Retail Broker & Real Estate Industry Expert
She’s known as the “Queen of Retail” and has long been recognized for her fashion savvy and design talents, but Faith Hope Consolo has carved out a unique place for herself in the high stakes real estate world of New York City as Chairman of Douglas Elliman’s Retail Leasing, Marketing and Sales Division.
On a recent afternoon, Faith sat down with ELYSIAN Publisher, Karen Floyd, for an interview. Their chosen venue was an elegant boutique hotel tucked away on a quiet side street on the Upper East Side. The Lowell Hotel, a stone’s throw from the celebrated fashion houses of Madison Avenue and footsteps from Fifth Avenue and Central Park, is well known to discerning visitors to New York City who appreciate exceptional accommodations and discreet service.
Your background in the arts began in New York and Paris?
Yes, it was a very exciting time. I really wanted to be an interior designer, which I eventually became. I also loved fashion and contemplated designing accessories; although that was not really my love. I was always an artist at heart. When I chose Parsons, I said, “This will be my career.” My passion was studying art. I was just 16 years old. Later, when I studied in Paris, my roommate and I had the opportunity to visit the greatest museums in the world. We even traveled behind the Iron Curtain to visit the museums of Russia and Poland. My appreciation of the arts is deep and is what I am “inside.” I love going to the theater and the ballet. I am very fortunate to live here in New York City, the art capital of the world, not to mention the financial and the shopping capital of the world.
You also paint?
Yes, in watercolor. I love painting all those beautiful colors and consider myself a fake impressionist painter. I did a small show in Lenox, Massachusetts. They don’t have as discerning an eye as they have here in New York.
You are a recipient of the Dramatist Guild Foundation 2018 Gala Honors. Was it for your acting?
No, not acting but for my philanthropic focus. I can’t believe the Dramatist Guild selected me alongside the president of Estée Lauder. When they called, I asked, “Are you sure?” I am still a little taken back and grateful.
Tell me about your experience acting Off-Broadway. When was the first time that you even considered the idea of acting?
My parents died when I was very young. I was raised by my grandmother who was much, much older. When I was at school in Connecticut, I used to drive to New York to visit the Actors Guild, always waiting for that casting call. I went for the modeling gigs too. I didn’t tell anyone. When the call came for a walk on, I never got the message. My grandmother would say that I was not there. Back then, there was only one phone in the home and no answering machines. I never got those messages. After college, I decided to pursue acting and did some summer stock. I knew it wouldn’t be my full-time career, but I wanted to keep my fingers in the pie. A few years ago, a friend who had seen some of my work said, “Why don’t you do this musical with us?” He had a series, and that’s what we did. I get calls from time to time, and ironically, I have had more calls, after the Off-Broadway show, from reality television shows. I could never do that because my focus is in commercial real estate. We have to protect our clients; client anonymity and negotiation details are confidential.
How does it feel when you are on the stage?
Very natural. I am told that I am a natural born actress. In the boardroom when I want control of the meeting, I use facial expressions, movement, as well as what I say, to control outcomes. I have been told that when I say something, people believe it. I always tell them that is nothing more than being a good actress.
Did you get nervous in the Off-Broadway show production?
I was nervous the night of the show. They gave me the lines in advance and asked me to rehearse with everybody. I was really busy at the time but committed to doing a little bit. The night of the show I got very, very nervous because I realized the audience was comprised of my friends, clients, lawyers, doctors and neighbors. They had promoted the show beyond my expectations. For the general “theater goers,” it’s okay, but there were many people in the audience that I cared deeply about. My assistant kept coming back saying, “You won’t believe who’s sitting out there.” The theatre sold out and had standing room only. That is when I really became nervous.
Were you nervous the entire show?
No, the minute I stepped on the stage and the first line came to me, I went right into character. The director couldn’t believe it. He said he was surprised that not only was I able to remember the lines, but I had made the part my own. Beforehand he said, “Listen, let her make it her own. If she doesn’t say exactly what’s in the script, let her do whatever she wants because she will be hysterical.” He trusted me, and I was very funny because it was a very unusual character. I think the facial expressions made it work. I recognized people in the first row that I knew. I just got into character, and it was a lot of fun. I received a lot of good feedback and nice write-ups in the real estate trade magazines.
So, painting, interior decorating, acting, visual arts, ballet, theater. The whole gamut. What do you want people to remember about you?
I danced through life.
Do you consider yourself an innovator or a sustainer?
I work like a sustainer, but I am always innovating. Right now, the retail landscape is very challenging, not only here in New York, but all over the world. I get up every day, and I say, “What are we going to do? How are we going to solve this? How will we find the right pieces to the puzzle? What do we have to do differently today to make things happen?” And I mean not only for the deal, but to support our clients, our retailers. Once you place a client, whether it’s in New York, L.A. or Paris, you must differentiate yourself by how you support them. What happens after the placement is equally important. Whether it’s digital or print, everything must keep changing and growing. I never approach any project or challenge the same as I did yesterday, last month, last year and ten years ago.
How do you respond to people that call you an icon?
