Sometimes you have to leave so you can come back on your own terms. That’s been the lesson for Susi Yu, an architect-turned-developer at Forest City Ratner Companies . In 2013, Yu, a senior vice president, lost out to Melissa Burch to succeed MaryAnne Gilmartin as Forest City’s head of development. Yu, who had worked at the company for 12 years, was understandably disappointed. So she quit and went to work for Howard Hughes Corporation, where she oversaw the mixed-use development at South Street Seaport. Less than two years later, Burch jumped to Lend Lease and Yu got a call from Gilmartin asking if she still wanted the job. Today, she oversees Forest City’s major development projects, most notably Pacific Park, the $5 billion, 15-building megaproject in and around Downtown Brooklyn. The 51-year-old Downtown Brooklyn resident and mother of two likens her day-to-day job to that of a movie producer — managing relationships with the “talent,” a.k.a. architects as well as government officials, financial backers, contractors, and joint venture partners at Greenland Group. In the end, Yu got the job she always wanted, proving that, “You can go home again,” she said.
Yu rescued this piece of furniture from the children’s playroom at 8 Spruce St., the 76-story rental building in lower Manhattan. Yu oversaw the Frank Gehry-designed project, which she describes as her “baby.” She and her family moved into the building once it opened in 2011. They left in 2014 to try out 388 Bridge St., developed by the Stahl Organization, where her husband Roger Fortune works as a vice president.
This hand-cut “shadow box” wall-decoration was another find from the 8 Spruce Street playroom. Forest City Ratner employee and Yu’s mentee, Han Xu, created a side business making these shadow boxes. This one depicts a walrus and penguins in Antarctica.
Yu has three of these bentwood “Hat Trick” chairs designed by Frank Gehry and inspired by bushel apple crates. “I love the form of plywood, it’s so warm, it’s so Frank,” she said. The chairs, which retail for $1,873 and up, were previously used in an office mock-up for Barclays Center. “They’re really comfortable and beautiful and supportive of your posture,” she said. And, she added: “No one was using them.”
These notepads, emblazoned with the words “Seriously?” and the profane acronym “WTF,” were part of a care package from Yu’s former assistant at Howard Hughes. “Apparently, I tend to say those two things a lot,” Yu said. At Howard Hughes, she was required to deliver presentations to the board, which included finance and real estate heavyweights William Ackman and Mary Ann Tighe. Yu needed all the support she could get for the grueling preparations, which explained why the package also contained Patrón tequila and chili-infused brownies.
In 2015, when Yu rejoined Forest City, her colleagues handed her a wooden boomerang to welcome her back, a tradition at the firm. One career she won’t be returning to, however, is that of architecture. She has no second-doubts about leaving the field. “It’s a wonderful thing to study, but financially, it’s not rewarded properly,” she said.
Yu and her husband are blessed with two very artistic daughters, Cooper, 12, and Marlow, 9. Cooper assembled this Lego model of Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier’s modernist villa on the outskirts of Paris. Meanwhile, Marlow drew a whimsical rendering of Michael Stern’s 111 West 57th Street during a school trip to SHoP Architects, the firm behind the tower’s design. “I love their artwork,” Yu said.
Yu’s guilty pleasure is her Early Bird-brand granola, which she buys in bulk 5-pound bags. The Brooklyn-based company makes several flavors and Yu’s favorite is Farmhand’s Choice, made with extra virgin olive oil, because of its combination of sweetness and saltiness. “Sometimes I don’t get to eat lunch and if I have a little bit of this with Greek yogurt, it keeps me going.”
Yu appropriated this dog-eared edition of “Architectural Graphic Standards” by Charles George Ramsey and Harold Reeve Sleeper from Fortune. The two, who have been married for 14 years, met when she was a student at Columbia University’s School of Architecture and he was getting an M.B.A. at the business school. Yu spent a decade as an architect, including five years with Robert A.M. Stern Architects.
Boxing gloves/jump rope
Yu took up boxing about 25 years ago and is now the oldest person at her gym, Aerospace at 121 West 27th Street. The sport requires such a high level of focus that it allows Yu to attain clarity of thought. When she gets grouchy, colleagues start dropping hints that she should go work out. “It’s my form of meditation,” she said.