Profiles in Courage: New York City’s Top Female Real Estate Professionals
When in late November we asked the city’s commercial real estate leaders to submit as comprehensive a list of female professionals on their payroll as possible—be they lawyers, accountants, brokers or analysts—the references to Mitt Romney’s infamous line about binders of women came early and often.
As questionable as it may have sounded at first blanch, however, our notion from the beginning was to put a human face on an underrepresented demographic of New York’s commercial real estate industry, where female membership within the Real Estate Board of New York and the Real Estate Special Interest Group currently stands at 43 percent and 31 percent, respectively, according to internal reporting.
And while those numbers are encouraging compared to five years ago—let alone 1985, when the actual tally of overall REBNY members eclipsed the number of women now serving there today –evidence shows that executive-level real estate professionals are still few and far between. Indeed, with nary a single woman running a real estate company boating 50 employees or more in New York City and under 20 percent of female directors currently serving on the boards of the Big Apple’s 100 largest companies, it’s hardly a surprise that at least one industry leader described the disparity as a so-called pink ghetto.
As such, over the next two days, The Commercial Observer will publish its not-quite-comprehensive year book, shall we say, of the commercial real estate industry’s female professionals, from its junior-level associates to its shot callers. But first, here’s a slide show of 20 of the industry’s most recognizable and talented executives.
Jotham Sederstrom, Editor-in-Chief
“My grandmother and mother were both entrepreneurs,” Ms. Carey said. “My grandma owned a nursing home that she opened after her husband fell ill and was bedridden for most of his adult life. This was the late ’30s, and it was tough. So I didn’t think starting my own business was unique for a woman.”
Ms. Carey founded JLC Environmental Consultants Inc. in 1987, when neither green development nor women in real estate were nearly as central to the industry conversation as they are today. “When a woman starts a firm, she has the freedom to do what she might not have as an employee,” said Ms. Carey. “You can have that ‘buck stops here’ mentality.”
Environmentally sound construction and female real estate professionals have ridden parallel tracks to prominence since Ms. Carey entered the business. “Women have risen through the ranks of company hierarchies,” she said. “But we’re still not as represented as our male counterparts.”
Ms. Carey is also a realist when it comes to environmental improvements. “The pace is what it is,” she said. “But I’m not disappointed.”
Lina Telese will succeed Ms. Carey as AREW president at the end of the month. But Ms. Carey will continue to give young women in real estate wise advice: “Don’t be pigeonholed; don’t get caught in the pink ghetto. Keep your foot on the pedal and aim high.” —Billy Gray
Mayor Ed Koch set up the program that launched her career as a means of stanching the flow of bright, ambitious young New Yorkers into the private sector. “In the ’80s, real estate brokers were one step above used car salesmen,” Ms. Gilmartin said. Shortly after that summer gig, the industry’s status and the face of New York were transformed—thanks in no small part to the seismic developments Ms. Gilmartin oversaw after joining Forest City in 1994.
New York by Gehry—Frank Gehry’s skyline-morphing residential tower at 8 Spruce Street—and the New York Times Building are among Ms. Gilmartin’s bolder accomplishments. But the unfolding Atlantic Yards project might be the signature piece of her career so far.
“You know I’m partial to Brooklyn,” Ms. Gilmartin, a Queens native, said when asked what she considered New York’s most tantalizing real estate corridor. “Forest City and I have been slogging away there since the ’80s, when the money men would cross the Brooklyn Bridge to look at MetroTech in limousines with bulletproof windows.”
Now, Brooklyn is “the center of gravity,” Ms. Gilmartin said. Jay-Z christened the renewed Downtown Brooklyn this fall with eight sold-out shows at Atlantic Yards’ centerpiece, the Barclays Center. “We’re extremely satisfied with the Barclays Center,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “But we won’t stop at satisfaction.” —Billy Gray
“Nobody is allowed to use that word—there are only issues,” she said.
