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My First Year As A Commercial Broker: Mary Ann Tighe, 1985

Last year, CBRE Tri-State CEO Mary Ann Tighe brokered $3.7B worth of office leases. 

CBRE Tri-State CEO Mary Ann Tighe

But the top global producer for the world's biggest real estate services company describes her first year in the business, back in 1985, as “miserable,” and she failed to close a single deal.

“Each day I would think, ‘what have I done wrong here?’” she said, describing it as a “dark time.”

Listen to an audio version of this story here.

Tighe has been CBRE’s Tri-State CEO since 2002. Last year, she brokered leases totaling 4.7M SF, including some of the city’s most valuable office deals, including Spotify’s almost 400K SF lease at 4 World Trade Center and News Corp. and Twenty-First Century Fox’s landmark leases at 1211 Sixth Ave.

Mary Ann Tighe in 1982 with ABC Video Enterprises CEO Herb Granath

But her early days in the business were far less prolific. She started as a broker at the Edward S. Gordon Co. in November 1984. She had been given a draw worth $40K, meaning that she had to earn the money back in commissions.

She was then 36 years old, and her previous positions at ABC and the White House had all come with a salary.

ABC kept her on a retainer, but she found the weight of earning back the money she had been advanced enormously stressful.

“I did not do any deal at all for 15 months,” she told Bisnow in an interview about her first year in the industry. “So by the time I did my first deal, which was something like 3,200 SF in Long Island City, I was deep in the hole.”

She was assigned to the leasing team for the International Design Center of Long Island City, and her job was to canvass people who sold office furniture. Tighe said she was screamed at in her weekly leasing meetings, and said she felt humiliated and denigrated in her job.

Mary Ann Tighe's first official headshot at the Edward S. Gordon Co.

“I really did not blame the Edward S. Gordon Co.," she said. "I felt that the failures were mine, and I had to analyze and figure out what I was doing wrong.”

It was the city that sustained her, she said. Tighe grew up in the Bronx and firmly believed her economic security laid within the city and its buildings.

“If I’d been working in a suburban brokerage I think I would have quit a long time before then," she said. “I love the city deeply, and always had a romantic view of New York as, like, the land of opportunity.”

In 1985, brokers did what was known as "space chucking," which meant spending most of the day on the phone. Information was a hot commodity, and it was important to keep your information close to your chest.

The culture is about collaboration now, Tighe said, but in that first year, she says her biggest mistakes were when she would share information. It was an alien environment, and there were times when people would take her ideas and her information and then cut her out of the deal.

“I had to have it demonstrated to me that, at that point, it's not a team sport,” she said. "It was 100% a relationship business, and it was relationships between men."

Today, commercial real estate remains a widely male-dominated industry. Though there are several women like Tighe who are top performers and close major deals, across the board, women earn less than their male counterparts.

The median wage is $115K, compared to $150K for men, according to CREW's most recent benchmark study, released in 2015. That works out to be an average income gap of 23.3%.

Meanwhile, there are several men and women who describe parts of the industry as hostile to women. 

Tighe said she was originally drawn to ESG because it had a top female broker, demonstrating success at the firm was based on performance not gender.

“Someone else had mowed the path, and I just needed to figure out how to get on the path," she said.

A New York Daily News article about Mary Ann Tighe and Carol Nelson's partnership

A major turning point for Tighe was late in her first year when she approached Carol Nelson, then a senior broker at the firm, for advice. She met her in the ladies room, while they were both putting on lipstick.

She began working with Nelson, learning everything she could from her. Tighe initially made herself useful by opening Nelson's mail and writing letters.

“What she did for me was — God bless her — [was] teach me how to conduct myself in this world and give me the benefit of her relationships and the access," she said. “I would be in the room. If she was selling, I would be in the room during lease negotiating, doing term sheets.”

By the early 1990s, they were working together as a team. In 1991, they negotiated the country’s biggest deal of that year, which was Sony’s lease at 500 Madison Ave.

"I've negotiated against them and they've negotiated for me, and believe me, I'd rather have them on my side," The Durst Organization's Douglas Durst told the New York Times in 1992.

A photo of Mary Ann Tighe and her mother, taken on the steps of their church on Easter Sunday in the early 1950s

Tighe’s advice for a broker who is starting out in 2018: Make yourself an expert on something, she said, because if you are an expert, business will find you.

Most importantly, a broker needs to figure out with whom he or she wants to team up.

“The culture is all about collaboration now ... you have to figure out how to make yourself useful to someone who will pull you along," she said. "It is still a business that is passed down ... In terms of day-to-day execution, it's still being in the room where it happens.”

Travis Gonzalez contributed to the production of this story.

Audio credits: Music: Disco High by UltraCat from Cheshire Records, typewriter sound: SoundBible, phone ringing: SoundBible (recorded by Mike Koenig), party sound: SoundBible (recorded by Daniel Simon)