New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Perspectives: Gerard J. Picaso

Twenty years ago Habitat started? It must be, because 20 years ago I left a management firm to start my own business specializing in co-op and condo management. So we are both celebrating our twentieth year in business. I remember well the day Carol Ott came into my office and talked about her new magazine. She told me I could increase my business by advertising to a select group of people who were living in co-ops and condos.

She was so right. I advertised and my name became known and my business flourished. Not only did my name become known but so did my picture, which I put in my ad standing on top of one of the buildings I manage. In those days, nobody had pictures, never mind advertising. It worked. I was recognized on the street and in restaurants and when I was being interviewed for a new account they felt they already knew me. Twenty years later, everyone advertises and a lot have their pictures in ads.

Twenty years ago, we left messages with secretaries or receptionists and mailed all correspondence. That has changed dramatically. When the fax came into being it was the new way to correspond rapidly. How outmoded it seems now with e-mail, voice mail, and cell phones. We have boards that insist that all their members have e-mail and most of their business between meetings is conducted that way. The computers have allowed us to become more efficient and generate a tremendous amount of information. No one thinks it's strange when a laptop is pulled out at a meeting.

Twenty years ago, there were very few women in this field. It was mostly a "good old boy" network. I recently looked at the first group picture in Habitat of principals of management companies, taken in 1983. There are 16 companies represented and only one was represented by a woman.

Today, women excel in all parts of our industry. There are management company owners and female managers galore. Mary Ann Rothman was an administrator at the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC) in 1982. Today, she is the executive director. That organization has grown from 101 members to over 2,000 in the 20 years she has been in charge. Carol Ott is the owner and publisher of Habitat and has enlarged it from six issues a year to eleven. Habitat remains the bar that all co-op and condo periodicals are measured by. In 1984, Marolyn Davenport, after a career of child-raising and PTA meetings, started working part-time at the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). Today, she is the senior vice president and works with residential management companies in the Residential Management Council. I always knew women were really in charge and now it is evident.

Twenty years ago, there was no way for board members to acquire knowledge about their duties or even about co-op life. Now there are conferences given by Habitat and the CNYC with seminars on all subjects pertaining to co-ops and condos. The internet has become a valuable tool in seeking out answers to questions and gaining information. Most firms, including mine, have web sites that give information on their companies.

Twenty years ago, there were no organizations for co-op and condo managers. Since then, the Association of Cooperative and Condominium Managers was formed. Its members adhere to a code of ethics and meet monthly to discuss common problems and issues. REBNY formed the Residential Management Council. This organization acts as an advocate on behalf of management companies, giving them a forum for discussion and representation.

Twenty years — and a lot has changed. I stood on top of that building with a mustache, which I had grown to make me look older. The mustache is gone (I look old enough) and in its place may be a few more pounds. But some things remain the same. I still manage that building I stood on. I conduct my business the way my father taught me, with professionalism, integrity, manners, and good humor. My partner, Susan Axelbank, is still the brains of the company and runs the show. My daughter, Jill, has grown up, but she is still my baby. My wife, Barbara, is still the love of my life, my best friend, and keeps me in line. Those things will never change.


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