The Closing: Mary Ann Tighe

Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State Region of CB Richard Ellis (photo by Ben Baker)

Mary Ann Tighe is the CEO of the New York Tri-State Region of CB Richard Ellis. She has been involved in over 74.5 million square feet of commercial transactions, including Condé Nast’s move to 4 Times Square and the relocation of the New York Times to its new building on Eighth Avenue. She’s the first woman to chair the Real Estate Board of New York. After her mother and sister died of lung cancer, she and her family founded a nonprofit called Joan’s Legacy: Uniting Against Lung Cancer, which has raised $6.5 million since 2001.

What’s your full name?
I guess I consider my full name today Mary Ann Tighe Hidalgo.

You use Tighe as your last name professionally but go by Hidalgo in your private life?
I have one son from my first marriage. I used to always want to go to school and be Aaron Tighe’s mother. But now Aaron Tighe is a grown man, and I’m perfectly happy to be Mrs. Hidalgo.

What is your birth date?
August 24, 1948.

Where do you live?
We own an apartment near the Metropolitan Museum. And on the weekends, Southampton.

Where did you grow up?
In the South Bronx. I come from an Italian family. My mom was the secretary at the church rectory. My father managed a warehouse for Timken Roller Bearing Company.

What kind of student were you?
I was a great student. I was a good girl. I had no idea that there was more opportunity in being a bad girl.

What did you do before real estate?
My initial career was as an art historian. When I came out of undergrad, I was a fellow at the Smithsonian, and then I got my master’s in art history. And then I got a job working for [Joan] Mondale when she and Vice President Mondale were in the White House. A year later I was made deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. I routinely went up to Congress and testified, defended our budget, defended the grants.

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How did that prepare you for real estate?
If you’ve worked in the White House or testified before Congress before turning 30, it’s hard to have people shake you up. What’s somebody going to ask you that’s scarier than having the Vice President of the United States ask you a question?

Did you take to real estate immediately?
My first 15 months on the job, I did zero deals. My first deal, when I finally did one, was 1,300 square feet. It was a very painful and shaky start.

What kind of mistakes did you make at first?
Sharing information. That was my single biggest mistake. I would come across an opportunity and would tell a colleague and be surprised that we were all of a sudden in competition for it.

Which deal are you most proud of?
The Condé Nast deal was transformational for Condé, but it also inaugurated the redevelopment of Times Square. In 1996 people still thought Times Square was sort of tawdry. One of the famous editors of Condé Nast said, “Armani will never visit us there.” Armani, I have no doubt, has had his lunches in the Condé Nast cafeteria at 4 Times Square and has been happy to do so.

Do you ever get angry during negotiations?
I’ve mellowed with age, but remember, I’m Italian, and anyone will tell you that I’m a fairly intense personality. When I do get angry, it’s typically not a small thing. … I think that there is a certain shock element in having it come out of the mouth of a seemingly nice woman.

How did you meet your husband [plastic surgeon
David Hidalgo]?

He was my student. I was teaching an art history class at Georgetown. My husband was looking to knock off his art history requirement that summer. He was the smartest boy in the class. He’s five years younger than me.

Were you married at the time?
Yes. And I had an eight-month-old child. It’s pretty shocking. In truth, I just thought this was some kind of aberration on my part and that life would return to normal. But from the moment David and I met, we’ve never been not involved with each other. It took seven years to get married because I was certain that I was never going to get married again and that we would just live together. But we’ve been married 30 years now.

What prompted you to speak to Oprah’s O Magazine about having a face-lift?
Wouldn’t it be completely hypocritical of the wife of a plastic surgeon to say, “Oh, I’ve never had anything done?” It would be such nonsense. We talk about plastic surgery at the dinner table. We talk about real estate and we talk about plastic surgery, among other things.

What was it like being operated on by your husband?
It was like being at home. It was nothing. I know my husband, I know his wonderful anesthesiologist, and I know his terrific team. These were all friends. What bad thing could happen?

How did you start Uniting Against Lung Cancer?
In ’81, when Mom died, we said, “How can this be?” She’s never smoked a cigarette in her life. My sister Joan then was diagnosed in 2001. Both of them were diagnosed at stage 4 — that’s very common in never-smokers. So 20 years later we asked, “What are the new treatments?” And the answer was, nothing. At that moment, we knew we couldn’t just allow this to go on. We’re eight years into it now. Thanks to the wonderful Jeffrey Gural [chairman of Newmark Knight Frank], we have excellent, low-cost office space [at 27 Union Square West.] We’ve made 65 grants, and progress is being made in early detection and treatment.