MaryAnne Gilmartin Live from the Cornell Tech Campus Part 3
EisnerAmper Real Estate Services Group Chair Ken Weissenberg chats with MaryAnne Gilmartin, President & CEO of Forest City Ratner about her start in the real estate industry and role as CEO, the importance of bringing on the right talent, and the growth of women in commercial real estate in the third segment of this interview.
Ken Weissenberg: Hi Ken Weissenberg partner at EisnerAmper Real Estate Practice group I’m here with MaryAnne Gilmartin at the beautiful Cornell Tech Center which is under construction. Now you started in the city at the city planning commission about 30 years ago?
MaryAnne Gilmartin: I started in economic development and it was close to 30 years ago I won a fellowship called the Urban Fellows Program did not have any inkling or hankering to be a developer I was on my way to law school and I thought I'm going to use this fellowship to try something completely outside of my nine dots and I ended up doing a public development in the Public Development Corporation which is now the Economic Development Corporation and I realized then that I had real estate my veins and then I realized wow I can do all of this large-scale public private partnership work on the private side and that's when I hooked up with Forest City Bruce Ratner and I've been there now 22 years.
KW: That's incredible you've risen to the top you've successfully transitioned to the new CEO of the company how was that ride been?
MG: Well I stand on the shoulders of giants and I'm surrounded by the most talented people in the industry so you know it begins and ends with the people and when I became CEO I realized I'm really Chief Talent Officer now I'm going to help produce the great people that will build the great buildings but working so closely with Bruce Ratner and trying to fill those shoes was a very intimidating moment for me I went forward with it somewhat reluctantly but of course I knew that it was time and Bruce very badly wanted it to happen and I had a lot of support from the parent company Forest City Enterprises but people say that it takes about 18 months to realize kind of what you've done and one of the things I did to keep my focus on the right stuff was to relocate my family from Scarsdale to Brooklyn so for 17 years I made the trip from Westchester to Brooklyn and it was a long haul I'm not by the miles but certainly by the hours so moving my family in Brooklyn has been a single best decision I've made this decade and after that would be taking up the helm at Forest City because I've had such support from Bruce and of course he's still in the business although not as active and he's there to be the chairman of the company and a sounding board for me and our strategy we do a very good job because we finish each other's sentences but we approach the world from different places so it's a great partnership and again and the people it really is about the people and so development now is a place where a lot of really smart people want to be the business has changed as you know over time and so there is some amazing talent that is drawn to the work of place making and at Forest City because we are prolific we have our pick of extraordinary talent and so we've been able to put a lot of amazing collaborative teams together and that's really what makes me look good because they are best-in-class.
KW:And Forest City seems to be unique among some of the real estate firms that are in New York which are all boys clubs so to speak there's a lot of diversity of our city is that always been the philosophy that Bruce has brought to the table?
MG: So the best way to prove that diversity is important because you represent a diverse city is to have that being part of your DNA as a company Bruce Ratner runs a meritocracy and so I grew up in the in the meritocracy where the best man or woman got the job and so because I was able to rise and younger professionals were able to see that I think it was somewhat inspirational for other women in the company to see that you could be married you could be a mother you could have children and you could still rise to a level in a company where you're at the very top making decisions and so I'm very proud of that but again we hire on the merits and women are by their very nature very good at this business because it's highly collaborative and it requires doing lots of things and synthesizing.
KW:And you have to be creative.
MG: Any you have to be creative and so I think these are skill sets which it's not that men don't have them it's just that these are skill sets that a lot of women have and are very good at so about sixty-five percent of our professionals in the development space are women.
KW:That's incredible that’s great.
MG: And I do think that is a way to begin to change the industry because still in the development world it's far too uncommon to find women at the tables at which I sit and certainly at the board level so I also have the good fortune of being on the board of a public company.
MG: Jefferies and again that was a great opportunity for me to break into a space where there's a lot of room for improvement on the diversity front and Jefferies to their credit saw that and it was a great matching and I've been on I think I’m on my 4th year as a board member there and I enjoy it a lot.
KW:That's terrific I see that as a trend in corporate America to try to bring diversity to their boards and it's a refreshing change and diversity adds differences of opinion and different views and aspects that really add strength to companies.
MG: And I reject the notion that you know nobody should hire someone that's not qualified or ask a board member to be on a board that's not qualified but I know the company that I run in and I think that there are a lot of really capable really smart women in business in New York and beyond New York so I think that if that commitment is really there companies can make the change and contribute to the effort by the composition of their board because once that happens the board members themselves become champions and that's when real change starts to kick in.
KW:That's terrific MaryAnne it's been such a pleasure speaking with you this morning we really enjoyed meeting you and looking forward to working with you going forward the building is incredible here and your projects are just out of the park home runs.
MG: Well I have one last request I would ask you to come back into the building after we put the skin on the building we're opening in the fall of next year and I think for you having sat here in this glorious Thursday for you to come back and sit inside the building take in the same sweeping views but be surrounded by some of the city's most exciting entrepreneurial companies would be a great privilege for me to have you here and we could do another interview.
KW:I can't wait.
MG: Okay thank you.
In the second part of this interview, MaryAnne Gilmartin, President & CEO of Forest City Ratner speaks with EisnerAmper Real Estate Services Group Chair Ken Weissenberg foreign investors, building financing partnerships, creating a REIT to finance new projects, and how to identify the next frontier in development.
EisnerAmper Real Estate Services Group Chair Ken Weissenberg chats with MaryAnne Gilmartin, President & CEO of Forest City Ratner, about the new Cornell Tech campus, building new neighborhoods in New York, and the Barclay Center.