For Jodi Pulice, working as a member of the One World Trade Center leasing team is the highlight of a career that’s been all about hard work and breaking down barriers.
“I’ve taken buildings from the ground up before, but not anything iconic like this,” said Pulice, founder and president of JRT Realty Group. “The project is a phenomenal success … it’s going to change the face of downtown.”
Pulice, as the owner of a certified minority/woman-owned commercial real estate company, is a member of Tara Stacom’s team from Cushman & Wakefield charged with leasing out the tower.
And as she sits in meetings with the top real estate professionals representing the Durst Organization and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, she’s sharing what she learns with the staff her company, and with women and minorities across the county.
After one recent presentation by firm that designs virtual online tours of properties, for example, Pulice arranged for the presenters to come to repeat the presentation at JRT.
“I want everyone here to learn what I learn,” she said.
JRT is the nation’s largest certified minority/woman-owned commercial real estate company, representing its clients nationally through a strategic partnership with Cushman and Wakefield.
“I have the power to employ women and minorities all over the country,” Pulice said.
Early on, she made a point of asserting that power. In her first strategic alliance, with Insignia / ESG (a company later bought out by CB Richard Ellis,) Pulice recalls phoning offices around the country for recommendations for local talent. She was inevitably supplied with a list of Anglo-Saxon-sounding men’s names, she said, and would ask: “You mean there aren’t any women or minorities in your area who could do this?”
Pulice, a native of Staten Island, graduated from Wagner College with a degree in bacteriology and public health, after working her way through school with jobs at Sterling Optical and as a athletic coach.
“I used to change uniforms driving on the Staten Island expressway,” she recalled.
After graduation she worked for two years as a ticket agent for a Minneapolis-based airline, traveling around the world for two years and learning that she had a knack for sales.
“I used to get people on the phone and I would sell them triangular fares instead of round-trip fares,” she said.
Eventually, an acquaintance in commercial real estate suggested that, with her skills, she should be working for commission.
Her first real estate job was working for Mary Salerno at Berley & Company, where she remembers completing her first four deals in three months – all while still working part-time in Staten Island.
At Berley & Company Pulice began working closely with Salerno’s nephew, Greg Smith. The two worked long hours over typewriters, mailing queries to potential clients, from United Nations missions and advertising companies. Following up letters with phone calls, Pulice would pose as Smith’s secretary, passing one phone between their desks.
“We had to be creative because we had to be different,” she said.
Pulice and Smith, now married, carried on their partnership as they moved on to other firms.
In the early 90s they were hired by TIAA-CREF, a retirement fund for teachers and other professionals in medical, cultural and government fields, to take over a troubled leasing situation at 17 State Street. Pulice and here team moved their offices into the building, which was 38 percent occupied.
“The best way to know a building is to live in that building,” she said. “Use your eyeballs to see what’s going on.”
As a marketing technique that anticipated today’s online virtual tours, they visited potential tenants with a laptop loaded with photos of the property.
“We had an enormous amount of people that wanted to be in there, after dragging that laptop everywhere.”
Within six months, the building was almost full, and the team moved on to 375 Park Avenue, another struggling TIAA-CREF property.
As was the case at 17 State Street, the turnaround was so dramatic the clients asked Pulice and Smith to market the building for sale.
“To sell the Seagram Building in 1999 was huge,”she said.
Pulice founded JRT in 1996, and TIAA-CREF is still a client – as are the City of New York, the Port Authority, Wachovia Bank, The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the United Nations Federal Credit Union.
The company manages more than 150 buildings, comprising over 16 million square feet in markets nationwide. And whenever there is a contract to be filled, Pulice makes sure there are women and minority-owned businesses at the table.
“I have no want or need for anything, but I have a daughter and I don’t want her to go through anything like what I went through,” she said.
Every Friday, the ten-person staff in JRT’s Third Avenue offices sits down together for lunch in the company’s conference room.
Pulice encourages all of her employees to get the real estate license, she said, even if their primary responsibility at the moment is to answer the phones.
“I don’t like labels,” Pulice said. “No one is a secretary.”