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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Georgia Malone

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-07-25

Georgia Malone has succeeded by surviving.

She survived a turbulent childhood. She survived a gas explosion that leveled her parents' home. She survived a teenage romance that went nowhere. She survived the rigors of being a litigator in Manhattan and, indeed, flourished in that role.

And she survived non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"I've seen adversity," Ms. Malone said. "I've seen the toughest things that life can throw at you - and I'm still here."

Her game now is as one of the most successful deal makers in commercial real estate. Ms. Malone is among a handful of New Yorkers who specializes in "off-market transactions" - properties that aren't listed - where she doesn't bid on properties but instead offers deals to selected potential buyers at a non-negotiable price.

Last year, she acquired 32 such properties for her clients, for a total of $500 million. Last April, one of her properties fetched $240 million. By December, Ms. Malone's sales for 2005 will have exceeded $1 billion.

So it was with particular relish that, a few weeks ago, she bought a place for herself on Long Island. It's in the tony community of Westhampton. It's on the ocean. It signals at once that Ms. Malone belongs to that cohort of tout New York that summers outside the city.

And, perhaps most of all, Westhampton is a long way - metaphorically, at least - from Brooklyn, where Ms. Malone was born into an Italian-immigrant family; from Boston University, where she read classics while working as a waitress in order to put herself through school; and from the New England School of Law, where she found courses far too boring for her eclectic mind.

Law school wasn't a course of action that her mother Emma necessarily advocated.

"When I told her that I was going to study law, she said, 'You're very beautiful, so marry wealthy,'" Ms. Malone said.

That was one maternal advice that she pushed aside, albeit tactfully. "My mother thinks I'm the smartest, most competent woman around," Ms. Malone said.

Just as well that Ms. Malone got her law degree.

"Law school taught me analytical thinking," she said. "That, combined with my traumatic childhood, probably made me very driven."

Her drive landed Ms. Malone at a New York law firm, Borah Goldstein Altschuler and Schwartz where, among other things, she practiced real-estate law. The job taught her "incredible discipline."

"My skills are very sharp as a result," Ms. Malone said. "My discipline comes from years of being a litigator in high-pressured New York."

By the time she was 31, she'd become a senior partner. She'd acquired a formidable Rolodex. She was making big money. She moved in those social and professional circles that qualify as glitzy, making her part of a unique set of New Yorkers who know one another mostly by their first names and informally relay suggestions that often result in lucrative business.

That was when Ms. Malone was diagnosed with cancer.

"It was a wake-up call for me," she said.

She decided to give up her law practice. She sold her partnership. She sold her townhouse. It was the first time since she was 15 that she hadn't worked.

"I learned that you make your own destiny," Ms. Malone said. "Most of us are so busy rushing around that we don't live enough in the present. We miss out on so much."

While she didn't miss the stress of litigation, she nevertheless yearned to be back on the professional track.

And so it was that, in 1998, she formed her own company, Georgia Malone & Co. After all, she'd had excellent contacts in the real-estate industry. She was a known figure. There was all that legal expertise. She'd helped so many people make real-estate deals that making deals for herself became at once an appetizing proposition.

It became a rewarding one, too. For starters, she was able to participate in the development of the Battery Park City entertainment retail and Embassy Suites Hotel complex, the 465-room Hilton Hotel in Times Square, and 9 West 20th Street.

But the lessons of her earlier avatar are seldom far from her mind. Ms. Malone said she often recalls John Lennon's ballad: "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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