When a hurdle presents itself, I either deal with it head-on or look for ways to redirect my energy and work around it.
Debrah Lee Charatan is an entrepreneur and real estate veteran widely recognized for her experience brokering, investing and developing commercial, residential and mixed-use properties in the New York City area.
Charatan is the Founder and President of BCB Property Management Inc, a full-service multifamily and mixed-use real estate firm in New York City. As President of BCB Property Management, Debrah Lee Charatan and her team have acquired over 1.6 million square feet of real estate in New York and New Jersey, a portfolio that includes 120+ buildings and 1,800 apartments.
Born and raised in New York City, Charatan began her career in real estate as a secretary and moved on to become a property manager. She completed a Bachelor of Science at Baruch College and then founded Bach Realty in 1980. Bach Realty grew to become one of the most prominent names in New York’s commercial real estate industry and was recognized for its financial successes led by an all-woman sales team. In 1993, Debrah launched Debrah Lee Charatan Realty Inc.
As a testament to her entrepreneurial vision and positive impact in the real estate industry, Debrah Lee Charatan was named Glamour’s Outstanding Working Woman and Up-and-Coming Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year by Women Business Owners of New York. She has been featured in high-profile publications over the course of her career, including USA Today, the New York Daily News, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Inc., Fortune, and more. Charatan has lectured at the likes of Columbia Business School and Baruch College, and penned articles for the New York Law Journal, Real Estate Weekly, and Real Estate Forum. More recently, her voice has been featured in Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, VentureBeat, and CFO.com.
Debrah Lee Charatan is involved in philanthropic ventures in and around the greater New York area to support cultural, humanitarian and civic causes. Primarily through the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation, Charatan contributes her time and resources to many philanthropic efforts and charitable organizations around New York City. These include several Jewish organizations and causes that support some of New York’s landmark cultural institutions.
The Foundation has been serving the community for well over two decades and is committed to maintaining its core values of community, care, clarity, and culture to enhance the spirit of New York City and its inhabitants. Through the Foundation, Debrah Lee Charatan has donated to charitable organizations including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Park East Synagogue, Chabad of Southampton, the Jewish Museum, the Central Park Conservancy, Chai Lifeline, and the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.
In addition to her work with the Foundation, Debrah currently serves as the vice chair of the board of trustees of Selfhelp Community Services Foundation, a senior care, independent living-focused organization and is also a member of the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation. She is affiliated with the Women’s Leadership Council of the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Real Estate council.
Debrah Lee Charatan’s continued success in the real estate industry and active involvement with philanthropic efforts through the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation and other organizations have made her a prominent female leader in New York City. She has created a legacy that will continue to support the arts and improve the community.
Where did the idea for BCB Property Management come from?
Owning real estate was always my goal from the get-go, but it took many years to work my way up to that point.
In 1974, I went into the real estate business as a secretary. At the time it was pretty much the only option for women in business — you either made it as a secretary or you didn’t have a job. It wasn’t a glorious gig, but I earned industry experience and found an opportunity a few years later to work at a commercial brokerage firm, where I started making my own deals.
I then took the knowledge I gained in those jobs (plus the college degree I earned at the same time) to start my own firm, Bach Realty, in 1980. It was great to be fully in control of my own financial future, finally.
Then, life happened and suddenly it was 2008. I woke up one morning and thought: now’s the time. I wanted to do something different and hadn’t yet achieved my original goal. So I opened BCB Property Management and started buying property. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up at 5 a.m. on weekdays, work out for an hour and get to the office early so I can make the most of the day. My late afternoons are usually spent out of the office taking meetings.
I consider every minute of every hour productive. The real trick is setting goals and figuring out “to do” lists in advance– and writing them down! I make lists that detail my daily goals the night before or early in the morning. That way, I get to work and know what meetings, calls, tasks and other big-picture items I have to tackle to achieve my goals. When I diligently keep track of everything I want to achieve, I make sure I take care of it.
Another key for me is thinking of my evenings as an entirely separate part of the day. I like to have something to look forward to after the work day, whether it’s a Yankees game, a gallery opening, or a nice dinner with friends and family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As I mentioned above, I believe in setting goals and writing them down. I set annual goals, weekly goals and daily goals. When you write down a goal and read it, you start to think of the steps you need to take to achieve it. You begin to recognize opportunities when they come your way. Regularly writing down and reading your goals is like a gaining a new lens or perspective on the world around you.
If you don’t write your goals down, and keep them in mind, it’s like getting in a cab but not knowing where you’re going. Even if the cab gets you there, you won’t know you made it because you didn’t commit to or be mindful of a destination.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m not a trend person. But, I was at the beginning of a trend and I’m proud of that. I owned my own all-female firm when it was assumed that there was a husband or father at the helm.
So, if there’s a trend that I’m pleased with, it’s the growing number of female business leaders and women entrepreneurs who are innovating, creating and building in any industry they choose. If women-leading-in-business can be called a trend, then I’m all for it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Persistence. I rarely take “no” for an answer. When a hurdle presents itself, I either deal with it head-on or look for ways to redirect my energy and work around it.
Also, getting up early! I find most successful people get up early.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I never had a “worst job” but I did have what could euphemistically be referred to as a “learning experience.” At one of my first jobs, we weren’t getting paid, and they gave us some excuses about the checks. I called them on it and got fired.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I learned firsthand the importance of taking care of your employees.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I could do it again, I would stick to my self-created message and buy real estate earlier.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Set goals, set goals, set goals. Annually, weekly, daily. Set them and write them down. Make sure your colleagues and employees also do this, and support them in meeting their goals. They need to have the resources (time, budget, skill set) and authority to move forward and achieve.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Growth requires investing in your business. When I started to make money, I reinvested it directly into my company by hiring great talent, upgrading the office space, and purchasing new equipment. Those months and years of steady reinvestment generated the opportunity for larger growth and profit in the years ahead.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I wish I’d realized when I was younger what an entrepreneur I truly was. I was doing something that really hadn’t been done before, running an all-female real estate brokerage firm. I wish I’d seen the big picture, and been more organized about expanding.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Why hasn’t anyone designed a teleportation device to deal with New York City traffic? I jest, but the point is serious: this city needs some out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to the traffic and public transportation issues.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Helping struggling people, directly. When I’m walking down the street and I see people with signs that say, “I’m hungry,” I take them into a store and tell them to buy whatever they want. One man asked me, “Can I get an OJ? A sandwich? Potato chips?” I said, “whatever you want, I’ll pay for it.”
The bill didn’t come to $100 (even in New York it usually doesn’t) but every time I help someone directly, it’s the best money I spend.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Email. It may be “old school” these days but I use it and rely on it daily.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There’s a no-nonsense book for women in leadership positions (or who aspire to leadership positions.) Leading From the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women, was written by two former Marines, Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch. The writing and advice is clear, direct, goal-oriented and pulls no punches. I think it’s a great read.
- Make lists in order to get things accomplished and “know where you’re going”
- Set goals and write them down
- Make every minute productive
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.