Sunday, August 21, 2016

In final part of video interview, Gilmartin says she and Ratner "finish each other's sentences"

OK, there's not much new in the third and final part of the BisnowTV interview with Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin (here are the first and second), but it does fill in a few blanks. I've interpolated a few comments (in italics).

Interviewer Kenneth Weissenberg, partner at EisnerAmper, remains fawning, if not super-prepared.

KW: You started in the city, the City Planning Commission, about 30 years ago? (C'mon, you don't know where she started?)

MAG: I started in economic development, it was close to 30 years ago, I won a fellowship called the Urban Fellows Program,.. I was on my way to law school... I ended up doing public development in the Public Development Corporation, which is now the Economic Development Corporation... and I realized then I had real estate in my veins. Then I realize 'Wow, I could do all this large-scale public private partnership work on the private side,' (for a lot more compensation, and with more power) and that's when I hooked up with Forest City and Bruce Ratner (so, no mention of former PDC boss Jim Stuckey, who earlier went to Forest City, and in 2007 left under a cloud?), and I've been there now 22 years.

The ride to the top

KW: You've risen to the top.... How's that ride been? (Tough question!)

MAG: I stand on the shoulders of giants. I am surrounded by the most talented people in the industry. So it begins and end with the people. (Except sometimes the people do disappear) When I became CEO, I realized I'm really Chief Talent Officer... But working so closely with Bruce Ratner and trying to fill those shoes was a very intimidating moment for me... But of course I knew it was time, and Bruce very badly wanted it to happen. I got a lot of support from the parent company... But people say it takes about 18 months to realize kind of what you've done. One of the things I did to keep my focus on the right stuff was to relocate my family from Scarsdale to Brooklyn.... Moving my family to Brooklyn has been the single best decision I made in this decade.

After that, it would be taking up the helm at Forest City, because I've had such support from Bruce, he's still in the business, although not as active. He's there to be a chairman of the company, and a sounding board for me, on strategy. We do a very good job. We finish each other's sentences, but we approach the world from different places, so it's a great partnership. (Didn't you disagree about whether Frank Gehry should design all of Atlantic Yards?) Again, the people--it really is about the people. (There's been a lot of turnover, as the Real Deal reported.) Development is a place where a lot of really smart people want to be. The business has changed...There's some amazing talent drawn to the work of placemaking. (Is that all they do? What about wrangling governmental assistance?) At Forest City, we are prolific. (Less prolific now: Where are the new development projects?) We have our pick of extraordinary talent. 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.

Women = diversity

KW: Forest City seems to be unique among some of the real estate firms in New York, which are old boy's clubs, so to speak. There's a lot of diversity (in terms of gender)--has that always been the philosophy that Bruce has brought to the table?

MAG: The best way to prove that diversity is important, because you represent a diverse city, is to have that as part of the DNA of the company. (Let's see a chart of the top officials.) Bruce Ratner runs a meritocracy. So I grew up in a meritocracy, where best man or woman got the job. Because I was able to rise, and younger professionals were able to see that, I think it was somewhat somewhat inspirational for other women in the company to see. You could be married, you could be a mother, and have children, and still rise to a level in a company where you're at the very top making decisions (sometimes, it's been said, cutthroat ones)....Again, we hire on the merits. Women are by the very nature are very good at this business, because it's highly collaborative and it requires doing lots of things and synthesizing.

KW: You have to be creative.

MAG: You have to be creative. I think these are skill sets, it's not that men don't have them, it's that these are skill sets that a lot of women have and are very good at. (But real estate development in New York is about wrangling with government too.) About 65% of our professionals in the development space are women. I do think that's a way to change the industry, because, still, in the development world, it's far too uncommon to find women at the tables where I sit, and certainly at the board level. I also have the good fortune of being on the board of a public company, Jefferies (an investment bank with exactly one female director). 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... Jeffries, to their credit, saw that.... I've been on my fourth year as a board member, and I enjoy it a lot.

KW: I see it as trend in corporate America to try to bring diversity to their boards, it's a refreshing change. Diversity adds differences of opinion. (Which is why board meetings of parent Forest City Realty Trust, formerly Forest City Enterprises, often sound like family reunions, and activist investors are trying to end the two-class stock structure?)

MAG: 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. I know there are a lot of really capable, really smart women in business in New York... companies can make a change.

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