We chatted with Halstead's powerbroker Louise Phillips Forbes who has sold over $2.5 billion in sales over her 27 year career. In addition to selling some of Manhattan's and Hamptons most coveted properties, she is known for her focus on philanthropy, family, fitness, and "living her words". We sat down to talk with her at one of her current projects, 498 West End in NYC, to get an inside scoop on how she stays present and juggles it all.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Please share with our readers what it's like to be a power broker and what your day to day life is like in that career?
LOUISE PHILLIPS FORBES: Powerbroker – wow, I’m not sure that I think of myself in that way. I think one of the things that I am passionate about in my life professionally, is in following my heart and happened to be tremendously successful. When you live what you love, then it’s not work. What I do is such an intimate personal experience and being of service in that way. When I think of what my home means to me, it’s a privilege to be a part of that process to someone. Coming from that premise and building my business with no Rolodex and building my team with 8 people - we do 100s of millions of dollars a year, I guess that constitutes being a powerbroker.
The greatest gift is to be able to do what you love and to have the balance of your family. There is no reason why you can’t have a family and a career. I kissed a lot of frogs before I found my prince. Part of it is that I have had a loss in my life. I lost my mom in my 20s and my brother passed away from AIDS and died in my arms when I was 30. I had a boyfriend in London who died of cancer when I was 38 and my father died from Alzheimer’s. So I also feel that those life moments recalibrated me each time – which is to say that you should truly live each day to the fullest and to make an imprint on the world around you. I can’t change the world, but I can make someone’s home precious to them. I can make my time with my children impressive and influential to help them be good citizens. I live my beliefs.
AM: How did you know you wanted to be in real estate?
LPF: I didn’t at all – I came in through the back door. I came to New York from Tennessee. Although I had southern roots, I was ready to go from being a big fish in a little pond and when I would go to dance auditions instead of being one amongst 23 people, I was one among 427. So we did what we needed to do to pay the rent, so I modeled, bartended, waitressed, did industrials (corporate entertainment for events), but I injured my back and was working in a restaurant. There was a baseball/softball team that used to come in every Wed after their games and I always remembered what they ate or drank. This girl was like, "you would be so good at real estate" and she suggested that I should call her friend. I mustered up the courage to call him and he said that I should come in and he would give me a job. Of course, I didn’t know it was commission only. My first year in real estate I made $8400 and it just fit. It fit, when I recognized how I felt about my home, knowing that I had left home as well as losing my family members. To be able to be a part of the privilege and to recognize that and to feel fulfilled was rewarding.
AM: How important is female empowerment, whether it’s being taught to the youth or with your peers at work?
LPF: Well, God gave me a household full of men. As much as a tomboy as I was growing up, I’m really a girl’s girl. I have friends from fourth grade that are still in my life today. When I look at the women – particularly at my mother and those who were my mentors, they were strong, purposeful women. To be able to continue to learn – there are 2 things that have to happen. You have to be willing to surround yourself around people and for myself, young professional women. In watching my mother raising her children and having (in the 60s) her own career as a writer as well as being professional fundraiser – she was able to juggle it all. Surrounding myself by women who are leaders – (I am in a women’s president’s association) and I am married to a serial entrepreneur. What I get from those women in the group is different than what I get from my husband.
I took a stance when I broke into this business of real estate – it was not easy to navigate as a new kid on the block. I was eager to learn, but very naïve. It is very important for me to make it a priority to sit down and have a coffee and I don’t discriminate to women only; however, I have brought 70 people into the business in my 27 year tenure. It’s not about bringing them onto my team solely, but being able to reach out to them. What I have learned is that 30 mins or that hour is powerful. When they land wherever we have helped to navigate them, I have been on the other side of the table with them in negotiations. So treating people the way you want to be treated and being ultra successful – it’s important to be in the moment and to be kind. Women have taught me these lessons.
