Wednesday, March 04, 2015

So, Forest City's a hospitable place for women to work; the backstory is more complicated

So Bruce Ratner, and successor MaryAnne Gilmartin, have made Forest City Ratner a notably hospitable place for women to work in the male-dominated world of real estate, reports Capital New York, in The women of Forest City.

From the article:
That Forest City could be instructive in this way will perhaps come as a surprise to the company’s many detractors in New York City. The company’s decade-long effort to redevelop Atlantic Yards garnered fierce resistance from community groups. The project was fraught by local opposition and complaints of political favoritism (though the progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio, a close ally to Ratner, was a staunch supporter of the project when he was the local councilman). The project, now known as Pacific Park, even has an entire blog focused on digging up dirt about the development.
Forest City’s effort to build the city’s tallest modular building, known as B2, broke down last year when the company’s development partner, construction giant Skanska USA, shut down their Brooklyn Navy Yard factory. Skanska said Forest City provided a defective product. Forest City said Skanska’s management was incompetent. It was such a bitter dispute that both sides sued each other and ended up going their separate ways.
In one email that came out of the suits, Skanska executive vice president Mike McNally told his colleagues that some people at Forest City had been openly hostile toward him in a phone call. The call started with Gilmartin, he said, but she passed the phone off to another executive. Forest City leaders said that if Skanska did not come to a meeting willing to agree to their plan, it was best if they didn’t come at all, McNally claimed. “After about 10 minutes, I mentioned that we would also like to discuss the financial impact at the meeting and they went crazy,” he wrote. “They were threatening and insulting.”
Whoever’s account of that call is true, one thing is clear: it’s a tough industry, and clearly one in which Gilmartin and her crew have been able to thrive.
My comment (pending as of this moment)

As the writer of the "entire blog focused on digging up dirt" about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park--I'd call it "watchdog journalism" that chronicles the project with an appropriately skeptical perspective--I feel compelled to point out that Bruce Ratner's record employing women, however unusual/admirable in the real estate industry, is not without significant blemish.

As the New York Post reported in 2011, top executive Jim Stuckey was ousted by Ratner in 2007 "after a series of complaints had been made against him by female employees... Ratner, sources told The Post, resisted the idea of getting rid of Stuckey until some of his top lieutenants threatened to quit after an ugly incident at a 2006 Christmas party," in which Stuckey had women employees sit on his lap.

Regarding the email from Skanska's Mike McNally--which "came out of the suits" because I found it in a court file--note that Gilmartin did not pass the phone *off* to fellow executive Bob Sanna but had him join her on the call. McNally reported to colleagues that "they were threatening and insulting."

Capital's article goes on to say, "Whoever’s account of that call is true..." But it's unclear whether Gilmartin denies that or has a different account.

I'm not sure the lesson is simply that real estate development is a "tough industry." It may also be that Forest City is a notably aggressive company. ""We are in some ways government’s worst nightmare, because we push," Gilmartin said at one panel, "but without it, you do not get things done."

Or, as surfaced in an email from an architect in another lawsuit, "I had an unpleasant conversation with MaryAnne," he wrote. "I was told they know the same people I know and they’ll make sure to fuck me whenever possible."

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