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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Diane Ramirez

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-03-02

Diane Ramirez is in a rebranding mode these days.

"Well, to be precise, it's our company that's launching a rebranding campaign next month," the president of Halstead Property said yesterday. "We've been reviewing what makes us different in the real-estate marketplace, and which strengths we should be displaying even more."

Those strengths include longevity; Halstead is in its 23rd year of business as a brokerage that offers apartments and townhouses for New Yorkers. They include 10 storefront offices in the city. They include a staff of 500 men and women whom Ms. Ramirez carefully recruits and nurtures. And Halstead's strengths include sales of more than $1.5 billion annually.

There is more.

Her company now operates under the umbrella of Terra Holdings, which Ms. Ramirez characterizes as the "standard bearer of many great New York real-estate traditions since 1873." Terra's principals include real-estate luminaries such as David Burris, Kent Swig, Arthur Zeckendorf, and William Zeckendorf.

And as if that weren't enough good company, Ms. Ramirez has another man to whom she's extremely close- albeit one who isn't involved with her professionally. He is Samuel Ramirez, one of the country's best known investment bankers and equity specialists. They've been married for three decades, and are widely known around New York as a power couple.

That kind of stellar reputation may not necessarily result in more sales for Ms. Ramirez - but it doesn't have to. She's achieved that special status where being a broker is consigned to her resume.

As Halstead's president, Ms. Ramirez has focused on enhancing the company's visibility and track record. She has transformed Halstead into one of the most energetic and fastest growing real-estate brokerage firms in the city, a fact that's supported by colleagues at the Real Estate Board of New York, where she serves on the board of governors.

"Running a company doesn't mean only increasing its revenues," Ms. Ramirez said. "Equally importantly, it involves building the staff, listening to your colleagues, and helping them to develop their careers in a way that meets their personal aspirations as well as the company's objectives."

Those words might sound as though they were extracted from a business-school compendium.

But Ms. Ramirez did not learn her management theories in any academy.

She said that her first teacher was her father, a city bus driver names James Dolan, who imbued in her an enduring work ethic. Her mother, Adele, also first-generation Irish, instilled self confidence in Ms. Ramirez.

"I had two older brothers, and a younger sister and brother," she said. "But I was always the 'take charge' person at home."

That meant being active in sports and charitable activities, passions that are still evident in her daily life. It meant setting out early in life to be economically independent.

From a job at Chesebrough Pond, she moved into a marriage with Samuel Ramirez. They moved to Florida where their two children were born, and where Ms. Ramirez entered the real-estate field.

"Florida is one of the toughest states to get a real-estate licence," Ms. Ramirez said.

But she realized that she had found her metier.

"I loved everything about the business - dealing with people, the advertising, marketing, and understanding how much it means for a person to invest in a home," Ms. Ramirez said.

Her dedication to carving her own reputation was accelerated by the fact that, concurrently, her husband was rapidly becoming a legendary figure in the investment community, particularly in servicing the pecuniary needs of fellow Hispanics.

"I realized that I had to create my own horizons," Ms. Ramirez said, "that I had to build my own independent reputation as a professional in real estate. I needed to meet my own goals, and not be just an appendage to a successful spouse."

By the time she and her husband moved back to New York, her reputation in real estate had become formidable.

"But that did not mean that I was a professional first and a mother second," Ms. Ramirez said. "I did not want my children to suffer in any way because I was out there pursuing my ambition. I was always a hands-on mother."

Having two careers on parallel tracks - mother and realtor - may have fazed many people, but it seemed to energize Ms. Ramirez. She quickly rose in the fiercely competitive arena of New York's real-estate industry.

That rise was, to be sure, assisted by the fact that she and her husband enjoyed access to the highest echelons of New York society.

"But I wasn't a social butterfly," Ms. Ramirez said. "I worked very hard at being knowledgeable about the business side. No detail was too small for me to study."

She was working with a company called Key Ventures at this point. Ms. Ramirez then decided that she wanted to start her own real-estate business.

"I was very keen on opening my own firm," she said.

One of her friends, who happened to be a lawyer, alerted her to the fact that a man named Clark Halstead was also thinking about opening his own firm.

Why not team up with him, the friend said?

Ms. Ramirez met with Mr. Halstead for tea at his club.

"We had the same goals - we both wanted to create a first-class firm that used the best in technology, and the best staff, to provide the best service possible for New Yorkers," Ms. Ramirez.

"But there was one important difference between his plans and mine," she said. "He had venture capital behind him, and I didn't."

And that's how Ms. Ramirez and Clark Halstead teamed up at Halstead Property in 1984.

She worked initially as a selling broker. She consistently ranked in the top 5% of the firm's brokers, and was the winner of many company sales and listing awards. In 1988 she was the recipient of the Real Estate Board of New York's "Deal of the Year" award.

In 1987, Ms. Ramirez assumed the management role of director of sales. She was promoted to executive director of sales in 1993; and then she became president.

So what will Halstead's rebranding be all about, the reporter asked her yesterday?

"About an even more productive future," Ms. Ramirez said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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