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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Louise Sunshine

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-11-10

When Louise Sunshine walks into a room, she brings two legends with her.

One, of course, is herself - one of America's most prominent "fusion artists," a woman who blends art, architecture and couture fashion in the development of real-estate properties.

The other legend is much older, although arguably at least as famous as Ms. Sunshine. That legend's name was Barney Pressman, the man who founded the eponymous haberdashery in 1923 and whose iconic institution flourishes to this day.

"Like my grandfather, I have entrepreneurial vision," Ms. Sunshine, founder of The Sunshine Group, said. "I know how to tap into people's talents and energy. Like him, I am good at motivating others. Like him, I'm not very tolerant of ineptitude. Like him, I'm very creative. And like him, I always give credit to those from whom I learn."

One such person is the man she worked with for 12 years, Donald Trump.
"I was his executive vice president," Ms. Sunshine said. "He was a really wonderful teacher. It was the opportunity of a lifetime."

That opportunity involved developing leasing, marketing and sales techniques for the Trump Organization. She focused primarily on high-end residential buildings, including Trump International, the Trump Tower, Trump Plaza, and Trump Central Park West.

But why would Mr. Trump want to undertake marketing and leasing himself? Isn't that unusual for a developer to take on such responsibilities?

Ms. Sunshine smiled knowingly, as if to suggest that her boss was not happy with the proposals made by marketing companies.

"If you want to do something well, you've got to do it yourself," she said.
Her involvement with the Trump Organization included "explaining the 'Trump Factor' to the public," Ms. Sunshine said.

And what would that be?

"That means how you go about creating value for your product, how you make effective presentations that influence potential buyers of luxury condominiums and residences," she said.

One technique she uses consists of using art to enhance the value of a residence.

"Great homes and great art are synergistic," Ms. Sunshine said. "Having great art makes great homes even better."

She learned art appreciation from her paternal aunt, Mary Mintz Koffler, who was an artist.

"My aunt was a mother figure for me," Ms. Sunshine said. "It was such a joy to watch her paint."

"That's why, I think, art plays such a major role when I market properties," she added. "I go the extra mile to bring art, fashion and real estate together. I position real estate in an artistic way. That means elegant presentations, convivial ambiance, and a warm welcome to potential customers. It's not bricks and mortar that I'm selling. I'm selling a lifestyle. It's a very nontraditional was of selling real estate."

Real estate was not a career that Ms. Sunshine initially aimed for. After raising three children, she joined the campaigns of then Governor Carey and state Assemblyman Albert Blumenthal. She found that she was a natural at marketing.

"Politics is about marketing your candidate," Ms. Sunshine said.

She might have added that successful marketing in real estate is also about having the right properties to sell.

And here Ms. Sunshine has been fortunate. After she left the Trump Organization to start her own company, she realized that it was essential to be involved with a project from its start.

"This makes it easier to get good prices for luxury apartments when they are put on the market," Ms. Sunshine said.

That's why, for example, she was involved with the development of the Cipriani Residences at 55 Wall Street from the time the developer decided to build the edifice in New York's financial district. She suggested that a "Cipriani Club" should be created in order to enhance residents' enjoyment.

"We're averaging $1,500 a square-foot for Cipriani - while the building next door averages $900," Ms. Sunshine said. "You've got to make the customer feel that something more than just space is being bought."

She's brought this sensibility to other projects involving some of the city's biggest names in real-estate development. They include the celebrated architect Richard Meier; Andre Balazs, the hotelier with whom she'd developing 40 Mercer Street; and Peter Marino.

"I like to think that I've brought the art of selling real estate to a new level," Ms. Sunshine said. "The process starts before a building gets built. The developer has to be willing to spend money to make money. And, of course, the developer has to have a site that's worthy."

As she spoke, she spotted Tom Ford, the designer, dining not far from her table.

"Now that's someone I would love to work with," Ms. Sunshine said.

Not one to just articulate an idea and let it go at that, she quickly asked one of the restaurant's owners, Julian Niccolini, if he might make an introduction.

The episode illustrated what has been a longstanding modus operandi for Ms. Sunshine.

"Never let an opportunity go by," she said.

Now she's looking at opportunities where she could become a developer herself. Ms. Sunshine has already expanded her area of operations to other cities in America, such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles; but now she's turning to places like Russia and Asia, where formidable advances are being made in construction, especially of luxury homes and apartments.

As she flexes her developmental muscles, Ms. Sunshine also tends to something that she says she's proud of.

"I love to be a mentor to younger people who want to be in real estate," she said. "I love to share my experience, and the knowledge and insights I've gained."

But isn't she, in effect, creating a new class of competitors?

"Perhaps," Ms. Sunshine said. "Where once there was just me, now there are maybe 15 people who try and sell the way I do. But so what? Good salesmanship, good aesthetics, raises the level of business in our industry."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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