Ms. Consolo has broken down retail boundaries from Times Square to Madison Avenue, to which she brought world-class names this year like Buccellati, Armani Jr. and Paul & Shark.
“It’s just work, work and hard work,” she said. “I feel like I’m down on the floor of the exchange on Wall Street, because in one minute you can lose the deal if you’re not on top of it.”
Other clients include Cartier, Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, Christian Loubutin and Ivanka Trump. Ms. Consolo was recently honored with the Trustees Medal by Mercy College and as a Woman of Achievement by the Greater New York Councils Exploring Program, among other honors, and she operates her own foundation, Real Estate Has a Heart.
Ms. Consolo believes she was “treated very roughly” when she started in the business, with many pushing her to pursue a career in residential real estate because she was a woman. “It’s changed somewhat, but not in total,” she said. “It can be a very rough game, but in my mind, you just have to immerse yourself into the boys’ club and hustle with the boys.”
She added, “I’m heading up an all-boys’ club ... and I’ve got all the best guys in town.”—Al Barbarino
“I have to confess that I was raised to be a mommy and not an executive of a very successful business, but a strong work ethic was always in my being,” she said, adding that she was always reminded to “never think that you’re entitled to what you’re given.”
Ms. Barrett has worked in practically every aspect of the hotel business: she took sewing and typing lessons, was a bookkeeper and worked her way through various hotel management jobs before rising to her current position. The hard work paid off most recently when Ms. Barrett celebrated the opening of The James Royal Palm, Denihan’s first foray into Miami.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that project,” she said. “To see the fruits of our labor—I can’t tell you how proud we all are of the finished product.” Among other honors, Ms. Barrett was recently named a Woman of Influence by Real Estate Forum, Female Executive of the Year at this year’s Stevie Awards for Women in Business and an Outstanding Woman in Real Estate by National Real Estate Investor.
“I do think there’s a great potential for women to continue to develop and expand in hospitality,” she said. “I’m optimistic about that.” —Al Barbarino
After graduating magna cum laude from Boston University and earning a law degree from New York University, Ms. Golub continued down the path of law, but soon found that road leading her back to the real estate world.
A recent hire at HFZ, she was previously at Africa Israel USA and Forest City Ratner, where she worked on preliminary development for the Atlantic Yards project. Among her career highlights was negotiating Barclays’s place as a partner in Brooklyn’s downtown redevelopment and its naming rights for Brooklyn’s new arena. “For me, that was a breakthrough moment in my career.” Ms. Golub also worked to restructure the debt and repurpose the Times Square Building, formerly the New York Times Building.
She was named Real Estate Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in Real Estate in 2012. The tenacity that’s driven her career was instilled by her father, Gerry Golub, managing partner of accounting firm Goldstein Golub. “Hard work and integrity and perseverance [are] the ingredients for success,” she said.
Real estate is a space where opportunities are in plentiful supply for those with passion and commitment, according to Ms. Golub, regardless of gender. “The glass ceiling is only there if you look for it.” —Karsten Strauss
Since forging a strong alliance with business partner Stephen Meringoff in 1985, Ms. Himmel has accrued a portfolio valued at over $500 million. She also chairs the Real Estate Board of New York’s economic development committee, which she founded. She received REBNY’s Bernard Mendik Lifetime Leadership Award in January 2011 and was named one of The Commercial Observer’s Power 100, along with Mr. Meringoff, in 2012. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School, Ms. Himmel joined Integrated Resources, focusing on property procurement and forgoing the path to investment banking she’d initially planned. She left the company in 1984 and formed Himmel+Meringoff.
One of Ms. Himmel’s most memorable deals closed in 1985, the year she co-founded the firm. The building, 989 Sixth Avenue, was put on the market by a motivated seller—Republic National Bank. The duo bought the 100,000-square-foot building for $5 million, submitting a contract within a week and closing several weeks later. She was working without a salary at the time but received equity in the deal.
