My Story: Joanne Podell
One bad decision in 1990 and C&W vice chairman Joanne Podell lost her entire chain of furniture stores overnight. Now she's among NYC's top retail brokers. How did she turns things around? We spoke with her recently at her 1290 Ave of the America office. Joanne's tenant roster includes Ann Taylor, Loft, Nike, Converse, TD Bank, Kay Jewelers, Ethan Allen, and Zero Halliburton. (Christmas shopping is much easier when it coincides with client visits.) And she's the exclusive retail agent for W&H at 250 W 57th St (26 stories, 535k SF of office) and 112 W 34th St (100k SF of retail across from Macy's), Madison Capital, and Trump. Thus, she's a two-time REBNY Retail Deal of the Year winner and serves on REBNY's commercial board of directors.
Joanne attended public school in North Merrick, Long Island, working summers in her father's Senior Victor Boutique, the first Brazilian boutique on West 46th, now known as Little Brazil Street. Her job at the import-export business was picking the items to be sold (which, at an import-export store, is half the battle). She went to Ithaca and was the first in her family to graduate from college (others shortly followed). During Vietnam, when jobs were hard to come by, she went to work as a home teacher in Yonkers, where her students included a bedridden boy, and in Harlem, where she taught a 13-year-old mother. She married, had three sons, then separated, becoming a single parent with sole financial responsibility for her 3, 8, and 10-year-olds.
So she turned to what she loved, retail, and eventually the furniture store she launched, Brazil Contempo, grew to 10 locations, each worth about $1M. When the business collapsed, her sons were still in high school and college. A friend suggested that with Joanne's talent for retail she try retail real estate. And now here she is, leasing space for major landlords (we snapped W&H's 112 W 34th, above). Her first deal: "I'm driving the car, an old Mercedes, no air conditioner, to sign a lease in person." It was for a $20k commission, very welcome cash. Her advice to young women: "Believe in yourself and work very hard. I'm still here. I was here at 8am, I'll be here at 7pm," Joanne says. Most importantly: "Never give up." Joanne loves to play golf and read. She spends weekends with family, including twin 11-year-old grandchildren, a boy and a girl.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is our fourth profile of one of the 50 astonishing women who made Bisnow's first ever Power Women list, coming up next month. Check out Leslie Himmel, Tara Stacom, and Charlotte Matthews' stories, too.