How I did it: Mary Ann Tighe on cracking — and staying on top of — the brokerage game

Dealmaker discusses NYT Building deal, CRE's cutthroat nature & more

New York /
Apr.April 19, 2017 03:00 PM

If you need to know what’s going on in New York City politics, inside the high-powered Boardrooms On Wall Street or among the city’s cultural elite, book a meeting at CBRE’s headquarters in the MetLife Building and keep your ears open.

“I often joke, you could stand in the hall of 200 Park Avenue and learn more about what’s happening in the city than almost any place you could go in New York,” CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe said.

Tighe, the top leasing dealmaker in Manhattan, has helped shape the brokerage business during the course of a career that’s spanned more than three decades.

In a recent 30-minute radio interview with Monocle, Tighe discussed what drew her to the business, provided insider details about some of her blockbuster deals, and revealed the ways she capitalized on her skills to succeed in the cutthroat world of commercial real estate.

When Tighe transitioned into real estate in the mid-1980s, she said she was surprised to find an industry where information was closely guarded – a sharp contrast from the collaborative nature of her previous career working in the public sector in Washington, D.C.

But the skills she gained within the federal government – networking with some of the country’s most powerful lawmakers – proved to be transferrable to her new line of work, such as when it came to pitching Conde Nast as the anchor tenant for One World Trade Center.

“It was no big deal to me to network my way to the head of the Port Authority [of New York and New Jersey] and say, ‘Hey Chris Ward, what do you think about Conde Nast anchoring your building, and only if you give me the sun, the moon and the stars?’ And begin the conversation there as opposed to beginning it at a level that wasn’t necessarily empowered to actually make any of these decisions,” she said.

And while she touted the collaborative nature she helped to build at CBRE, Tighe said her competitive edge remains dependent on access to exclusive information.

“I always joke that by the time it’s listed on one of the listing services, it’s old information,” she said. “Who gives a hoot what’s listed on CoStar? I need to know stuff before it actually hits the street.”

Out of her many blockbuster deals, Tighe singled out the New York Times’ move to Eighth Avenue as the most memorable.

“People say the move to Eighth Avenue was the beginning of the decline of the business,” she said. “That move not only allowed them in the darkest days of Lehman to borrow against that asset. Because it was such a killer deal, what was accomplished is that we made for the Times a place they could live in forever so inexpensively and yet it’s so brilliant at the same time.”

Tighe said that the Times executives thought they were living cost-free at their old headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street, but she was able to show them that the upkeep on the roughly 100-year-old building was actually draining their resources.

Persuading the Gray Lady to move its headquarters involved working out a ground lease, a 29-year tax deal, a joint venture and an office condominium structure.

“I always say the Times Building was the single-most difficult transaction,” she explained. “It was the Ph.D. program in real estate. That deal structure involved everything.”

As a woman in a business dominated by men, Tighe said she learned how to succeed from a female mentor, Carol Nelson, who taught her “to learn not to personalize rejection” and to look outside her own company to build a network of relationships she could leverage.

“Those kinds of relationships are things that I think men have enjoyed organically,” she said. “I think women have had to appreciate that they need to network in that way.”

Tighe said she had a moment of reflection one day during a recent trip to the Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District. She went to the building’s platform and looked Downtown toward the World Trade Center, across the river to the Waterfront Corporate Center in Hoboken and then uptown toward 4 Times Square, the New York Times Building and 10 Hudson Yards.

“All I did was turn my head from left to right and I could see all these buildings I thought about first,” she explained. “And that was to me like a moment … where I thought, ‘Wow, this really has been a great career.’”

“It’s a hard business,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be starting again, but it’s a pretty interesting business to be practicing at the level that I’m able to do it.”


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