The New Closers: Why JRT Realty Rising Star Lauren Calandriello Is One To Watch
Lauren Calandriello’s path to commercial real estate was, in her own words, kind of random.
Now a JRT Realty Group real estate associate, she was introduced to the firm’s CEO, Jodi Pulice, after taking a college study abroad program in Italy alongside Pulice’s son back in 2012. Pulice, always on the lookout for young talent, invited her in for a job interview two years later.
“[Pulice] likes to hire young women into the business and train them up, because it's a very male-dominated field,” said Calandriello, who has been with the firm for nearly five years and was named 2018 Most Promising Commercial Salesperson of the Year by the Real Estate Board of New York this spring.
“As soon as she called me, I said ‘yes,'" Calndriello said. "I really liked the idea of being part of a certified [Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise] because, again, in this industry it’s still so male-dominated, to be a part of this kind of company gives me an edge.”
Standing out in the intensely competitive environment of New York City commercial real estate brokerage is a gauntlet. Many of the city’s most established brokers reflect on their early years, and the process of building key relationships and winning clients, as enormously challenging.
Women in the industry face a unique set of obstacles to navigate. While there is no denying there are a number of highly successful women who have reached the upper levels of the business, most real estate companies are still led by men.
A gender pay gap persists, too; across commercial real estate, women earn a median wage of $115K, compared to $150K for men, according to the Commercial Real Estate Women Network’s most recent benchmark study in 2015. That works out to be an average income gap of 23.3%.
Calandriello has heard the war stories from her more experienced female colleagues. Pulice often recounts times when, in her early career as a broker, she was asked to take notes or get coffee. But Calandriello believes working at JRT — which was established in 1996 and is said to be the largest woman-owned commercial real estate firm in the United States — has afforded her more training and mentoring than she would have access to at a larger firm.
The entrepreneurial nature of the company means she has one-on-one time with her CEO and senior members of the team. What’s more, she said working at a female-run firm has put her in a unique position as the world grapples with the impact of the #MeToo movement.
“Right now, women want to work with women, and women want to support women,” Calandriello said. “When we reach out to different companies to help represent them in their real estate needs, when they find out we're a women-owned company and maybe they're also a women-owned company … they are more eager to work with us. So that we've found really positive results with the #MeToo movement.”
She said most men in the industry of her generation have become accustomed to women in powerful positions, though she has still sensed some lingering sexism from the older generation.
“It’s hard to go it alone in this industry, you need to have someone who is mentoring and guiding you in your career,” said JLL Vice Chairman Cynthia Wasserberger, a REBNY board member and part of the judging committee that awarded Calandriello most promising salesperson earlier this year.
“Having a specialty, niche or discipline is important," Wasserberger said. "And you need to stay relevant with all the trends … I think she’ll will continue to leverage those factors in her career.”
When she first joined in 2014, Calandriello was shadowing her colleagues, but soon began handling meetings and pitches alone. JRT, along with its strategic partner Cushman & Wakefield, represents New York City in its real estate deals, and as a result Calandriello has personally completed over 1M SF of leasing on the account.
“Working in the outer boroughs is where I really find the excitement," Calandriello said, adding she loves being part of the redevelopment of older buildings. “It's very fun to use your brain and be creative. It's not exactly like the normal Midtown Manhattan building, where it's just straight walls and office space that can be a little mundane.”
Calandriello represents the Bruckner Building, an office property on Third Avenue in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. There, she said she has worked on about 100K SF worth of leases, including catering company Great Performances’ 41K SF deal — which saw the company moving from Manhattan to the growing South Bronx neighborhood.
She worked on a deal to bring Joffrey’s Ballet School to the Zipper Building at 47-16 Austell Place in Long Island City, its first facility in the boroughs. She is also working on the office portion of the Kaufman Astoria Studios project on 36th Street in Astoria, Queens, where new film stages and soundstages are being added with 68K SF of office space.
She is also representing Kaufman’s 100K SF office building across the street from the studios. In the Port Morris area of the South Bronx, she is working on leasing up Union Crossing, an office building on East 141st Street.
“We love training young women and bringing them to the table,” said JRT Executive Managing Director Ellen Israel, who has mentored and worked with Calandriello.
Israel said she has been impressed by Calandriello's professionalism, her ability to keep her cool and her refusal to shy away from a challenge.
“Although she knew nothing about real estate, she’s a quick learner, and she’s very personable and people enjoy doing business with her,” Israel said.
Israel, who has worked in commercial real estate for more than three decades, said there are still significant barriers to women and minorities in the industry, and while big strides have been made, some still see women’s presence as “window dressing."
“Slowly but surely, the old men are starting to realize that when they pitch a bank or an insurance company or even a law firm, they are no longer staring at six old white men. They are looking at a more diverse group sitting across the table from them,” she said.
Israel views working with younger men and women like Calandriello as a crucial part of advancing and developing the industry.
“If you look across all the major firms, there are very few women at the top," she said. "So until the playing field is level, we can’t stop.”