Though the New York market has does have its share of female brokers, Ms. Himmel is among the few women landlords. “Probably in the next generation, it will be different,” she said. “Things are changing, but slowly.”
Ms. Himmel sees herself as a mentor and is a trustee of UPenn’s Council of Penn Women and an active member of the World Presidents’ Organization Big Apple Chapter, the Harvard Business School Network of Women Alumnae and YM/WREA.
Her advice to newcomers in the New York real estate world: “Keep a smile on your face and work hard.” —Karsten Strauss
She previously served as a vice president with State Street Corporation, creating quantitatively based global fixed-income trading strategies. Before that, she was a bond portfolio manager at MEAG New York Corporation, where she directed interest-rate trading for Munich Re’s $38 billion portfolio of assets. Ms. Learner, who began her career at Salomon Brothers, also worked as an associate director at Barclays Bank and as a vice president at JPMorgan Chase.
“Studley has had a particularly strong focus on research for a number of years,” Ms. Learner said. “That’s one of the things that attracted me to the firm.” Keeping track of economics is “all part of understanding the market,” she said. “It’s important to not only be aware of new construction, leasing and pricing. Its also important to understand the drivers of demand.”
As for a trend she sees in the New York market, Ms. Learner has found that the rebound in New York City office employment has occurred even without strength in the financial services sector—which historically has been one of the pillars of the city’s office market. Instead, she said, we’ve seen growth in the information technology sector. —Karsten Strauss
But political campaigns mostly took a backseat starting in 1969, when she married world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, with whom she has shared her life and career ever since.
Still, even in her current position, in which she oversees management, financial and administrative matters at her husband’s studio, Ms. Libeskind’s political and social engagement continues to play an important part in her work.
“I believe that once you work in architecture, you do it in a world that is public,” Ms. Libeskind told The Commercial Observer last week from China, where she is on a book tour with her husband. “The discussion should be about the public space, how the public views the building and how the building impacts the public.”
Her time overseas is hardly unusual, given that the couple spends half of the year flying around the world, managing about 50 commissions at a time and working out of offices in New York, Zurich and Milan.
“We have a symbiotic relationship,” she said, adding that they still have “a tremendous amount of fun.”
Her political passion and beliefs have played a role in projects such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which she described as near to her heart.
“On the other [side] of the coin,” she said, was the Military History Museum in Dresden, on which she negotiated closely with the German military.
“I think that with politics comes an ethical idea of the world that Daniel I share,” she said referring to her work. “Part is political, part is ethical and part is fun.” —Alessia Pirolo
A desire to work in real estate from a different angle prompted a move to Edward S. Gordon. “I just thought, ‘let me try going to the other side,’” she said. She arrived at Cushman & Wakefield in 2004 and now serves as one of the company’s executive directors.
The deals Ms. Lyon is most proud of include placing the Municipal Art Society in 111 West 57th Street. She also brokered two deals with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis— 166,000-plus square feet at 450 West 33rd Street and 10,000 square feet at 224 West 29th Street. She’s also worked with nonprofits such as New York Cares, Community Access, Jewish Community Centers Association and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School.
Ms. Lyon is a member of WX New York, an organization dedicated to promoting women in real estate. “Women have not been as good about putting together networking groups,” she said. One champion for women in real estate whom she looks up to is Cushman’s New York managing director, Suzy Reingold. “She’s been a huge supporter of women in the business.”
Ms. Lyon serves on the board of directors of Maria Droste Counseling Services. —Karsten Strauss
As president of Sorgente’s stateside satellite, Ms. Mainetti, 33, helped the company acquire the Flatiron Building in New York and the Fine Arts Building in Los Angeles. But it was her role as first-time mother, a job she started 15 months ago, that has proven one of the biggest challenges of her life.
“Being 100-percent a businesswoman and 100-percent a full-time mom is just not possible,” she told The Commercial Observer during an interview in Soho, where she lives with her family. “I had to start to delegate. Being a type-A personality who wants to keep everything under her full control, it has been difficult.”
