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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Joanne Minieri

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-02-02

Joanne Minieri of Brooklyn was born a Catholic, but it seems perfectly appropriate to liken her to the multi-limbed Hindu goddess Kali.

Like the mythical Kali, Ms. Minieri does many things all at once, and in seamless synchronization: As executive vice president and chief operating officer of Forest City Ratner Companies, she's responsible for implementing the 21-year-old company's business plan. She oversees the company's day to day operations. She focuses on the development and management of financial strategies, programs and procedures.

She handles cash management. She supervises accounting and finance, and financial reporting. She monitors cost control. She does forecasting. She undertakes policy development. She's in charge of strategic opportunity assessment.

Ms. Minieri also tends to the care and treatment of FCRC's 275 employees in the New York region, perhaps her most delicate assignment.

It's dizzying.

"Yes, it is," Ms. Minieri said yesterday. "You can say that it's 24/7 for me."
That sort of schedule partly reflects her own personality.

"I am driven," she said. "I'm totally dedicated to my work."

Her schedule also reflects the ethos of the Brooklyn-based company's president and chief executive officer, Bruce Ratner. There is no male equivalent of Kali in pantheistic Hinduism; otherwise Mr. Ratner would be in the running for his own avatar.

"I am driven because I'm continually excited by the opportunity to be in real estate," Ms. Minieri said. "Bruce is a role model, but he's also a visionary."
Mr. Ratner's visions are implemented by Ms. Minieri. She said that she's currently managing $1.5 billion worth of projects that are in a development pipeline. That would translate into more than 3 million square feet of property.

Another 9 million square feet has already been developed under her watch. Ms. Minieri has witnessed FCRC's acquisition or construction of 35 buildings, including the Hilton Times Square; Embassy Suites in Battery Park City; and MetroTech center, Atlantic Terminal, and Atlantic Center in downtown Brooklyn. She has cheered as their value rose to more than $3.5 billion.

Her cheering will amplify once FCRC's Ratner's proposed $3.5 billion Brooklyn Arena and Brooklyn Atlantic Yards complex gets going. It would combine residential, retail and commercial space totaling 7.7 million square feet; the complex is expected to include 7,300 units of housing - of which 2,250 are "affordable" - and an 18,000-seat arena.

Ms. Minieri will also be among the loudest cheerers when the arena is inaugurated and the New Jersey Nets play their first basketball game there.

Her enthusiasm will spring not only from the fact that she loves sports. It will also flow from the fact that Ms. Minieri assisted Mr. Ratner during his acquisition of the Nets for $300 million in 2004.

The acquisition Ms. Minieri's talent in 1994 by Mr. Ratner involved a different sort of strategy. She'd been with the consulting firm of Kenneth Leventhal and Company for nearly 13 years after receiving a bachelor's degree in business administration from Hofstra University. At Leventhal, Ms. Minieri rose through the ranks steadily, and at one point was given the task of acting as the chief financial officer for one of the firm's high-profile clients.

That client was Mr. Ratner.

He was immediately impressed by her rigorous work habits and her attention to details. He entrusted her with finding a permanent CFO for his organization. But none of the candidates seemed to appeal to Mr. Ratner.

"Why don't you come aboard as my permanent CFO?" he said to Ms. Minieri one day.

"I'm honored to be asked, Bruce, but I'm just 6 months away from becoming partner at Leventhal," she said to him. Her response hinted at not only the status that such a promotion would carry, but the financial gain as well.

In the event, Mr. Ratner waited for six months. After Ms. Minieri had been named partner, he made her another offer to become his CFO. She accepted.

"The expectation when I joined Bruce was that I'd bring a sense of organization, discipline and focus to FCRC's entrepreneurial environment," Ms. Minieri said yesterday. "The experience and acumen that I brought to the organization was intended to enable FCRC to understand risks and monitor them - and to create value. My job was to strengthen the internal infrastructure. I was also brought in to establish rhythm."

Implicit in her hiring was Mr. Ratner's expectation that Ms. Minieri would streamline expenditures as well. She was to be "The Enforcer."

"In the beginning, I was the person that nobody wanted to talk to," Ms. Minieri said. "I went around asking detailed questions - which was easy for me because I like acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is power in a company. I like to know what's going on even if it isn't necessarily good news.

"When I started, people would say, 'Oh, she's just a bean counter.' I wasn't the one with the sexiest job," she said.

But Ms. Minieri was the one whose job took her to all alveoli and tendrils of the organization. In short order, she met Mr. Ratner's expectation. She also became a recognized leader of FCRC.

So how come she's an almost invisible figure in New York's gossipy real-estate community, the reporter asked?

"I've always been ambitious - but I've also been modest," Ms. Minieri said. "That was my upbringing."

Her upbringing in the Canarsie home of her parents, Richard - an architect - and Celia Minieri, included going to church on Sundays. She had an older sister, Helen Stacy, and two younger brothers, Richard and Frank.

"My parents were strict, but they let us be - that helped us develop our own judgment and convictions," Ms. Minieri said.

At St. Jude's School, she won all kinds of academic and extra-curricular activity awards.

She also worked at an insurance company, and later a car dealership, while she was at school and college.

"That experience taught me a lot of about dealing with people - that you must inspire confidence in the people with whom you work," Ms. Minieri said. "I also learned that integrity always matter - that you can never compromise on it."

Those lessons proved useful when she joined Leventhal.

"I knew I wanted to do well, and I knew I wanted to succeed," Ms. Minieri said. "But there was never any menu, no script for achieving success. What I aimed for was to add value to the organization."

Because of the prominence of the organization that she's with now, FCRC, Ms. Minieri is widely perceived to be among the most powerful women in New York's real-estate business. But she doesn't quite see it that way.

"Power? I don't view myself that way," Ms. Minieri said. "It's never been really all about me. It's always been about what I was doing - about the contribution that I could make with dedication and good humor. And if that contribution makes a difference in the community - well, that would be a real accomplishment."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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