MaryAnne Gilmartin Live from the Cornell Tech Campus Part 3

October 05, 2018

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. I 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 public development in the Public Development Corporation which is now the Economic Development Corporation. 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. 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. I'm surrounded by the most talented people in the industry. You know it begins and ends with the people. 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. 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. Bruce very badly wanted it to happen, and I had a lot of support from the parent company Forest City Enterprises. 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. Moving my family in Brooklyn has been the single best decision I've made this decade. 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. 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. Again and the people, it really is about the people. 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. At Forest City, because we are prolific, we have our pick of extraordinary talent. 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 has 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 I grew up in the in the meritocracy where the best man or woman got the job. 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.  So I'm very proud of that, but again we hire on the merits. 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. 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. 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. Certainly at the board level so, I also have the good fortune of being on the board of a public company.

KW: Jefferies?

MG: Jefferies. 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. 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. Diversity adds differences of opinion and different views and aspects that really add strength to companies.

MG: 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. 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. 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. 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 thank for you having sat here in this glorious Thursday. 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 that 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.

About Kenneth Weissenberg

Kenneth Weissenberg CPA, Tax Partner in Real Estate Services, is experienced in tax saving strategies and negotiating sales and acquisitions. He represents owners of some of the most well-known real estate properties in New York City.

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