After studying design at the European Institute of Design in Rome, Ms. Mainetti arrived in New York to pursue a master’s degree at Parsons, but soon enough took the reins of the American branch of her family’s company. Among her first deals was the purchase of a share of the Chrysler Building—later sold to a sovereign fund of Abu Dhabi for three times the initial investment.
Today her son is her first priority, but she is still very much in charge of the company, Since this summer, she has inked the deal for the Fine Arts Building, planned a forthcoming residential conversion of three Tribeca office buildings and pursued acquisitions in California.
“I spent a very long time listening to my grandma speaking about the charm of this city,” Ms. Mainetti said of New York.
“Maybe [my] passion for its history and its historic buildings dates [to] back then.” —Alessia Pirolo
The company’s 40 brokers speak 13 languages fluently and include former lawyers, business owners, accountants and others who have banded together for years, if not decades.
“We were never really focused on building a large company; we were about quality over quantity,” Ms. Paris said. “That’s why we are able to compete with these real estate firms that have offices all over the country.”
Among other honors, Ms. Paris was counted among the Association of Real Estate Women’s Most Powerful Women in Real Estate in 2009, and has served as an arbitrator for the Real Estate Board of New York. She is on the boards of directors of Northern Westchester Hospital and the Jewish Child Care Association, among other charity work.
“That’s really where I get my joy,” she said.
Ms. Paris started her career as one of the few women in commercial building sales, but that never held her back.
“If you’re a professional and you know your business, it actually enables a successful woman to stand out.” —Al Barbarino
“I knew what it meant to choose a location based on who your customer was, and I knew how to negotiate a lease,” said Ms. Podell.
Ms. Podell went on to execute some of Manhattan’s most prestigious retail assignments, like the rollout of Ann Taylor’s Loft concept, and she counts Nine West, Kay Jewelers, Benetton, Anne Klein, Guess and Nike among her clients.
She’s also represented landlords Starwood Capital Group, Hartz Mountain and the Moinian Group. “I really think that by representing both [landlords and tenants] I have a great overview of the market,” she said. Her recent deals have resulted in Kay Jewelers’ first Manhattan store at 136 West 34th Street, a flagship for Nine West at 1258 Avenue of the Americas and Anne Klein’s first New York flagship at 655 Madison Avenue.
Meanwhile, she was honored as Cushman & Wakefield’s 2006 Leading Brokerage Professional for the Americas, has received the Real Estate Board of New York’s Retail Deal of the Year award twice and was named one of Real Estate New York’s Commercial Broker All-Stars in 2004, among other honors, and she is currently the chair of the REBNY Retail Stores Committee. She was recently selected to exclusively market W&H Property’s 193,000-square-foot retail space at 112 West 34th Street.
“It’s the most exciting landlord assignment of my career, without a doubt,” said Ms. Podell. “I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.” —Al Barbarino
Starting her career as an economist, Ms. Scanlon spent years working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey before serving as New York State deputy comptroller from 1993 to 1997. She joined Schack in 2000 as a professor after two years as a researcher at the London School of Economics, and became dean of the institute in 2011.
As comptroller, Ms. Scanlon learned the ebb and flow of New York’s business cycles and economy and gained an understanding of how the real estate industry behaves during those changes. “It is the fiber of New York,” she said of the industry.
At the moment, Ms. Scanlon is bullish about the state of the New York market, given the relatively strong position of the commercial, retail and residential sectors. Even during a sluggish economic recovery, the city has found itself healthy, with developments in Midtown West, lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn. “It’s really astounding to see what’s going on, and I think we’ll see a lot more in the Bronx,” she said.
“There are more women in our program than ever before,” Ms. Scanlon said. New Schack graduates are emerging with a lot of confidence, and the women among them are armed with the same expertise as the boys. “I think that the qualifications and the skills will really matter.” —Karsten Strauss
“My father was in the supermarket business. My siblings and I were basically required to help out at the store after school from the time we were 14 years old,” Ms. Shabtai said. “I grew up in retail.”
