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In New York City real estate, a field where executive positions have historically been populated by men, Highlyann Krasnow is one of a small, but increasing, number of women calling shots at the table.
Krasnow started her career as a broker fresh out of college, with no experience in sales, and worked her way up to being the only female partner at MNS, one of the biggest sales and rental brokerages in the five boroughs.
Krasnow originally joined the Corcoran Group in 2000 and was so successful in her first few years that in 2003 when the company’s head of new development branched out to start his own firm, he asked her to join him. In 2009 they merged their company, The Development Group, based in Brooklyn, with Manhattan’s Real Estate Group of New York.
If she didn’t already have enough work to do, in 2012 Karsnow founded a boutique interior design firm, The Design High, which manages the interiors for projects handled by MNS, along with private clients.
In honor of Women’s History Month, along with National Women’s Day on March 8, I asked this female big shot about the steps she took to build her career and how more women can follow her trail.
Heather Senison: Why did you go into real estate?
Highlyann Krasnow: I started in real estate with the Corcoran Group as a sales agent around 2000, right out of Hunter College. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and I really had no idea what I was going to do. I was doing photography a lot and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t think I’d be able to live off of it. And I think I saw an ad or something about real estate and I realized it was an opportunity to work for myself. I never really wanted to work for anyone, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I went directly into sales, with no experience.
Senison: Looking back, how does it feel to be a partner at MNS, especially since the other two are men?
Krasnow: All our executive teams and all our project managers are females, so we probably have the most female executives at any company. We’re a very female-led company. That’s accidental, but I give my male partners a lot of credit because they really see value of women in executive positions, especially in real estate. We bring a lot to the table, a lot of diversity of knowledge and multi-tasking ability. When you’re in meetings with a lot of developers that are men, the female perspective is very important.
Senison: Can you elaborate on “the female perspective”?
Krasnow: Women are very good at multitasking and thinking about things in a holistic manner. Even if a woman doesn’t have a family, they are able to see the project as a whole and how the experience would be walking into a building and then getting up to the amenities, how it runs as its own little ecosystem. I think that’s something women have to do innately because they’re usually the ones running a family. We’re also not very big on wasting time.
Senison: Since March is Women’s History Month, how do you think we are faring in the real estate business today?
Krasnow: I think that we’re definitely making strides. It’s really encouraging that I see a lot more women architects and a lot more women development teams than I did in 2003. We’re still the minority and that’s a shame, but I think we’re slowly getting there. I think that ultimately there’s an openness that is very encouraging. In the beginning I felt a little intimidated, going to all-male meetings, but in my experience every developer has been open to anyone at the table as long as they’re speaking with clarity and knowledge. In the majority of my meetings, I’m usually one of the only women in the room and I’ve never felt unheard. But I still wish it was more balanced.
Senison: What’s a possible way to make things more balanced?
Krasnow: I think more women need to get involved on the development and construction side of things. There’s a lot of knowledge that’s learned from that side of things. A lot of developers come from construction. There’s a lot of ways to get involved. You can go to school and learn engineering and the stuff that goes behind the trade, and also I do see women at construction sites learning the back end of the business. And from my experience … I think there’s this disparity between what our abilities are and what careers we end up choosing. On the architecture side you definitely see a lot more women.
Senison: Why did you start a design firm and how did you find time to do that?
Krasnow: Yes, I really needed another full-time job, another company to run [laughs]. I actually have to give [Douglaston Development chair] Jeff Levine partial credit for it. We were working on One North Fourth, the rental tower in Williamsburg, and we had always worked with him in the pre-development capacity. He needed someone to finish up the building’s interior and he said, “why don’t you just do it?” So we finished up the interior design on that tower and it was successful and I really enjoyed it, we’re the ones dictating to interior designers what we want anyway. We hired a bunch of interior designers and interns and we have done a lot of projects with MNS and outside of it.
Senison: The Design High is also staffed by women, correct? Is that intentional?
Krasnow: This is also accidental, but all my designers are female. Honestly, the way we do some hiring for our interior designers is we give the candidates that we like kind of a design test, some location or a lobby layout, and it’s just worked out that it’s the women who have done best on that.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
March 12, 2019 at 05:48PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs