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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Brookfield Head Of Design And Construction Sabrina Kanner

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Sabrina Kanner is the head of Design and Construction at Brookfield Properties, a role that has her overseeing the design and construction activities of the company's American properties and development sites.

Now 61, she got her start in construction nearly four decades ago at O&Y Properties — a now-defunct Canadian property development firm that was acquired by Brookfield in 1996. Her first project was working on a bank at 245 Park Ave., and over the course of her career at Brookfield she has worked on more than 40M SF worth of projects. Notably, she was part of the re-creation of Brookfield Place in the wake of 9/11 and the company’s mixed-use megadevelopment near Penn Station, Manhattan West.

Here, she speaks about how lack of self-confidence held her back in her early days, the redevelopment she considers a “half-swing” and the therapy of construction after a terrorist attack.

Brookfield's Sabrina Kanner

Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job?

Kanner: Creating beautiful places, and the people. I really enjoy being part of a team, problem-solving through challenges to create beautiful places.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Kanner: Typing papers in college. I am still a disaster with a keyboard.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Kanner: I would be an astronaut or a rock star.

Bisnow: What project are you proudest of?

Kanner: The rebuilding of the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place after 9/11. It was construction therapy for the 500 people who worked on it, including me. It was deeply satisfying for me personally to re-create such an important emblem of beauty and community as a response to such an ugly act of war.

Bisnow: What project do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Kanner: It would be overstating to call it a failure, but during the global economic crisis we undertook a modest lobby renovation at the iconic Grace building when a greater project was warranted.

It seemed prudent at the time, and perhaps it was, but we knew it was a half-swing. Years later, we went back to do it right.

Sabrina Kanner and her family

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Kanner: Dishonesty.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Kanner: Great wine.

Bisnow: What motivates you?

Kanner: Two things: a love of excellence and the fear of failure.

Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE?

Kanner: Have confidence in yourself. I think it took me decades to achieve self-confidence, which, I believe, held me back at the beginning of my career.

Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Kanner: Starting a project where our budget was almost $100M lower than our [construction manager]’s budget. Fast-forward to the end of that story: We partnered very well with our CM and completed the project for just under our budget, and the project is a great success. We sweated through procurement, though. 

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Kanner: Project safety. We have a strong record, but any accident is one too many.

Brookfield's Sabrina Kanner speaking at Bisnow's New York State of the Market event in 2019.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?

Kanner: Without a doubt, Italy, a fact discovered while sourcing stone for our projects. It has a culture that celebrates excellence, in food, craftsmanship, wine and life.

Bisnow: Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?

Kanner: When I leave the built environment, I run to Martha’s Vineyard where I immerse in the unbuilt environment, nature. I love to hike and beach there, especially with my family.

Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?

Kanner: The move to sustainable design, specifically reduction in carbon emissions to combat climate change. The recent focus on this, strengthened by laws in many areas, will revolutionize how we build, operate and maintain buildings.

Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Kanner: That I am a voracious reader. I am usually reading two to three books at a time, and probably read a book a week.

Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?

Kanner: The team that I have built. They are among the most talented builders today and the caliber of projects my team develops demonstrates just that. I feel fortunate to work with them every day.