Since moving to the city in 1978, Ms. Shabtai’s protean career has encompassed luxury apparel (at the avant-garde boutique Riding High), wholesale and jewelry.
Each sector “taught me the importance of every square foot of space,” Ms. Shabtai said. She approached Jeff Winick seven years ago and found a natural fit at the firm he had founded. “I carved my own niche,” she said. “And I brought a marketing background to real estate.”
Ms. Shabtai considers retail an optimal concentration for women. “We have an innate understanding of how retail functions. We’re the spenders and managers of the family,” Ms. Shabtai said. She keeps an eye on luxury tenants, and reports a solid return to form since the recession hit.
“I deal with the world players in luxury,” Ms. Shabtai said. “And I find that New York has become a country, a universe and a destination unto [itself]. Is luxury back? Everything’s back in New York.”
As for exceptional pockets of the white-hot local market, Ms. Shabtai looks north and west. Citing Columbia’s expansion and deals including Gary Barnett’s with Nordstrom, Ms. Shabtai says, “There’s an energy on the Upper West Side that’s incomparable to anything I’ve experienced.” —Billy Gray
“I wanted to make sure I followed in his footsteps,” said Ms. Stacom, who earned the coveted award for her role in bringing Conde Naste to 1 World Trade Center. “For me to bring the tallest building in the western hemisphere back to New York and top the Sears Tower carries on a wonderful legacy.”
Over the course of two decades, Ms. Stacom has been responsible for more than 35 million square feet of commercial real estate transactions. Her clients include The Bank of New York, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Colgate-Palmolive Company, SL Green, Blackstone and L&L Holdings.
In addition to her winning roster of clients, Ms. Stacom is a director at the Realty Foundation of New York and a member of REBNY’s Ethics Committee. Ms. Stacom is doing her part to attract more women into real estate: While serving on the Board of Trustees and Board of Advisors at her alma mater Lehigh University, she was involved in starting a real estate minor in the business school.
“That has helped introduce a lot of women to real estate who might otherwise not have considered it,” she said. “I did it primarily to get more women into the business, but also as a differentiator for Lehigh.” —Al Barbarino
“A good broker,” said Ms. Sunshine, “needs to understand [the client’s] mission to get the best deal possible.”
The founder and owner of a real estate firm specializing in representing nonprofit organizations, Ms. Sunshine has focused on a very specific group of clients since her beginnings in commercial real estate 11 years ago.
“The secret of my success is that I’m very niche focused,” said Ms. Sunshine, who last month formed a strategic partnership with the real estate services firm Colliers International. Among her clients are Anne Frank Center USA, American Ballet Theatre and, most recently, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, which is scheduled to open a newly purchased space in West Chelsea on December 14.
Ms. Sunshine feels strongly about the scant representation of women in the business. “Commercial real estate is a men’s club,” she said last week. “In my 11 years in commercial real estate, I’ve seen very little improvement.”
Moving up from the mid-level to a managerial position is among the hardest challenges for a woman, she asserted. “I had to go out on my own, declaring myself president of my own company. It took a lot of guts.”—Alessia Pirolo
Ms. Tighe is a seven-time winner of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Deal of the Year award, and has received REBNY’s Louis Smadbeck Memorial Broker Recognition Award, the Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Achievement Award and the Schack Institute of Real Estate’s Urban Leadership Award—which she was the first woman to receive.
Recent large deals include her representation of Condé Nast in its move to 1 World Trade Center, and retailer Coach as it takes on anchor-tenant status in the new Hudson Yards development in Midtown West.
According to Ms. Tighe, the industry is significantly more gender-neutral than it was even 10 years ago. “I’m hardly ever in a meeting anymore where I am the only woman in the room.” That rarely happened when she began, over 27 years ago, she added. As more female figures in the real estate market become major forces in the industry, it will become a more gender-blind business world, she explained. “The curve is moving in the right direction.” Ms. Tighe considers herself a mentor, hoping to give less experienced brokers the benefit of her knowledge. “I learn from them as well,” she said. The CBRE CEO counts other CBRE brokers such as Lauren Crowley-Coronet, Ramneek Rikhy and Joan Meixner as pupils of sorts, among many others.
A business that rewards merit, commercial real estate allows its practitioners to watch the city grow and develop while working with companies in all industries, Ms. Tighe explained. “This is a business that touches all of it.” —Karsten Strauss
But as executive vice president of development and acquisitions, she directs all of the Trump Organization’s real estate and hotel management platforms.
“I don’t sleep a lot,” Ms. Trump joked. “I have a serious amount of energy, and I’m good at prioritizing, plus I’m surrounded by a great team.”
A stickler for details, Ms. Trump has a hand in all phases of projects, from deal evaluation to sales and marketing to selecting interiors for hotel suites.
“We are interested only in the super-luxury space, and that’s a place where it is about the details,” she said. “That’s what separates the good from the great, and the great from the best.”
In February, the firm opened its first Canadian hotel—the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto—and was selected by General Services Administration to develop the iconic Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., with Ms. Trump leading the charge on a competitive RFP process. “That was very exciting, because it was arguably the most hotly contested, sought-after hotel redevelopment opportunity in the country.”
The firm also acquired the Doral Hotel & Spa in Miami in June, soon to be the Trump National Doral.
“Every project offers unique challenges and opportunities for growth,” Ms. Trump said. “I’ve been able to execute on a lot for my age, but at the same time, there’s so much more potential and so much more to learn.” —Al Barbarino
Prior to getting her master’s degree from New York University’s school of real estate finance, Ms. Wasserberger worked with investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, where, though real estate piqued her interest, she felt she wanted more. “I wanted to do something a little bit more tangible in real estate,” she said. Taking part in transactions within the New York market was attractive to the aspiring broker, and she made the leap to Colliers ABR in 1996 and Jones Lang LaSalle in 2002.
Some of the more impactful deals of her career were for a number of hedge funds—Tiger Cub spinoffs of the once powerful Tiger Fund. As for the current market, Ms. Wasserberger said tenants could look to take advantage of discounted sublease space and move to better locations. The future could also hold early renewals and forward deals, she added. “We are in a bit of a sluggish period.”
Due to the many complexities involved, brokering real estate deals requires efficiency, multitasking abilities and focus, and these are all attributes that women tend to cultivate, Ms. Wasserberger said. Newcomers to the industry in general should look to carve a niche for themselves, becoming an expert in certain areas, she said.
Charitably active, Ms. Wasserberger ran the 2010 New York marathon on behalf of the Doe Fund, an organization focused on combating homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism. In 2009 she was named a Woman of Valor by the Capuchin Food Pantry. —Karsten Strauss
“I have some favorite buildings in New York that I’ve been fortunate enough to lease,” Ms. Yunis said.
Among those is the Scribner Building, leased to Sephora, and the Chrysler Building, leased to Capital Grill and Aldo.
More recently, she brought Tommy Bahama to the Fred F. French building.
“I really like the hands-on experience, and being creative in working with tenants and landlords to create beautiful locations,” she said.
Working with Steinberg and Pokoik, Ms. Yunis recently repositioned the entire block-front at 575 Madison Avenue, including flagship locations for Geox, Destination Maternity, Honora and First Republic Bank. She is also working with the Durst Organization on their West Side properties.
Ms. Yunis is a member of REBNY and the International Council of Shopping Centers and serves as a trustee of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Representing both tenants and landlords, she is known for her national retail knowledge.
“Our business is changing a lot, and it’s very important to have a working knowledge of retail in other cities,” she said. She joined CBRE in 2011. “I not only receive great guidance from female peers, but also provide mentorship to ... future women in real estate. That was definitely one of the reasons I chose CBRE.”—Al Barbarino