AM: We do a number of our shoots in stunning multi-million properties in the city. What are the trends in terms of purchasing properties in NYC versus out in the Hamptons?
LPF: My experience is primary residence for most people. Sometimes I do have those that are international that do not live in NY and are looking to buy into Manhattan as a second home. My two properties that I am building in Montauk and in Bridgehampton are my secondary homes. Although the needs of the two areas are different, the trends are the same.
Right now when you have the privilege to work on a property like this, it was built in 1910 originally, we had a blank canvas to work with. Where else can you have this kind of frontage with a 30x20 living room, massive family room and a kitchen? For my life, the kitchen is the nucleus. It’s important to have our meals together, congregate, talk, share problems at school, work, teaching my children how to build relationships through communicating as opposed to dinners on the go. I don’t know if everyone functions that way but today, we live more communally. Back in the 20s when they had housekeepers that lived in their 3 or 4 maids rooms, it’s not how we live today. Even if I could live like that, I want to be in the thick of it. I have an island like this in the apartment that I created and my kids to this day – if we’re making cookies or banana bread, they’re rolling it out on this and sitting on the island. I find that the trend of having big open family rooms off their kitchens is something that most people want to accomplish even in an older floor plan. They open up the walls, flip the rooms to have an open kitchen into the dining room.
While this is a very large home, we have experienced since the recession of 2008 and 2009 – a massive climb financial and although interest rates are low and more and more millennials are buying across the nation – the climb is going to be forcing a new trend of more efficient living. 60% across the country, it’s cheaper to own then to rent (across the nation). Developers are having to rethink the Mac Daddy mansions because people want to own and there is a large untapped market to focus on. I think that we are going to be seeing a new run of things coming with complimented mass full floors across Central Park. The shift in the Hamptons is "taking the inside out and the outside in." So instead of having pocket doors that goes out to your veranda and dining outdoors – they literally have stacking doors that are a wall of windows that literally stack. This is something that we saw in the 90s in Florida. In fact, in this property, I am trying to figure out how to do it in our penthouse that is being built here. I don’t know if I am going to be able to get that structure to work, but I really want it to be that people can just live openly.
AM: How does fitness provide clarity, focus, and energy for you?
LPF: Fitness really feeds my soul and clears my mind. It starts my day off. I was never a morning work out person. But in the 90s, I used to smoke (which anyone who knows me now is like – wait, you), but in order to stop, I had to change my routine. I used to roll out of bed, have a cup of joe and have a cigarette. I had to do things differently – so rolling out of bed and not smoking to go to the gym became that action for me! It started my day off differently. It really feeds my soul and I think it also – it helps me embrace the 54 years that I am (my mother died when she was 61) with the need to defy nature. Whatever I need to do to do that, is the choice that I choose to do everyday. As a mother and wife – it’s just a part of our life. The best way that I can be a good mother is to live my words.
AM: Are your children into sports and fitness as well?
LPF: Nothing is better for life lessons then a team sport. We threw our kids into everything. I watched my sister who fell in love with her freshman boyfriend in college whom she married after graduating and my niece and nephew who are 22 and 24 – I’d say I was a late bloomer as mine are 10 and 12. When you have focused on your career and self to be who you are, I’m
grateful to not be kissing who I was kissing at 26. You are who you are.
My husband is Canadian and is a Downhill Racer and really was good enough to be an Olympic racer. He loves hockey as he eats, lives, and breathes it. Those were his sports and we tried everything with the kids and they drew towards hockey and chess.
My oldest son walked onto the beach from our house in Bridgehampton and at the age of 5 he points his finger and says I want to be able to do that. There’s a guy on a surfboard on a ride on a wave and I said let’s put him on it. My kids were good swimmers and water babies. We gave him a lesson and he nailed every wave. Part of the fitness we rolled in - as well as the philosophy, is that families that play together, stay together. So all 4 of us surf together and we traveled all over the world to do so. It started because the surf coach used to call my son – Little Laird because he looked like the famous surfer. He nailed every wave and has bright blonde hair. Fitness helps define and provide a to do list without being conscious of it. It gives my children great lessons.
