Mary Ann Tighe is one of the top real estate brokers in New York, she has been the lead dealmaker on some of the city's most notorious properties. But before she became a broker, Tighe started out in a very different field. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 report.
Mary Ann Tighe is perhaps the only mover and shaker in New York's real estate world who once majored in, taught and authored a textbook in art history.
"Art history, if you’re going to learn it at all, you develop a visual memory, which is a different kind of memory," Tighe says. "If you’re in the business of knowing space and buildings, etcetera -- I have a very good visual memory of space to this day."
Tighe is the New York region CEO of the real estate firm CBRE, one of the world's largest real estate firms. She oversees more than 2,000 employees.
Tighe is also the chairperson emeritus of the Real Estate Board of New York and recently completed a three year term as REBNY's first female chairperson.
In 2011, Crain's New York Business called Tighe the most powerful woman in New York.
"Being the first woman in, at the point in the 114-year-old history of the real estate board, to an industry that is as central as it is to the city -- that’s what it’s due to," she says.
Tighe is the dealmaker behind such high profile projects as The New York Times building and Conde Nast's move to 1 World Trade Center.
It was the Conde Nast deal in the mid-1990s that helped change Times Square and Tighe's outlook.
"I was really worried, and then in '96 I did the Conde Nast deal at 4 Times Square and I think I ceased to be worried at that point," she says. "I began to realize I could do this."
But Tighe also came to realize that relationships are also built on the deals not made.
"There is nothing more that bonds you more to a customer than the moment you tell them not to do something that they know would be a benefit to you," Tighe says.
She credits Carol Nelson as her mentor, someone who taught life lessons when Tighe first got into the business in the mid-1980s, a time when there weren't many high powered women in New York real estate.
"The purity of the brokerage business is if you can make money for people, there is no glass ceiling," she says. "There is nothing clearer than that."
But it seems gender imbalance still played a role. Tighe remembers that the analogies in her early classes at the firm were sports and cars, subjects alien to her.
"When I got to give my first class as CEO, I made it all a makeup analogy because I wanted everyone to experience what it was like," she says. "I was getting these looks. 'You see what’s happening?'"
She grew up in the South Bronx. Her dad worked in a warehouse. Her mom was the secretary at the parish rectory.
Tighe's home away from home was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she could expand her mind -- for free.
"I think a lot of it was about wanting the world to get bigger all the time," Tighe says. "Having come from this very enclosed, very narrow world, which gave great comfort but was clearly too tight a fit."
It wouldn't take long for Tighe to make her world bigger.
After graduate school in the late-1970s, while working for the Smithsonian, she heard a speech by Joan Mondale, the wife of then Vice President Walter Mondale.
"I wrote a letter to Bess Able, Mrs. Mondale’s chief of staff whom I met that day when she came to the Hirshhorn saying, 'It was so wonderful to have Mrs. Mondale here. If you ever need help writing speeches, I’d be happy to volunteer.' Which was my nice way of saying it stunk," Tighe says.
It led to an interview at the White House, and a job on the vice president's staff.
"At this stage, I perceive it as a kind of fearlessness. Like, what’s to lose?" she says. "I’m not sure it was really that as a kid, I think it was more about being up for the adventure."
Her next adventure came in television, where as an executive, she helped create the cable network A&E.
By the mid-1980s she'd moved back to New York, resisting a move to California and leaving the TV industry.
"I also felt that it was going to be a slog up the corporate ladder at that point in my late 30s and I wanted to be somewhere where there was a direct correlation between what you produced and how you were compensated," she says.
Tighe has a grown son from a brief first marriage. Around that time, she was teaching art history at Georgetown University.
One of her students was David Hidalgo. She married that student seven years later.
Hidalgo is now a leading plastic surgeon.
He's operated on his wife, and apparently a few of her real estate colleagues too.
"What I love is he never tells me, but I joke about the signals. People will come up to me and say 'Hi!' you know in this very funny way, and immediately I’ll know."
Since 2001, Tighe and her family have raised millions for a foundation in honor of her sister Joan, who died of lung cancer.
Her mother also died of lung cancer, though neither of them were smokers.
"Our mother died within six months of diagnosis, Joan died within nine months of diagnosis," Tighe says. "We discovered, to our horror, that there hadn't been any real advances in the study of lung cancer since when our mother died. But how could this be?"
Strangely, it was the work of the foundation that led to Tighe writing about her plastic surgery in O Magazine, even though she initially denied the magazine editor's request for such an article.
"She came back to me, she said, 'What if we do something in Oprah about Joan’s legacy, my sister’s charity.' You don’t have to that magazine is like magic, you get into the magazine, great stuff happens," Tighe says. "I said, 'Well now you have a currency I’m interested in.'"
The deal was made, the article was written. The confidence that Tighe once displayed in getting a job at the White House, helping to start a cable network, then entering into the rough and tumble world of New York real estate is still there on display.
"Of course you want to do this work with me," she says. "Who would you have more fun with? What's the probability of success? Take a look."
"People say to me sometimes, 'Are you depressed when you don’t get hired?' I say 'Now if someone doesn’t select me, I really feel bad for them because I feel like they’ve missed this opportunity that we could’ve done something exceptional together."
But there is also a humility, an understanding of the big picture, seen through the eyes of a young girl from the South Bronx.
"My brother and I, we were recently, both Tom and I got involved in a project in Shanghai, what will be the tallest building in China when it's completed and the second tallest in the world, and there we were on the roof of the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai. I said to him, 'Can you believe? You know, it’s a long way from 159th Street and Third Avenue."
Tighe continues to play a big role in shaping the city. She is reportedly anchoring the leasing and construction of 3 World Trade Center, as well as finding Sony a new office for its New York headquarters.