Tucked away in an album at Mary Ann Tighe’s Southampton house is a 19-year-old paper napkin.
The napkin is from a lunch she had with her former boss in January 1997, when she asked what it would take to become vice chair of her then-company, Insignia ESG. According to Tighe, her boss took out a pen and drew on a napkin to demonstrate to her — in a fashion resembling how a football coach draws out the next play — the hierarchy of the company.
“When he was finished, he explained, ‘This is why it’s never going to happen,’ ” Tighe said on Thursday during a conference for women in commercial real estate.
Two years later she proved him wrong and was named vice chair of the company.
Tighe , now the CEO of CBRE’s New York division, told the story — now lore among women in the industry — during CREW Network’s Convention & Marketplace on Thursday at the New York Hilton Midtown. During the event, she and others provided insight on how they have navigated what Tighe called the “male-dominated, eat-what-you-kill culture” of New York City real estate. She and MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, stressed that success lies in taking risks, having confidence and finding or shaping a work culture that fosters personal growth.
Gilmartin also described her early days at Forest City. She said Bruce Ratner created a merit-based culture at the company but said there was ample room for improvement.
“It was a shark tank environment there, early on, because there was a lot of testosterone,” she said. “Getting in there, staying in there, sticking with it, and rising based on my merits, allowed me to start to create a culture, a culture that might have been built and birthed by Bruce Ratner but certainly was shaped by those who followed.”
She said changing a company’s culture can be a Herculean task compared even to, say, building the (very controversial) Barclays Center.
“Building a culture, while it sounds so simple, I would argue is more challenging than building a billion dollar arena, with 35 lawsuits and one Great Recession, which I have a lot of experience in,” she quipped. “I would say culture is challenging, culture is everything and it starts from the top.”