Terri Adler, Adler & Stachenfeld, New York.
Job title: Managing Partner.
Law school: New York Law School (J.D., 1996).
Practice groups: Crowdfunding (chair), Fund Formation (co-chair), International/Cross Border (co-chair), Joint Venture/Corporate Real Estate.
What has been the biggest challenge in your particular role? How have you overcome those obstacles? Advocating for a stronger representation of women and underrepresented groups in commercial real estate has been neither simple nor easy, but it will always be something for which I advocate. Throughout my career, overcoming societal barriers to entry or breaking through glass ceilings has been facilitated by intentional and focused mentorship, pushing people outside of their comfort zones, and challenging organizations on their conscious or unconscious biases in decision-making. Mentoring, listening, and discussing thorny issues in a way that facilitates resolution and doesn’t attack or judge is key to furthering the interests of women and other underrepresented groups. Having the necessary skills and competencies is requisite, but knowing how to advocate for yourself is often the difference in getting a more diverse group of individuals in key leadership positions in CRE. This confidence, and seeing others from underrepresented groups move into leadership positions, are the building blocks needed to make CRE more inclusive.
What about your current role/position at the company are you most happy with? I am proud of the strides we have made at Adler & Stachenfeld to remove boundaries and create opportunities for women (both internally and externally). Our entire C-suite at the firm is led by women, we have many of our groups chaired or co-chaired by women, the head of the Firm is a woman. We encourage and have a strong mentorship program focused on skill-building and career development. Our Impact practice focuses on impact-related real estate projects and opportunities, including representing MWBE (Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise) developers and investors and incorporating ESG principles into real estate deals. Helping others to build out their careers or helping our clients build their businesses, is definitely the most rewarding aspect of my job.
What is the best piece of advice you have received that has helped you succeed in your industry? Also, do you have any advice specifically for the next generation? I have said this before, but the best piece of advice I ever got was from my grandmother, who told me not to listen to other people’s advice. She was raised in an army family, married to someone who spent his life in the military, and effectively ruled her family while allowing my grandfather to think he actually did. She never fit the gender role of a 1940-1950s housewife, but still tatted more doilies than anyone on the face of the earth. She was never defined by what other people thought as to how she should behave, or what she should and shouldn’t do. She was funny, kind, tough as nails, and the ultimate badass. So, that role model has enabled me to push against limitations and succeed in an industry that for most of my career was dominated by men. So, my advice for the next generation, is first, know who you are and what you want, and second, define your career with that in mind. Don’t be what someone else thinks you should be or wants you to be.
Would you advise a younger person to begin a career in CRE? If yes, what would you advise them to do to get a foothold in the industry? I love this industry and will always encourage the next generation to pursue a career within CRE. Every person on the face of the earth has a relationship with real estate, whether it’s where they live, where they work, where they shop, or where they go on vacation. It is a fast-paced and dynamic industry, constantly evolving and adapting to address those relationships and needs, and it is filled with super smart people. And that can only get better with a more diverse group of people working in the industry bringing new ideas and perspectives. As to getting a foothold in the industry, I would say learn everything you can from top to bottom about the area of real estate on which you want to focus, get a job in that area, and make yourself indispensable to a decision-maker. Do not be passive and wait for opportunities to come to you or wait to be told what to do. Make your boss’ life easier and better to enable them to do more of what they do best. It is the best way to get the mentorship and support that will ultimately help your career.
How does this advice differ from what you may have received when starting out? When I started there was largely one path and one way to do things. There was a lot of hierarchy and lockstep in the legal industry. If you were a 2nd-year associate you did X, and if you were a 5th-year associate you did Y, etc. If you could do more there was a lot of rigidity in terms of that hierarchy (and penalties for stepping out of bounds). I always ignored that and luckily for me I worked with someone who recognized my talent and let me do more than maybe others would have. Today, I think talent rises quickly and hierarchies are less relevant – so there are more opportunities for those who are capable and brave enough.
Please share an initiative that you are working on that you are most proud of. One of the initiatives that we are working on right now is growing out our Impact practice – which is super exciting. It pairs the real estate with the social, something that goes beyond the bottom line but engages with that relationship that people have with real estate. So, having a practice that enables our firm to be at the forefront of ESG initiatives is really rewarding as it brings together the things that many people at the Firm care about on a personal level with our careers. Danielle Ash [a partner in the firm’s Real Estate group] and Tyng Patka [partner and chair of the firm’s NYC Real Estate Tax and Incentives Practice Group and Co-chair of the firm’s NYC Climate Mobilization Act Task Force and PACE Financing Practice] are at the forefront of this and have been for years, so the credit goes to them for their focus and efforts in building out the practice area.
In your opinion, what takeaways did we learn from the COVID crisis? From remote working to juggling at-home school and work schedules to putting family’s health and safety above all else, colleagues and clients had no other choice but to give each other the grace and flexibility to navigate uncertain times. I believe that we are now more receptive to respecting boundaries and advocating for the life we have outside of work. It was a positive change and one I hope remains long after the pandemic ends.
What three words, phrases, statements or mantras would you use to describe your work mindset?
Intellectually fearless. I’m not easily scared or daunted by challenges or the unknown. I have faith in my abilities and intelligence to know that I can figure things out.
No regrets. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what might have been or what I haven’t done or beating myself up for things that went wrong. Today I do what I can achieve, and I try to leave yesterday behind and view tomorrow as an opportunity to move forward and improve.
Have fun. What’s the point of all of this if you can’t have fun and enjoy your life? I love sports, I love to dance, I love fishing with my kids and gardening and knitting and doing things that don’t involve analyzing and problem-solving complex issues and legal documents. Everyone should have more to their life than just their job.