Our Lady of the Forest: MaryAnne Gilmartin On Taking Charge at FCRC

Last week, Forest City Enterprises confirmed what had become an open secret in New York real estate circles: MaryAnne Gilmartin would succeed Bruce Ratner as president and chief executive of the company’s New York subsidiary, Forest City Ratner Companies. Ms Gilmartin spoke with The Commercial Observer on the day of the announcement last week about the process of deciding on a succession plan, what she will bring to the table and how her ascension to the top of FCRC will impact the way women are viewed in the real estate industry.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Commercial Observer: Can you elaborate on the succession plan and the process that was taken?

Ms. Gilmartin: It was a very deliberate and, I think, very well-executed plan that began well over a year ago. We’ve been working on this, and in many ways I’ve been doing a lot of the things associated with the day-to-day operations of the company. I run a lot of the major real estate transactions, I interface with a lot of different people here within the company, and I drive a lot of relationships outside of the company. Together with Bruce Ratner, we’ve partnered to move in a forward direction, particularly after the closing of Atlantic Yards. I’ve been here for 18 years. I’m exhilarated by the notion of being able to partner with Bruce going forward, but I know business. I am a developer at heart, so Bruce and I are like-minded in terms of the importance of civic building and community and how we create great places.

I know how to run a portfolio. We are not just a development company—we are an operating company and have a portfolio of assets. I’ve been doing the leasing here at MetroTech and at The New York Times [building] for lots of years now, so I think I have a deep understanding of the business in a way that can add value not only to the company here in New York but the larger public company in Cleveland.

When was the possibility of succession raised with you?

I should say, what happens in companies is that there is a process of talking about succession that happens regularly, because you always have to plan for a scenario where there is change, even in the scenario where it is unpredictable change. You have to understand if you are grooming people to take over, so most companies engage in a planning process as it relates to succession, and we’ve been doing that type of thing for a number of years.

It was about a year ago, if I remember correctly, that Bruce began to strongly push this notion that I get more involved in the corporate side of the business—interfacing with the parent company, working on more global and strategic initiatives—and that’s when I think we began this process.

We knew we would know when we were there, and it’s not an easy thing. Bruce Ratner has made this company, built every bit of it, and these are very big shoes to fill. I, of course, was very clear I was interested in doing it, but I wanted to do it with Bruce. Partnering with Bruce was a requirement, as far as I was concerned. I feel great—it’s a privilege for me to be able to take the role over but at the same time know Bruce will be here.

Can you comment on Mr. Ratner’s motivation for succession and his thought process behind stepping aside?

I can tell you he is about empowerment. One of the things I love about the company is he has built a company that thrives on excellence and innovation, and I think he believes I have been operating in a way where he wanted to recognize the role I was playing. In a very selfless way, he is doing that, and he is allowing the next generation of leadership to step up. He is agreeing to participate in the issues of strategy and innovation, the issues that are critical to the future. But I think in many ways it goes to how he manages, a living example of it. He is allowing some space for me to participate in a very significant way in the future of this company.

You’ve played a prominent role in the company for a number of years, but is there anything you’ll bring differently to your new role or that you intend on changing?

I think the portfolio for me will be bigger, in the sense [that] it will have a more global perspective. So maybe some of the day-to-day work I do on projects today might shift, but I will certainly be heavily involved in Atlantic Yards, heavily involved in the existing portfolio, and I expect to stay very close to the things that are near and dear to this company.

For example, multifamily housing is the darling of the development industry right now, and I will really be part of shaping the pipeline because we are ground-up developers—we don’t acquire portfolios. We build and keep what we build for the most part. I know the development business and, like I said, I know how to operate a portfolio. I will continue to do a lot of that but on a more executive-level scale.

We have an incredible bench, and the story that I would love to see out there is the story that 70 percent of the developers in this place are women, and we have great role models all around for demonstrating that women can do bricks-and-mortar and women understand the real estate development business. I’m proud to be part of a company that recognizes that, because for Bruce Ratner, it’s the best man or woman to do the job.

Building from that, real estate is still considered a man’s world by many; can you address the significance of taking over this role for the industry as a whole?

For me, I’m ready for the job, and I feel very confident that I’ll do the very best job I can. I am mindful of symbolically what it represents, so I take that responsibility greatly, but I also think the best thing I can do is to be a good example for women in the industry.

I always say it is about the platform, and I have had a great platform, because as a developer, you are what you build. I have been given a great opportunity to build great buildings, and that is the very best way to show people what you’re about. I know my stuff, and I think knowing your stuff is a very important ingredient to success. And I also appreciate the power of relationships. Those have been the drivers for me, but I could not do it without the platform or a company that believed in me and was true to the notion that if it’s a meritocracy the right people get the job. That’s the ethos of this company, and that is something I want to continue to hold up there as a model for the industry.

I think that if you said, “What’s success in that respect?” If you and I had an interview and the fact that I was a woman didn’t come up because it wasn’t as remarkable as it might be today, that would be great.

Can you elaborate on how you envision the working relationship with Mr. Ratner going forward and how that dynamic will work?

I want to start by saying what I said before, which is that I would not have agreed to take the position if Bruce were not going to continue to participate in the company—that was a job requirement, if you will. We’ve worked so closely for many years now, I think we have the same goals and the same commitment in terms of what we believe the company is about.

We finish each others’ sentences; we have spirited debates. We often have better results because of the way we can argue back and forth, and I expect all of that will continue.

Any final thoughts?

I think there are some amazing women here with extraordinary gifts, and I really want to be thought of as a place where women can really enter this field and excel if they’ve got the right stuff.

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