How they got to the top: Kathryn Korte

Kathryn Korte, president and CEO, Sotheby’s International Realty

As told to Melissa Dehncke-McGill

I was born in Chicago, and we lived there 10 years before moving to Boston. My father was president of the textbook publishing company D.C. Heath when it was owned by Raytheon. We were upper middle class and a close, supportive family.

My parents instilled in me a code of ethics, values and the ability to listen and to be fair, honest and consistent. I visit them quite often; we are all foodies and like good wine, so we have fun making gourmet dinners.

I went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and majored in political science. I never thought my financial skills would be where they are today — that I would have to sharpen my pencil and learn a P-and-L statement.

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I interviewed at Sotheby’s because I liked the idea of the brand and the auction house. I’ve worked there since I got out of college in 1984 and started in the Manhattan brokerage as an administrative assistant when there were 14 agents. Now there are 140 agents. I was paid by the company to assist agents with deals, so I was never a selling agent. I had no idea how hard brokers worked.

Then I moved into the corporate office overseeing administration of the brokerage service’s human resources, and in 1992 I was appointed as head of the Manhattan brokerage operation. It was a good business in the right place at the right time, and I moved up in management. Did I envision being a CEO of the company I started out in? Not necessarily.

I have several colleagues that I have worked very closely with since the early ’80s. We are very proud that we were able to make a smooth and pretty seamless transition in ownership when Sotheby’s was purchased by Cendant and now that we are owned by Realogy.

How much harder is it to succeed as a woman? I don’t find it different to succeed as a woman, so I don’t see it that way.

I think brokers today have much better business skills than when I first started. Now a lot of them come from banking backgrounds and Wall Street. They enjoy moving on from one deal to the next. I also think a skill that a lot of good brokers have is the ability to envision what the client wants even if the client cannot necessarily put it into words.

My philosophy is that you have to remain in the field in order to be a visionary in the boardroom. I’m fortunate to have the best of both worlds.