Q&A with CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe, 2016 CREW Network Convention and Marketplace Featured Speaker

August 20, 2016
Written by: Amanda Marsh, CREW New York

Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of CBRE’s New York Tri-State Region, is arguably the Big Apple’s most successful female commercial real estate broker. The Wall Street Journal has written, “(There is) an exceedingly small club of women who have managed to move to the top of the brokerage business. That club’s most prominent member is Mary Ann Tighe.”

In her three decades of industry experience, Tighe has been responsible for more than 93 million square feet of commercial transactions, and her deals have anchored more than 13.7 million square feet of new construction. Tighe also served as chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, the first woman to hold the position in REBNY’s then-114-year history.

CREW Network is excited to feature Tighe as our Thursday luncheon keynote speaker during the 2016 CREW Network Convention and Marketplace. She graciously shared some words of wisdom with CREW Network prior to the convention.

Q: What prepared you for success in commercial real estate?

A: I was 36 years old before I started my real estate career and had experience in both government and the corporate world. So I entered real estate thinking like a customer — I may not have known anything about commercial real estate, but I did know how a corporate user or public agency would analyze office alternatives. If you look at the trajectory of my career, most of my early business was with companies that had business models I understood from previous acquaintance.

Prior to real estate, I worked for ABC and started the A&E cable network, so I understood cable and parts of the media/entertainment industry. I also freelanced for Vogue magazine. My earliest significant deals were with a publishing company and Sony USA; in 1989, I was on the team that did a full-building deal for Random House, which was a subsidiary of the same company that owned Condé Nast, and in 1991, I was part of the team that brought Sony to Manhattan’s 550 Madison Avenue.

Q: Did you have a mentor or sponsor who helped you along the way?

A: I had the rare experience of having a woman mentor. Her name is Carol Nelson, and she was the only woman among the top brokers in New York City. She taught me the basics of the business, and ultimately we became partners [at Edward S. Gordon & Company, which was acquired by CBRE in 2003].

Q: What advice do you have for women pursuing careers in CRE?

A: All business success begins with becoming an expert at something. What has always fascinated me is that it could be the smallest or most esoteric thing. The end result is that business will find you, because you know more about that one thing than anyone else. For me, it was becoming an expert in a market amazingly undiscovered in Manhattan 30 years ago: Midtown South. No significant office broker was engaged in the area between 34th and Chambers Streets, because the buildings were considered loft or industrial. I came to know those properties and the different businesses that would eventually want to be in those spaces. Then people within my own firm started looking to me for guidance in that part of Manhattan. By developing that expertise, I built my career.

Q: Where do you see the future of commercial real estate?

A: When technology became a meaningful presence in commercial real estate, a number of predictions were made about our industry, including that more people would work from home and there will be a diminution in the demand for office space. While we have seen densification, we haven’t seen that type of impact. People want to go to work every day — they don’t find it rewarding working from the kitchen table.

So for the future, a few themes: The end of the generic building. People are looking for their office environment as a place to not only conduct business, but support their social interactions. Properties that reflect and foster community will achieve higher value. Where technology will be increasingly impactful are for those firms looking for smaller square footage who are unlikely to need to rely on brokers. So for women entering the brokerage industry, I would recommend focusing your attention on more complex, medium to larger-scale transactions. That’s where you can add value.

Q: And how will it impact women entering leadership positions?

A: We’re already seeing women active in all levels and all segments of our business, from construction to the CEO of major companies. That momentum is already here, and we’re going to continue to build on it. Within the next decade, women in leadership positions throughout commercial real estate will be a fact, not a hope.

Q: In building successful teams at CBRE, what do you look for in your next heavy-hitter?

A: Actually, I don’t focus on the “heavy hitting;” what matters are complementary skill sets and compatible personalities. By the nature of a transaction’s complexity, no single individual is smart or experienced enough to cover all the skills needed for successful strategy and execution. When I’m looking at the assignment at hand, whether it’s representing a user or owner, I look for gaps in experience and knowledge. What women often forget is that they don’t have to be experts at everything — in fact, it’s a pointless quest. What they need is a clear understanding of what they’re good at and what they’re not, then the will to address any gap. Constant communication, complementary skills, and trust among team members is the recipe for success.

Q: What are the must-see buildings or projects for 2016 CREW Network Convention and Marketplace attendees in NYC this October?

A: One World Observatory at One World Trade Center, as well as the entire World Trade Center complex. By the time the CREW Network Convention comes to New York, the newly opened World Trade Center Transportation Hub will be fully operational. Also go to Gansevoort Street, where you can see the new Whitney Museum of American Art, then walk the High Line north from there up to 30th Street. At the end, you’ll see the first completed building at Hudson Yards: 10 Hudson Yards, which is anchored by Coach.

Amanda Marsh is the founder of Buzzmaestro, which provides business writing, editing, and consulting services to real estate and other industries. Previously, she was a commercial real estate journalist with Bisnow and Commercial Property News. She has been a member of CREW New York since 2015, is co-chair of the 2016 CREW Network Convention and Marketplace marketing committee, and serves on her local chapter’s Communications Committee, as well as CREW Network’s Communications and Editorial Committee.