Fordham Real Estate Institute Celebrates NYC’s Most Powerful Women in Real Estate at Inaugural “She Builds” Event

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Industry legend MaryAnne Gilmartin moderated lively discussion on adversity, mentorship and paying it forward

Anthony R. Davidson, dean, Fordham PCS and Robert Morgenstern, director, Fordham Real Estate Institute, with moderator MaryAnne Gilmartin and panelists

We look forward to continuing these conversations that we hope will inspire current and future real estate professionals to reach for the top, no matter what their challenges are.

Hundreds of real estate professionals and students gathered at Fordham University on Wednesday, April 25 to hear valuable insights from a handful of women who are making a lasting impact on commercial and residential real estate in New York City and beyond.

The Dealmakers: Lessons Learned on the Front Line from Iconic Women in Real Estate, was the inaugural event of The Fordham Real Estate Institute’s new She Builds series. The panel was moderated by industry powerhouse MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO at L&L MAG and former CEO of Forest City Ratner, who kicked off the event discussing her journey from the Urban Fellows Program during her undergrad years at Fordham to the industry C-suite.

“My hope for the future, is that one day we will be able to have a meaningful discussion about business without mentioning we’re women,” she said, eliciting applause from the captivated crowd.

Gilmartin led an inspiring discussion between some of the top female minds in the industry including:
Kathleen Donovan, Managing Director, Real Estate Finance Group, UBS; Nikki Field, Senior Global Advisor, The Field Team, Sotheby’s International Realty; Joan Sapinsley, former Head of Capital Markets and Portfolio Manager, CMBS, Resource Real Estate Funding; Christina A. Smyth, Esq., Owner, Smyth Law P.C. and President of RESA.

“We are grateful to MaryAnne and all of the esteemed panelists for sharing their stories, deep insights and pearls of wisdom, which were so meaningful to all in attendance,” said Anthony R. Davidson, PhD, MBA, dean of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. “We look forward to continuing these conversations that we hope will inspire current and future real estate professionals to reach for the top, no matter what their challenges are.”

After sharing their own journeys, the panelists delved into some hot topics posed by both Gilmartin and audience members. Donovan and Field discussed their work on a global scale, attracting foreign buyers to New York City post-9/11 and during the recession, and how perseverance, especially when faced with adversity, is critical to success.

Speaking about the challenge of being sent to London in 2001 to set up her company’s European practice just months after September 11, Donovan said, “I should have failed; I had no infrastructure and no real business being there. But after two years I came back to the States with a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities.”

“I had a local business until 2008, and then suddenly there was no local business,” said Field. “I traveled for three years to places like Asia, Europe, Russia and South America in an effort to find foreign buyers for real estate in New York and beyond. I became an expert in what they were looking for and what attracted them to New York; that specialization was the key to my success.”

Smyth and Sapinsley discussed their entrepreneurial journeys and “second act” careers in real estate. Smyth opened her own real estate law firm in 2010, about which she joked, “It was the worst time we had ever seen in our industry and I started a business.” Eight years later, she has no regrets about branching out on her own and forging her own path.

Sapinsley, who has spent 35 years on the financial/investment side of real estate after starting her career as a teacher, stressed the importance of ‘paying it forward’ and the ability to adapt to challenges such as layoffs. She said, “I have four big pieces of advice that I give everyone: Don’t beat yourself up if you do get laid off. Network, network, network. Find something you love to reduce stress. Always take calls from people who have been laid off; you never know what it could lead to.”

The audience posed questions seeking advice about post-graduate education, the importance of mentorship, being your own advocate, and what can be done to enable women to rise to the top in commercial real estate.

“Let me make this clear: we don’t want an advantage, we want an opportunity,” said Gilmartin. “In addition to advocating for ourselves, we need men to help champion our mission. We need women in these positions where they can set the precedent for other women to follow them.”

The Real Estate Institute is a part of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. The program will partner with The Business Council of Westchester for its next event, which will take place on Wednesday, May 30 at the University’s West Harrison campus. For more information, visit


The Fordham Real Estate Institute currently offers a Master of Science in Real Estate, a graduate certificate, and a comprehensive array of professional real estate certificates at its campuses in Manhattan and West Harrison, New York. Serving professionals and owners/investors of all stripes, the MSRE curriculum presents the essential elements of real estate finance, investment, development and management. Both programs developed and taught by leading industry practitioners are centered on imparting real-world professional skill sets. Flexibility and convenience are program hallmarks: classes can be taken in-person, online, and at various paces. The Real Estate Institute is a part of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. For more information, visit

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Kayleigh Lentz
Co-Communications Inc.
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