use.
What’s it like working together?
Louise: Suzanne is extremely brilliant, and we’re a great team together. We’re very synergistic in our thinking in that we have a great contribution to make to each other. The two of us are stronger than one; so it’s true that I have a lot of energy, and I won’t retire because I love to work, but I think these are challenging times that can benefit from the energy that both of us have to give to it.
Suzanne: I also think, just to add, I did work with the Sunshine Group for about two years, but I knew that I would never be as good as my mother in residential. That was her passion. She developed that from the early days with Donald Trump. My passion, from when I was 13, was working with the nonprofit sector. So I decided to stick to that sector and so both of us have an equal amount of passion, commitment, talent and experience in our specific niches. We like to bring those niches together.
Do you guys give each other advice?
Suzanne: As my former boss at CBRE, Mary Ann Tighe, said, she felt I was just raised and taught at the breakfast table. Understand, my mother wasn’t always at the breakfast table because she was working hard. But I was taught by the experience of watching my mother at the age of 13, being involved when she ran Governor Carey’s campaign. Working on all her sites that she ran for Donald Trump. You know, I had a lot of involvement in my mother’s life, both in politics and in real estate, growing up as her only daughter. And I was exposed to a lot that most people my age had no exposure to during those times with their own mothers.
You also have your hands full with mentoring your son, Sam, don’t you, Louise?
It’s very good to get older. You have more time to mentor, and that’s what’s important to me now: passing on my skills and advice and having a collaborative relationship with Suzanne or Sam and whoever else wants to collaborate with me.
Louise, are you happy with Suzanne’s decision to start her own company?
Totally. I think it’s so important for a woman to do her own thing and have her own company, and that’s exactly what I did, and I’m more than proud of her. I just totally encourage her and stand by her and love working with her. She feels good about herself, and she has so many accomplishments to be proud of. I think it’s really helped to improve our working relationship because we’re able to share so many working experiences together.
Suzanne: When I worked for her at the Sunshine Group, I really knew deep down that I would never be as good as her at residential, so it was better for me to stick with my own passions and follow my heart, and take the risks. So that was something she did. She didn’t tell me to do it, but by example she taught me to do it.
Do you ever get tired of reading the word ‘legendary’ affixed to your name when reading articles about yourself in the newspapers and trade magazines?
Louise: It’s sort like having an advanced look at your obituary, if that makes any sense. I think people are only a legend in their own mind. I never think of myself as legendary. I get up every day and look at the day’s challenges as brand new.
Suzanne: I see my mother as always looking for opportunities every day. We were just in Frankfurt, as well as Switzerland, and she was looking at all the buildings in Frankfurt that Tishman Speyer developed, and she was thinking about new things. She doesn’t look backward; she looks forward.
Louise: It was phenomenal, actually. I had the privilege of having a guided tour through Jerry Speyer’s new building, which is not opened yet, which is called the OpernTurm. I mean, it’s the most amazing building I’ve ever been to in my entire life.
Suzanne: It’s a masterpiece. It’s on the outskirts of downtown Frankfurt.
Growing up with such a pioneer in the real estate industry, Suzanne, you must have been surrounded by living legends of the business.
I’ll never forget when I was about 16, I had my first date with Fred Trump, which Donald Trump arranged. And he drove the limousine with Ivana, and he drove us to Giants Stadium for a date to see a soccer game.
Was that the only date with Fred?
That was the one and only date with Fred. We’re still friends, and we work together, and we laugh about it. But as a daughter of my mother, I was always very enthralled and impressed with what she did, and what she created for herself.