Working Hard For The Money : Melissa Cohn

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It takes a creative thinker to bring new products and services into the mortgage industry.

By Jasmine Mir
Photography by Scott Rudd

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 I learned throughout my life, especially when I was at Smith College, that women are intrinsically capable of running businesses.

It takes a creative thinker to bring new products and services into the mortgage industry. Melissa Cohn has devoted herself to precisely this task. What others may look at as fixed numbers, Cohn sees as opportunities to utilize technology and new ideas to serve clients in quicker, easier and better ways. Thinking differently about the products Manhattan Mortgage offers and partnering with brokers to strategically serve everyone’s transaction needs has become a hallmark of Cohn’s business practice.

HL How she got into real estate
MC My first boss at Citibank told me that mortgage lending would be the wave of the future and to focus on it.

HL First deal
MC I was sitting on a building on 90th Street and 1st Avenue in 1982 when rates were at 16%, and I didn’t even know what I was selling. I was fresh out of college with my floppy tie on and was just thrown into the deep end of the pool.

HL First mentor and how he/she influenced her
MC In real estate it was a broker I met my first year in the business – she really taught me how to deal with a client from start to finish.

HL Where she lives
MC On the Upper East Side and weekends in Wellington, Florida or Water Mill, New York.

HL You’ll never find her without
MC That’s easy, my Blackberry.

HL Favorite building in new york
MC The Dakota which I find interesting not just because of all the people who have lived there, but its historical role in the growth and development of New York City. When it was built it was considered so far uptown, there were no other developments around it, just farms. It was groundbreaking in creating the Upper West Side.

HL Guiding principle on the job
MC You are only as good as your last deal. And that all clients and staff should be treated equally.

HL What inspires her
MC Watching my brokers grow and mature in the industry and knowing that I have helped form some great careers.

HL If she could change one thing about the job or industry it would be
MC I love my job – I just wish I had more time to spend with clients. So much of my business is transacted over the phone or email, but I try to connect personally and maintain relationships.

HL How she strikes the professional/personal balance
MC I try to blend my home life with my work life. I horseback ride and compete with my two daughters and at the same time act as a sponsor to the event. This way, I can do it all at the same time. My children grew up with me in my business, attending functions, visiting the office, and I believe that involving them in my work has allowed them to see how it enriches our family rather than resenting it for taking me away from them.

HL Why she thinks women have successfully broken through the glass ceiling in real estate
MC It’s a people business, and I firmly believe that women are better communicators and nurturers than men. In my end of the business, the gender ratio is not as equalized yet, but more women are maturing in the marketplace. I learned throughout my life, especially when I was at Smith College, that women are intrinsically capable of running businesses.

HL The achievement she is most proud of
MC Winning the Ernst and Young Metro New York Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2003.

HL Forecast for 2006
MC With lots of new buildings coming on the market, there will be lots of work for everyone. The new Fed appears to be hawkish. I can see more rate hikes to keep the market in check and new challenges. I don’t see real estate prices plummeting. I’m working on finding new loan programs and products to qualify buyers and ways to take advantage of technology to approve people quickly.

HL Goals for 2006
MC 4 billion in mortgages. We also want to get the message out to the brokerage community that we are the not only first source, but the purple cow, offering not only rates but technology. We want our products to become the market tools and to partner with brokers and help them sell.

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