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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Laura Pomerantz

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-11-09

Laura Pomerantz, a founding partner and principal at PBS Realty Advisors, doesn't measure success by her formidable accomplishments in business.

"I regard myself as a nurturer, not as a striver," she said yesterday. "To me success consists of having raised three lovely daughters. It means showing the highest integrity in everything that one does. Most of all, success to me means the impact you've had on improving others' lives. I always ask myself, 'Have I done enough?'"

Ms. Pomerantz is too modest a person to venture an answer to a reporter. But the very fact that she's continually sought after in those circles where commerce, real estate, education and philanthropy converge suggests a prominence that's been hard earned.

Of course, it could be argued, at one level, that Ms. Pomerantz was destined to succeed in the scrappy world of New York real estate because of her ambition, drive and energy - and her upscale upbringing in Florida.

It could be argued at another level that in New York nothing is preordained, least of all in the business of leasing commercial space because of the vagaries of the market place.

And it could be argued that what makes Ms. Pomerantz's success all the more remarkable is that she's reached the apex of an industry - real estate - which she joined after succeeding in two earlier businesses, fashion and retail.

"It was a leap of faith at mid career," Ms. Pomerantz said.

The leap into real estate was taken in August 1994 at the invitation of a longtime friend, Morton Schrader, also a founding partner and principal of the boutique real-estate company that offers commercial real-estate advisory solutions to both tenants and landlords that was formed in 2001 by him, Ms. Pomerantz and John Brod.

"Mort's been a real mentor," Ms. Pomerantz said. "In fact, I've enjoyed great fortune in having mentors at the right stages of my life. The seed of ambition was acquired by watching role models around me."

One role model was her father, Danny Herman, a successful Florida retailer.
"He inspired in his three daughters the work ethic, and a love of learning," Ms. Pomerantz said. "He was a teacher who was always there for us. He taught us to be ambitious. He was really the person who made me understand that in order to be successful, you needed to combine aesthetics with the art of doing honest business. He also taught me the importance of sustaining close family ties."

The daughters clearly took Mr. Herman's exhortations to heart. In time, Ms. Pomerantz, among other things, became renowned in New York not only for accomplishments such as completing 700,000 square-feet of transactions at One Beacon Place for Michael Bloomberg's company - the new Bloomberg Building on Lexington Avenue - but also for being energetically involved in education and philanthropy.

Her oldest sister, Nan Rich, is a state senator in Florida. Another sister, Marsha Rimokh, runs a successful events-management business, also in Florida.

"I can still hear my father say, 'Your sisters are your best friends - always be very close to them, you must look after one another,'" Ms. Pomerantz said.

Another mentor who emphasized family values was her mother, Lucille, a model. And Lucille Herman's mother, Stella Levy was an entrepreneur.

"I saw at an early age how my grandmother balanced work with her family obligations," Ms. Pomerantz said. "She was savvy with money and business, she was savvy in dealing with people. She was a great role model to have."

Ms. Pomerantz was encouraged to work part-time in her father's nine retail stores in and around Miami Beach. At high school, she was channeling her energy into organizing student activities, a characteristic that she continued to display at Syracuse University and later at the Miami-Dade Community College.

"I was always a leader, I was always adventurous," Ms. Pomerantz said. "I loved to motivate others. I liked to encourage team work. When I was a little girl, my father would call me 'Little Miss Me-Too' because I always wanted to do what my sisters did. Later in life, while I didn't necessarily see myself as a role model for fellow students, I enjoyed doing things with them - I enjoyed generating entrepreneurial activities."

That entrepreneurial spirit came handy when Ms. Pomerantz joined a brokerage firm in Miami, and began dealing in stock options. Then she got married and moved with her husband to Dallas, where she began teaching remedial reading to underprivileged children.

"Education was their ticket out of the ghetto," Ms. Pomerantz said. "Being with those children from poor families gave me a healthy perspective on my own privileged upbringing."

She moved back to Florida after her divorce, and joined Burdine's, which was - and still is - managed by the mammoth Federated Department Stores Inc. That's where she became a protege of John Burden, a divisional merchandise manager, and Melvin Jacobs, Burdine's chairman.

"When you are open with people, and they like you, they are prepared to help you develop your business potential," Ms. Pomerantz said. "They saw that I was ambitious, that I wanted to grow professionally, and they knew that I always had dreams."

One of her dreams was to live in New York. While at Burdine's, Ms. Pomerantz would frequently fly to New York. She met a man named John Pomerantz on one of those trips, and he became a mentor. They eventually got married.

Mr. Pomerantz was CEO of Leslie Fay Companies, which his family had founded in 1947. Laura Pomerantz wound up working for the clothing wholesale manufacturer for 18 years, rising to the position of executive vice president.

"I woke up one day and decided that I didn't want to do this anymore," she said.

That's how Ms. Pomerantz made the transition to real-estate. In what she attributes to beginner's luck, her very first deal was leasing a 284,000 square-foot property at 180 Maiden Lane in the financial district. She credits Leonard Boxer of Stroock & Levan, who became the tenant, although he had originally planned to occupy other premises.

She hasn't looked back since.

"I don't say that being in real estate is easy at all," Ms. Pomerantz said. "But if you are solutions-oriented, broad-minded, and creative, you can make a lot of things happen."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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