By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
For Annemarie DiCola, the Pelham Parkway-Fordham Road joint thoroughfare has been a boulevard of dreams.
If you drive west down the iconic Bronx two-named avenue, there are markers of where life turned DiCola down a side street leading her to her eventual title of Chief Executive Officer at Trepp LLC.
At the foot of Pelham Parkway by Eastchester Road stands her childhood home. Further west on Mace and Matthews Avenues stands St. Lucy’s, her primary school. Across Bronx Park is Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus, a place where she wasn’t even supposed to go.
“My mother wanted me to go to an all woman’s college,” said DiCola from her East Midtown office. “I had received a partial academic scholarship to Wellesley College in Massachusetts. But one day in the spring of my senior year I got called to the principal’s office on a Friday afternoon, and I never got in trouble.”
“The nun who was the principal looks at me and says: ‘Annemarie, I just got off the phone with the president of Fordham University and they have sent a letter to you and your parents awarding you a four-year full academic scholarship.’ It changed the course of everything for me.”
Meeting her husband at Fordham, DiCola remained in New York for her graduate studies. It was there, while attending NYU Law School, that she first got exposure to the industry that would shape her career.
“I worked as a summer legal associate and I rotated through departments, “ she said. “I always enjoyed commercial RE work the most. I loved the tangibility of the subject matter. I was always fascinated the progress of commercial real estate and how that industry is so important to NYC.”
After graduating, DiCola began working as a commercial real estate attorney at a law firm that became a casualty in the recession of 1990-91.
“It was obvious to me that I was going to need to find a new home,” she said of financial environment of the time. “The transactional work that I knew how to do, just wasn’t happening. I was beginning a job search out of necessity.”
DiCola noticed while doing her job search, that while there were no postings for commercial real estate lawyers, but there were a whole lot of ads for bankruptcy attorneys. Taking a pay cut, DiCola used her 7-years of experience to convince the hiring manager that they would be getting a bargain over anyone with only the 3-4 years they were asking for.
“When times are tough, you get practical,” she said.
But like the junctions along Pelham Parkway and Fordham Road, life had other plans.
In the course of her job search DiCola had also spoken to a client, Rick Trepp, about her job situation. Trepp LLC, which had been doing financial analysis and deal monitoring of commercial backed bonds since the mid-80’s had used DiCola for due diligence and liked her work.
“After a couple of months I was looking at a very interesting juncture,” she said. “On the one hand I had a couple of job offers from important law firms that were willing to hire me as a bankruptcy associate, and I also had an offer from Trepp to come in as in house council.”
Hypothetically, DiCola would come in as not just in house council, but as someone who could run a subsidiary of Trepp monitoring CMBS deals.
Liking the way the Rick Trepp utilized his employees and developed his staff she joined the small firm. The decision would be a big one.
“I began to be tapped for every time of business question and issue that came up,” she said. “He involved me in business discussions. He involved me in business meetings, he involved me in marketing decisions. Over the years as Trepp grew, I continued to be involved in every aspect of the business.”
Years later when Rick Trepp decided to sell the firm, DiCola had the opportunity to become CEO.
“The board said they liked my ability to adapt,” she said. “They said I displayed a willingness to personally evolve myself and that would help shepherd change in the company.”
That ability to make change made DiCola the perfect person to lead the company through the financial crisis. Under her leadership, Trepp continued to adapt to the volatile environmental changes, looking for opportunities created by the crisis.
“We have never stopped innovating our products and services throughout the entire crisis,” she said. “We have kept enhancing. We took a hard look at every new need that was created by the fiscal crisis like the enormous amount of loans under CMBS that have been modified.”
Taking the reins on loan modifications, Trepp became a premier re-modeler to reduce the impact that new loan terms would have on cash flows and payments on bonds.
“We kept saying to the market ‘we are going to be here to fill every need you have in CMBS’. We kept getting to our content. We kept going.”
As for being a woman at the helm, DiCola says she doesn’t even think about it. She said she feels that too much focus on being a minority in an industry dominated by males will place her at a disadvantage.
At the end of the day she says, the challenge is in fulfilling your job title, not in representing your gender.
“I don’t ever focus on the fact that I am female,” she said. “If you dwell on it you are bound to make a disadvantage. I’ve never let it stop me.”
“I have the same exact challenges as any male CEO. My challenge is to keep my business moving forward, help it grow and make this a great place where people want to work. I have the same challenges as any man, no more, no less.”