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One On 1: Real Estate CEO Dorothy Herman

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This week on "One On 1," Budd Mishkin profiles Prudential Douglas Elliman CEO Dorothy Herman.

Everyone calls Dorothy Herman, the CEO of real estate giant Prudential Douglas Elliman, "Dottie."

So you can call her Dottie, but one thing you can’t do is tell her "no."

"I think that if I listened to what other people said to do — and many times it was what they honestly thought was the best advice — I certainly wouldn't be here now," she says.

Where she is, is at the top of the New York real estate game.

She got there by doing what so many New Yorkers do every day: come in from Long Island.

Two years ago, Herman was head of Prudential Long Island Realty when she bought Douglas Elliman, the largest brokerage firm in the city, for a little more than $71 million.

The end result of the sale was a success.

Elliman is a multi-billion-dollar firm with some 3,000 real estate professionals and 60 offices — as Herman puts it, "from Montauk to Manhattan."

“I listen to people, I hear them, but them I always go back and do what my gut tells me to do,” she says. “This was my vision and I just couldn't leave it until I got New York City.”

In the two years since Herman brought her business into the city, she's made quite a splash, landing on the cover of "New York" magazine and several other pulications.

“I had just come into the city and all of a sudden to be on the cover ... I would be looking around and I'd see my face all over New York City.”

She wasn't exactly a rookie in the real estate game when she came to New York. Prudential Long Island Realty had been named one of the top 60 real estate companies in the country.

And Herman had a chance to cash in on that early success — but she passed.

“I had a substantially great offer to sell my company on Long Island and I didn't take it,” she says. “Instead, I put everything on the line and borrowed more money, and I don't think there was anyone that told me to do it. Matter of fact, everyone said, Îare you crazy? You would never have to work again!’"

Not working is not an option for Dottie Herman.

Here’s just a glimpse of her daily schedule: meeting with executives, advising agents, and checking out new buildings.

And that's not the half of it.

“I meet developers, put out fires, meet with my marketing departments and sales agents, get some calls from Long Island, go there," Herman says. “I mean, I have to tell you, I sometimes don't know how I do it. So it's a lot, but it just happens.”

Her passion for her work is obvious. But outside of her morning workout, does she have any other passions? Maybe a hobby or two?

“I used to almost want to say Îyes’ to that just so I'd sound normal,” she says, “because to be successful you're supposed to have a very well-balanced life. Every time-management class I've probably flunked because I don't know how you do all that.”

So how did Dottie Herman rise to the top of the real estate world, an industry known as a cutthroat, when she says she thinks of her company as a family?

“I think losing my mom at a very young age, and being the oldest in my family, and really not having as much nurturing at 10 years old, I had to do a lot on my own.”

When Herman was 10, her entire family was involved in a tragic car accident.



“I specifically remember waking up in a hospital and the police telling me my mother was dead,” she says. “And all of my family was in the hospital for a while. But as a result of that I am very close to my brother and sister.”

Dottie Herman is described, even by her competitors, as a powerhouse.

She's married to an attorney, has a grown daughter, two homes on Long Island and a place in Manhattan.

It is an amazing feat, considering where she started: as a divorced, single mom and part-time college student, with a part-time job in real estate.

“I always wanted to be able to support myself, and we were in a time when, predominately, women got married and counted on their husbands,” she remembers.

“There weren't a lot of women working after they had children, and I always wanted to know that I had control of my own destiny.”

Herman got a job with Merrill Lynch and was sent around the country to learn the real estate business.

She had found something she loved doing, and it was all-consuming. Herman says it was a struggle to balance work and family life.

“Were there times I just couldn't spend with my daughter that I would have liked to? Yes. But it was a give and take, you know. Do I think, as a woman, that I believe what I believed when I was 20, that you can do it all equally? No.”

In 1989, Herman was working for Prudential, which was going to sell off pieces of its national company.

Herman wanted to buy. Moxie she had, but money she didn't.

“My whole company said, ÎListen, you can get it.’ So I called banks, which of course laughed in my face, and they said, ÎYou're lucky if we'd lend you the money for one office, let alone a company.’”

But Herman nudged and pushed, and eventually she got it.

“I didn't have much of a risk. I mean, I was working for the company, they were going to sell the company to someone and if they didn't sell it to me when I asked for it, as preposterous as it sounds, what would happen to me? Nothing. So, I would look like a fool. That's about it. They would laugh in my face and say you've got to be kidding me.”

No one is laughing now. As the head of one of New York's most powerful real estate firms, the banks take her calls today.

Next up, Harlem. Her company is increasing its real estate presence.

It could be a huge risk to take. But not for Dottie Herman.

—Budd Mishkin

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