My son is playing hockey in a professional AA Bantum league. He’s now in year 5 or 6 and they travel. My son is the youngest defensive man on his team and he is the worst. It’s a great life lesson because he was the best defensive man on the last 2 or 3 seasons and now it’s humbling. When he was younger, he used to get mad at the kids that were not as good as he was. Now he sees what it’s like to be one of many and how important his position is to relieve the stars and to do his best. It’s life and it is not always fair. Learning, conflict resolution, etc in sports is taught. My son is naturally drawn to boys that are humble with humility and he doesn’t even know it. It’s very similar to who his father is.
AM: What fitness do you do?
LFP: A: I surf every minute I can and the waters now are perfect as 40 degree temperatures do not work for me. My son had a surf competition awhile back, which was not for me. My passion is SoulCycle. The founders are very old friends and clients and there is something about me and music. I don’t like to bike that much honestly. My husband and I gave each other bikes as he is a cyclist, but there is something about a
dark room, a group of people, words, and taking yourself inside to go outside. I go there at least 5 times a week. Mon nights I double it out and I Punch Mon, Wed Fri with cross training.
Punch is 3 days a week, Mon nights I do a 90 min 7:30 – 9 and then a group of us go out to sushi afterwards. It’s also my girl’s night out although we don’t exclude boys. Tues, Thurs, Sat I’m at SoulCycle and Sundays I try to take off.
AM: How are you able to juggle your work as well as your children and husband?
LPF: I think it's about filling my day – I start with an early morning. If it wasn’t chaotic I would find something missing. Part of it is my personality. It also takes a village to run my business, raise my children, stay connected to the people that are important to me, and time is not something that we have enough of. Because of the people that I have lost, I know how essential it is to live everyday to the fullest. Maybe I am not so conscious of that – but our time is so limited and I have so much to share with my husband and children. So how do I juggle it? I think it is making the decision and choice to know consciously and unconsciously that there is an abundance for us all and to catch it everyday to have it all.
AM: We understand that you have dyslexia – how has that been to overcome and what are the challenges involved?
LPF: It’s everyday – the cause and effects still affect me today. My coping skills are great and I used to be very ashamed when I was younger due to the stigma. My mother was magna cum lauda at Vanderbuilt, who graduated at 18. You know one of the things that my mother said to me was that each of us have gifts and it’s finding out what ours is. It may not be what grade you get.
Undiagnosed until 6th grade, I clearly got my people skills out of navigating that. I was a bit of a class clown, but then when I got into sports and dance, it fed me and gave me a work ethic as well as self esteem. I could own something that I was good at. My dyslexia affected how I could hear music. I had to feel the music. I didn't express it in a regimented way when I danced, but through my body. That in and of itself was a golden star that I didn’t realize that made me different. Dyslexia is characterized through reading, but it is a language arts disability. It affects everything from working memory to executive function. I noticed my son at age 3 that when you put a 4 piece puzzle down – the sky is blue up there and there is a piece missing. He didn’t have the strategy to place it, but he is very smart. The blessing for me is that my spatial memory is ridiculous. I have sold apartments multiple times and re-renovated them and can tell you where everything used to be and where it moved. My son is a brilliant chess player because of his dyslexia. It’s a fascinating disability/obstacle that each individual is not the same. My sons are at Winward and this school teaches you how to learn differently and in the way that you need to with the best tool box to recall and remember certain things. He would ask me for his toolbox. It’s a multi-sensory experience. It’s a way to learn the kind of learner you are. I am auditory and very visual. My son is tactile – if he writes his notes, he can remember. My brother had a photographic memory. It affects working memory, recall, and dyslexia can be very different for each person.
AM: How important is fundraising and what does local fundraising mean?
