Work hard, know your stuff and be confident; that was Wendy Silverstein’s advice to the crowd at the seventh-annual Real Estate Weekly Women’s Forum.
Silverstein, the former Vornado Realty Trust executive and current CEO of New York REIT, delivered the keynote speech at the event, which took place yesterday (Tuesday) at the Bar Association building in Midtown.
During the address, she chronicled her three-decade-long career path through the real estate industry and discussed some of her pivotal experiences from that time.
With the theme for this yearʼs event Make Your Voice Heard, Silverstein also orchestrated a candid conversation with the predominantly female audience about workplace challenges and methods for overcoming them.
“Finding your voice is really all about one’s personal journey,” she said. “Hopefully, along the way, you find something you love to do and you find something that you can do with a lot of energy and passion.”
For her, that journey began at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Unlike many of her peers, Silverstein did not hail from an elite business pedigree, so when she arrived on campus she did not have as clear a sense of direction as some.
Ultimately, she majored in economics with the hope of working in the accounting field. A nice, sensible decision, perhaps, but it didn’t stick.
“After graduation, I went to work at one of those big accounting firms and maybe two days into the job I determined pretty quickly that this is not going to be the right long-term fit for me,” Silverstein said. “I didn’t panic I just made a plan.”
She became a certified public accountant and stuck with the firm for two years before returning to Wharton to earn an MBA in finance. She hasn’t looked back since. In addition to the work experience, she also took a valuable lesson away from her accounting days, one that she shared with the audience: “If you find yourself on a path that doesn’t feel right, my suggestion is course correct and just get off it.”
Silverstein began her real estate career, in earnest, with Citibank, where she specialized in leveraged buyouts and debt restructuring. This began what she called the “apprentice phase,” the stage when the most important voice is the one that isn’t afraid to ask questions or admit to not knowing something.
This also gives way to the “build your reputation phase,” in which you make impressions on your peers. Silverstein said it’s important to present confidence at this stage, even if it doesn’t come naturally.
“Hard work is what builds confidence,” she said. “If you do the work and understand the topic, speak with authority. If you don’t feel confident, fake it. Eventually, you will learn to be confident and you will feel it for real.”
The final phase Silverstein discussed was the one in which someone masters their craft. This is, she said, was when having command over one’s voice is most important because faking is no longer an option; a professional must have the knowledge and experience to back them up.
Mastering one’s craft means having to advocate for opinions and one’s self, especially when it comes to salary. A strong, confident voice is crucial to doing both.
“What is the secret?” Silverstein queried. “Damned if I know, but I think a lot of it has to do with simply not being afraid.”