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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Melissa Libner

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-08-25

Melissa Libner is a chameleon.

"I can adapt to any environment," she said.

In support of her point, Ms. Libner pointed out that she has held jobs ranging from summer-camp counseling in Connecticut to advertising consultant in Chicago to her current position as senior managing director of eEmerge, a wholly owned subsidiary of SL Green Realty Corporation.

But chameleon or not, she will not wear makeup.

"I want people to see me as I am," Ms. Libner said. "What they see is what they get."

They may not even notice that she doesn't wear makeup. What people see is a tall, well-coiffed and elegantly attired woman who's cut a wide swath through that zone in Manhattan where New York's real-estate brokers and decision makers meet, greet and eat. It's a zone where introductions are made at cocktails, and reputations are burnished or tarnished over dinner. It's also a zone where deals are done, often through a wink, a nudge and an arched eyebrow.

Being a woman in what's still a male-dominated industry means that many of those winks are often directed toward Ms. Libner. She doesn't seem to mind.

"Hey, look," she said, smiling. "I know business if often done at these real-estate get-togethers. I enjoy being on the social circuit. I'm passionate and quite straightforward about the business."

Then she smiled even more, and said: "I'm single, and this is a great way to meet guys."

She was clearly being facetious, but when asked whether was an advantage to being a woman in the real-estate field, Ms. Libner said:

"Of course. I know that I'm a little bit of an overachiever - that's just who I am. But I also know that I've earned the respect of people in the industry - and that the respect has been maintained."

She's earned respect because although she's at the age when most players in the competitive real-estate business are still learning the ropes, the 27-year-old Ms. Libner is already considered a star performer.

The Connecticut-born Ms. Libner has gained that reputation because, in just a couple of years she has transformed eEmerge into New York's leading provider of ready-to-use temporary office space. She also provides "virtual space" - office facilities and coveted addresses in Manhattan for out-of-town companies that may not wish to spend higher amounts of money to obtain permanent leases.

But being a purveyor of that cubicle culture isn't all she does. Ms. Libner has also established a reputation among New Media companies, and production outfits that turn out "reality" shows on television such as Make My Day, Perfect Match, and Wife Swap, for quickly providing high-tech offices to meet their needs.

The location of those offices is also convenient for businesses that want to be close to their collaborators. For example, Ms. Libner's property at 440 Ninth Ave. is in a district with many film-related companies. Another property, at 28 West 44th Street, is being offered by Ms. Libner to more traditional type of businesses, especially on account of its proximity to Grand Central Station.

She's also expanding the virtual office concept to six additional SL Green portfolio properties in Manhattan: The Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Ave.; 100 Park Ave; 220 East 42nd Street, better known as the Daily News Building; 625 Madison Ave.; 21 Penn Plaza, and 100 Park Ave.

How does she get customers?

"Networking, networking, networking," Ms. Libner said. "That means constant marketing. For a business to be successful, you've got to stay focused."

The reporter got a sense of what she meant when, no sooner than he sat with his guest for lunch, Ms. Libner launched straight into the highlights and handicaps of her real-estate career.

The highlights included not only her successes at eEmerge but also the fact that she'd received early recognition from top executives at SL Green. There was only one handicap that Ms. Libner cited.

"I regret not having studied finance at college," she said. Her major at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was communications.

To address that handicap, Ms. Libner signed up for a master's degree in real-estate at New York University. She will graduate in December.

New York University and the University of Michigan are but a few of the educational institutions in which she's been enrolled. Ms. Libner studied advanced French at the Sorbonne in Paris. She also studied at the American University of Paris. And she spent time at the British Institute in Paris.

What explains her drive?

"I've had to look out for myself since I was 16," Ms. Libner said. "That's when my father died suddenly."

Leonard Libner's widow - and Melissa's mother - Elizabeth raised her. Mother and daughter remain close. Not long ago, Elizabeth - who runs a landscaping business in Connecticut - advised Melissa to take her advice about Feng Shui - the Chinese art of positioning furniture and objects to generate more positive forces in a room or property - and rearrange her desk.

Did Feng Shui work for her?

"I closed a big deal that very day," Ms. Libner said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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