I’m not a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and I am not curing any diseases. I am just trying to make it all work. When I entered this profession, there were no women doing commercial real estate. I was told to go into residential. “Oh, no,” I said. “I want to hang out with the boys, be with the big guys. I want to meet the icons on Wall Street.” I feel that I met that challenge early. There were two or three other women in the office at the time, but that was it. Success is more than just staying in the game; it is staying on top of the game. There will always be new people coming into the profession. It is important in this business to assimilate them and maybe even be a role model for them.
Are you a businesswoman, a marketing person or a financial person?
Ironically, I hate numbers, but my business is all about numbers. I don’t sit and crunch the numbers but can read a balance sheet. I passed the Series 7, but I could never be in Wall Street. I suppose my real interest is marketing, but I want to avoid being pigeonholed. It is all about how you look at something the idea of what can be. I have taken real entrepreneurs and placed them in a wonderful space so that they are primed to be huge successes. The key is understanding what someone is trying to do. You can’t be everything to everybody, but I like to be part of the process in helping people reach their goals.
How many hours do you work a day?
I don’t know. My mind is always going, thinking about work. I may not work a lot of hours in the traditional sense, but even when I am on vacation, at a concert, on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean, my mind never stops. I just mesh work together wherever I am.
Will you retire?
How did your grandmother impact your life?
She took care of me after my parents died. She was strong. She had buried her children, two husbands, and here I was . . . a teenager. She was over 80. She ran our home. She was always there for me and was a wonderful support. She was my role model for her strength. Everyone else had a family unit or at least parents. And we didn’t have either.
You never had children?
Yes. That was my choice. I was an only child and didn’t think I would be a good enough mother. I thought, if I make a mistake as a mother, it could be a terrible mistake. But if I make a mistake in a career or a deal, I can go on to remake that. You cannot remake being a mother.
How do you close a deal?
You squash all objections. You try to always be present. People often don’t close deals because they are not listening. Early on, I had a mentor who was not in real estate. He said, “Faith, take out that pad
and write what you want on the left side and what your client wants on the right side. Just bridge the gap.” It’s all about bridging the gap. We would like to close every deal we work on. We don’t. Sometimes you just cannot control the outcome. I remember the deals that we didn’t close. There was a very significant deal early on in my career. I won’t tell you the name, but it was a major company. I went to bed at night with a deal in place, the biggest store on the biggest street. The next morning the CEO was fired, and they ripped up the lease. When I went into my office, everybody was looking at me asking each other, “What is she doing here? Isn’t she upset?” No, I was determined to find something else. That day, I took a walk in the Channel Gardens. I saw this couple standing there just staring at a building. I said, “Can I help you? Are you tourists?” He said, “We have an apparel company in California, and we’re looking for a store in this area.” I took them by the hand, I embraced them, and I brought them back to the office. They did 24 deals with me all over the country. I picked them up off the street, and I still find clients there because I talk to people. I don’t get in the elevator with the iPhone in my ear. Metaphorically, when I walk into an elevator at the New York Athletic Club filled with 20 men, I talk to them, and I ask them questions. “I’m giving a speech today. Who’s taking me to lunch? How are you?” So, I meet people all the time. When someone tells me they don’t have business, I say, “You are too busy, and you are not in the moment.”
What is your legacy?
I think a person’s legacy is the sum total of how you live your life and how you continue giving back. When I say giving back, I do not just mean financially. Often when people become successful, they’ll appear at one luncheon, or they’ll give a lecture. I try to do more by giving time. I support The Women’s Real Estate Organization and mentoring programs. I have a very big intern program. I want to give back to those entities that gave me the support in the beginning.
You are known to “count,” or read a room, better than anyone. How does that work?
I read, not only people, but also situations. I have this innate gift. I can come into a room, and no one has to speak. I will be able to assess who is on our side, the other side and who will be an issue or a problem. I have learned it is a very rare quality.
Is this a skill set you learned from your early years of having to survive in a difficult industry?
I don’t know. It can be a burden because you can walk in a room and feel when people are in a negative mood or in pain. I am a sponge. It is visual. I can walk off the elevator onto the floor, see a new hire sitting there and know whether this one will stay or go. I just feel it in their body language . . . their eyes.
It is a curse, too, because you feel their negativity?
Yes. Awful. Awful.
How do you talk yourself out of absorbing that?
You tell yourself you are okay, how good things are and ask yourself what you can do to help the situation or make it work. It’s very hard when friends become ill. I can hear a voice on a phone and know instinctively something is wrong.
Is it why you’re such an amazing seller?
I don’t know, but it is helpful qualifying a deal who will be with you, who is not. It can also be a burden.
Is leadership lonely?
It can be very lonely. You know what? I have a friend who is the CEO of a company. Recently, she commented, “Faith, the air is very thin at the top.”
But no regrets?
What’s the point? We don’t have time for that.
What advice can you give to our cover model Lily Webster?
I would tell her to think about her best asset. What does Lily have that is different from everyone else, even better than everyone else. What sets Lily apart? Whatever that quality is, Lily should take it with her through life. Whatever that is, it will be in her spirit. No matter where she goes, what she studies, this will be with her forever. This will be something she can lean on.
And what was yours?
Not to be that lonely orphan child that had no parents. I align myself very quickly with people. I learned how to bond by finding the common thread between us. Each person has a different thread that is unique and most important to him or her.