Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Skanska Executive Vice President Russell DeMartino
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
From landing a helicopter between two Bosnian minefields to discovering a 19th-century shipwreck while excavating a project in Boston’s Seaport, Skanska Executive Vice President Russell DeMartino has had a colorful road in his development career.
DeMartino’s military training has shaped his precision in navigating Boston’s booming development scene. The West Point graduate was promoted in June to be executive vice president of Skanska USA’s Boston development team, overseeing a team pursuing ongoing projects in the city’s Seaport neighborhood as well as finding the Swedish developer’s latest “it” project in Beantown.
While not every project has crossed the finish line, DeMartino tells Bisnow it is important to keep a good sense of humor to enjoy and get through life. A second motorcycle doesn’t hurt, either.
Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job?
DeMartino: Having the opportunity to represent and lead the great people on my team is undoubtedly the best part of my job. In my opinion, being a leader doesn’t mean you get to tell people what to do. It means you get to work for them and make sure they’re successful in achieving their goals. I view it as my responsibility to help the people on my team grow and excel. It’s something I enjoy doing and a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
DeMartino: In several deployments in the Army, we had to use 50-gallon drums as latrines. For sanitary purposes, we had to burn the contents with diesel fuel, and then, of course, stir the contents to burn it completely. Maintaining and being a part of that stirring crew schedule was the worst job I ever had. It was terrible to be in charge of that schedule and terrible to be a part of the crew. Nothing prepares you for that type of “leadership.”
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
DeMartino: Most likely, I would still be in the Army. But I did give up a promising career in moving furniture to go to college.
Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of?
DeMartino: Definitely Skanska’s 121 Seaport project. That project was big, both literally and figuratively, because of all the excitement that surrounded it from start to finish. From the discovery of a 19th-century shipwreck during excavation, to bringing a unique elliptical design to life that hadn’t been done before in the area — then leasing the whole building in a matter of weeks before selling it as successfully as we did — that project will always be one I see as a prime example of what we aim to do in Boston. We aim to develop forward-thinking projects that add value in our communities and set the bar high in the industry for what comes next.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
DeMartino: In real estate? I’d have to say not being able to get the 1 Franklin Project in Downtown Crossing done with Vornado. In life? ... I did really want that Heisman Trophy.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
DeMartino: My biggest pet peeve is people that can’t laugh at themselves. No one is perfect and life is FUNNY. There is no need to take everything so seriously. Enjoy!
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
DeMartino: My wife would say it’s my second motorcycle, but I call it a necessity.
Bisnow: What motivates you?
DeMartino: Seeing our team when they are clearly proud of their work. Feels like winning the state championship sometimes.
Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE?
DeMartino: It took me way too long to figure out that every conversation is a business opportunity.
Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
DeMartino: I once landed a helicopter on a road in between two known minefields in Bosnia. We were sweating that one.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
DeMartino: My neighbor’s dog. My daughters’ dating lives. And these days, it’s also the escalating costs of land and construction.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?
DeMartino: My mother-in-law’s kitchen when it is cold outside is one of the coziest places on earth.
Bisnow: Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?
DeMartino: I’m a bit of a CrossFit zealot and a pretty voracious reader.
Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?
DeMartino: For us here in Boston, I think it’s our collective reaction to the rising costs of land and construction and transportation infrastructure improvements, which carry significant weight for a number of other issues we’re hoping to address as a city.
Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
DeMartino: I have dressed up for Halloween every year since I can remember, and I have no plans of stopping.
Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?
DeMartino: I would like Skanska to be known as a world-class developer that has positively impacted the areas where we develop and build for generations to come.