The Real Deal New York

The Closing: Kelly Mack

The Corcoran Sunshine chief on her Cartoon Network days, locking down billions in business and making massive amounts of coleslaw
By E.B. Solomont | November 01, 2018 10:00AM

Kelly Mack (Photo by Studio Scrivo)

Kelly Kennedy Mack is president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group — the new development powerhouse that’s closed $40 billion in sales since 2002. The native New Yorker was a protégée of Louise Sunshine, who sold her firm, the Sunshine Group, to NRT (now Realogy) in 2006. Four years after the sale, when Mack was just 32, she was tapped to succeed Sunshine. On Mack’s watch, Corcoran Sunshine has dominated the city’s new development marketing scene. Between 2014 and 2017, it closed $9 billion in transactions, according to a recent analysis by The Real Deal. The firm has also represented some of the most prominent projects in the city, including Related Companies’ Hudson Yards, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 56 Leonard and Rudin Management’s Greenwich Lane. The company — which has about 150 employees — is currently marketing 38 projects with a combined sellout of $22 billion and has 34 projects (with a total sellout of $20 billion) in the pipeline. Mack, who graduated from Georgetown University and has an MBA from New York University, is married to real estate scion Stephen Mack, who co-founded Mack Real Estate Group with his father, William, and brother, Richard.

DOB: February 21, 1974
Lives in: Midtown
Hometown: Manhattan
Family: Married with an 18-month-old daughter

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do? In Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. My dad worked at TWA — it’s probably where I got the [travel] bug from. By the time I was in fifth grade, I had been all over Europe and Africa. My mom was a casting director for real people in TV commercials. Occasionally, we’d go to work with her and we’d stop people on the street and be like, “What kind of fabric softener do you use?”

Growing up, did people ask you if you were related to the Kennedys? People ask me that all the time, and no, I am not related to the Kennedys.

You went to the Upper East Side private school Dalton, where you met your husband. How old were you then? We met at a high school basketball practice when I was in ninth grade. We went on our first date to Jackson Hole on the Upper West Side and had cheeseburgers. And after all this time, he’s still my best friend.

Were you ever not a couple? There were two times we had very short breakups. But even then, he was still going to Knicks games with my dad every week.

Were you a good student? I was not. I was a very happy, social, well-adjusted kid, but I got into my fair share of trouble. I was so much more interested in planning the prom or the ski trip or playing sports than I was in reading “Moby Dick.”

What was your first job? It was at the Sagaponack General Store in the Hamptons. I worked behind the deli counter and made sandwiches and cut meats. I also worked in the kitchen making hundreds of pounds of coleslaw and chicken salad for these huge parties.

What was your first job out of college? I did ad sales and marketing at Turner Broadcasting, for the Cartoon Network. Then I decided to apply to business school at NYU. I didn’t get in the first time — I got wait-listed.

How did you end up in real estate? After graduation, the Internet bubble had burst. I was talking with my father-in-law, who was involved with Related in the development of the Time Warner Center. He said, “There’s a really smart woman we’re working with, [Louise Sunshine]. She’s definitely a handful, but she’s doing some really interesting things.”

What was your first meeting with Sunshine like? I waited for an hour and a half. [Finally], I’m in her office, and she just says, “So, what do you want to do?” I said, “Look, I’ll come work for you for a month for free. I want to get to know you, to understand the business.” For the next month, I went everywhere she went. Then she turned to me one day and just said, “This is kind of ridiculous. Do you want to start getting paid already?”

She has a reputation for being rough around the edges. Would you agree? I don’t think she would describe herself any differently. She and I had a very unique relationship — in some ways, it was almost familial. She was tough. She was hard. There’s no question. She would expect perfection, and if you didn’t deliver, she would have a go at you. But with that said, she worked and lived up to that same standard.

By 32, you were running Corcoran Sunshine. What was that like? I was definitely young and inexperienced. No question. But I had a unique perspective on how the business worked, and a unique seat at the table when they needed somebody to step up.

How did you take it when people said you were too young or too inexperienced? Well, if they did say those things, they didn’t say them to my face. But I had a lot to prove.

Where do you live? A block from the office, at the Park Imperial. I moved there before I worked at Corcoran Sunshine. New development was still in its infancy. It was years before One57 was even a hole in the ground. I have another home in Bridgehampton, around the corner from my parents and about seven and a half minutes from my in-laws.

You have an 18-month-old daughter, Scarlett. How is the transition to parenting going? We always wanted to have kids. Ten years ago, if you’d asked me, “Are you going to wait until you’re in your mid-40s?” I would have been like, “No, I’m going to have kids in the next couple of years.” But then, life gets away from you.

How has parenthood changed you? I was never a morning person. Now, the morning is actually one of my favorite parts of the day. How could you not be excited to wake up and see this smiley, happy face? I also try really hard to get home by 6 p.m., which for me is really early. But then if I need to, I go back to work.

Have you gotten pushback from clients who think you won’t have enough time for them now? Only one time, when a competitor told a client, “You know, she’s having a baby. She’s going to quit.” It worked against him because the client had multiple kids and a high-powered wife.

What’s the most challenging part of the business today? Managing everybody’s expectations. The market, in a lot of ways, is better than people actually think it is. It’s just interesting how expectations can change so quickly with a couple of really strong boom years.

In slow markets, brokers are the first to go. What’s it like to be kicked off a project? It’s the worst. When developers miss sales hurdles for their loans, they have to show the market they’re doing something, and one of the boxes they can check is change broker. I know it’s not personal, it’s business. But it is personal, because we put our heart and soul into these projects.

Is there a project you pitched and didn’t get, or one that got away? The only project, if I had to go back in time and make a different decision, would have been the Sheffield. We were trying to negotiate the terms, and they wanted us to go a little lower. We stood firm, but in retrospect taking into consideration how close they were to occupancy and how well that building performed once it really got goingthat’s probably one we should’ve done.

How often do you speak to Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman? Between one and six times a day. [Before Scarlett], Pam and I spoke late at night. I would have a glass of wine, and she would have her scotch. The calls still happen, but [they] end up being earlier because I have to get up so early.

Do you ever feel pressure because your last name is Mack? I don’t feel pressure per se. It was more of an issue when I was starting out. I needed to work hard to prove myself. I believe people will only work as hard as I do. When I’m walking into a sales office, I’m the first one crawling on the floor with a bottle of Windex and changing the flowers. If I’m not willing to do it and I don’t think it’s important, why should they?

Your husband and father-in-law own racehorses. How do they look this year? They’ve both had horses in the Kentucky Derby. Stephen owns eight horses. This year, we had very high hopes for a filly named Mighty Scarlett, but she just ran last week and didn’t do as well as we wanted her to do. But we’re still hoping.

Does your work ever intersect with your husband’s? We’re working on a project for [Mack Real Estate Group] right now. We’re finishing up sales at the Greenpoint [a 95-unit condo] in Brooklyn. Good thing it was successful. We have a weekly Mack family Chinese food dinner. So that makes Sunday night dinners a little bit more fun.

Did you have to pitch for that project? No. But we did have a highly negotiated contract — they didn’t understand why they weren’t getting a better deal.