Mary Ann Tighe Talks Career Highlights On ULI Podcast, How She Ended Up In Real Estate
CRE giant and CBRE’s New York Tri-State Region CEO, Mary Ann Tighe, joined the Urban Land Institute’s “Leading Voices” podcast host Matthew Slepin recently for a conversation about her career, her accomplishments and how she ended up in real estate. From her work in the art world to helping launch the A&E network, Tighe’s penchant for dealmaking and fostering relationships has led to her status as of one the U.S.’ most prolific brokers, and one of Crain’s most powerful women in New York.
According to Tighe, who did not know what commercial real estate was until she was 36 years old, the circumstances surrounding her rise to New York real estate glory could be considered happenstance.
Her path to becoming a broker began in D.C., as the arts adviser to Vice President Walter Mondale in the late 1970s. Tighe got the job after writing speeches for Joan Mondale, an opportunity she fell into by sending an unsolicited letter to the second lady’s chief of staff, Beth Abel.
“I didn’t hear anything for 10 days,” Tighe told Slepin. “One day, on my desk is a big stack of books from the Library of Congress and a note from Beth Abel: Mrs. Mondale needs 20 minutes of remarks for the American Craft Council, please prepare. This went on for six weeks.”
Tighe considered her yearlong stint with the Carter-Mondale administration as transformative, helping her appreciate the scale of the world.
“It gave me a kind of fearlessness about people and hierarchy,” she said.
Fearlessness and dedication would propel her toward brokerage. After moving to New York and launching the A&E network with ABC Broadcasting Company Video Enterprises, Tighe met a retired commercial real estate broker during a business trip to Venice. Interested in the industry, and the opportunity to spend more time in the city with her husband and son, she set up a meeting with CRE legend Edward S. Gordon once back in the city. He did not hire her.
“Eddie did not want to hire because I was trained in art, not business,” she said.
Not one to give up, Tighe used her writing skills to follow Gordon to profile him and the Edward S. Gordon Co. for the debut publication of Manhattan Inc. magazine. The article was her ticket to employment at ESG. She was hired one month after it published.
“He understood that if I could understand enough to write that article, I could understand how to do the business,” Tighe said.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the brokerage game was changing, becoming more of a consulting and corporate model compared to a more meet-and-greet and improvisational business. Tighe, in the right place at the right time, leveraged her skills and experience working in the more white-collar world of Washington to gain a foothold in the industry.
At ESG, Tighe was able to sit at the table of some of the biggest deals in the city, and the country. She was still in a junior position when they sold 550 Madison Ave. to Sony, the largest deal in the U.S. It was not long before she was making a name for herself with more notable transactions. Tighe helped drive redevelopment in Times Square when she moved Condé Nast to the area in 1996.
She also helped The New York Times move out of its former home at 229 West 43rd St. into its current 52-story skyscraper. She convinced the media company that the operating expenses to keep the decrepit building running were cutting into its bottom line. It took a few years of convincing.
“To accomplish anything of significance in New York, it takes years,” she said.
Tighe has proven she has the patience and wherewithal to wait. It is how she has amassed 97M SF in transactions, became Larry Silverstein's agent for the World Trade Center campus and is currently negotiating air rights for the Archdiocese of New York. Through this relentless pursuit of deals, she found something she loved doing in the process.
“It’s not something I would have picked for myself, but now that I am in it, I can’t imagine doing anything else," she said.
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