LPF: Growing up, I watched my mom invest in her community whether it was school, church, the Nashville Symphony, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Children’s Theater – my mother believed in putting her fingerprint within her community and giving back. She used to say to me that you give it away to keep it, but at some point at 15 it clicked with me. When I think of local, I had a brother that died of AIDS and I wanted to build awareness around this and finding a cure as it is important. What I could do soulfully as opposed to writing that check was to work for a Bereavement Center – counseling siblings that lost their siblings. That’s local – I can’t change the public schools and make the state of NY stop stripping the arts, but I can entrench myself in a non profit that one school, child, etc will have a good elementary experience. That’s how I see local. The other component is tapping into my sphere and influence, like going to SoulCycle which I love, to do a fundraiser where everyone pays and rides to make a difference. That’s as local as you can get.
AM: Tell us about Change for Kids
LFP: Oh my other little baby! The founder Ted Mudera was a friend and he introduced me to Change For Kids. One of the things that they did so well – very grass roots starting in the late 90s – was that Ted and the other founders met some educators and he bought the 3 ladies a round of drinks for less then $13. The principal said we get allocated $12.37 for all of their supplies for the year (books, pencils, supplies etc). He couldn’t believe it and took her business card and said he would visit her school. He went and saw how the kids were having an art class with egg shell containers with watered down paints, brown paper bags etc. The kids didn’t know they had proper supplies and the teachers supplied what they could. When he went back to his office, he put a big jar on his desk and when people ordered lunch, he asked them to put their change in there. He was a trader and the bucket grew. In August he took all the change and said he had $812 and would ask what they would need. That’s how organic it started. So as we went forward, we started looking at supplies of each of the grades to see what we could do. We then grew to additional schools, field trips, etc.
Today it has now morphed. In 2008 he moved to London and we had a 16 – 20 executive board that went to 4. My husband, me, an executive guys, etc. We had an operating budget of 75K. Today we are in 10 schools and we have figured out how to be sustainable. We partner with the school and a great principal and we provide with a manager who is on staff to find the needs of the principal. We see what relationships exist and we want to partner with those without reinventing the wheel. We connect the dots and 100% of what we raise goes to the program with literacy, arts, writing, computer classes, etc. Every child deserves a vibrant, strong elementary experience. Because by middle school, they’re wandering. I know that high underfunded impoverished neighborhoods need this as the right resources allow us to bring positive effort without spending a lot of money. It’s the best gift I can give my children as I can make a difference. Sometimes you take on the world and you get lost in the shuffle, but when you do something on this level, it spoon feeds my soul and you can see the efforts.
AM: Tell us more about the cycling event and what is taking place?
LFP: On July 28th we will have our 6th annual ride for kids. Through the generosity of Stacey Griffith (pictured above) – a master instructor at SoulCycle – she was the first employee at SoulCycle. Julie and Elizabeth have been so generous in donating the studios and the bikes – we sell the bikes and sell them out every year. This is not an all day event. It’s an hour in the afternoon, you can be home, shower, and be out by 8pm in time to go out for summer plans.
My children make bracelets and are invested in this endeavor. It is that mindset of families that stay together play together. My son models for Ralph Lauren and with his first paycheck he said can we give $100 to Change for Kids and to put the rest in for college? It made me feel that I was doing something right. I include them and they include me as a result.
In the Fall on Oct 29th, we have Super Chef which has 800 people with 10 great chefs in the city that t have a tasting event We’ve done shop days with 25 Park, Calypso, Olive & Betty’s – the store has cocktails and 25% discounts with proceeds going to Change for Kids. In 5 years we will be at 35 schools. I personally believe that Change for Kids can be replicated in other states as we figured out how we have been sustainable.
AM: What are you looking to raise?
LFP: We have done anywhere from 20 – 40K and I am looking to do 50K. In addition to selling the bikes, we auction off iPods. Stacy auctions an iPod with music from St Tropez and DJs on the beach which is a hot ticket. So we would need to sell 2 iPods to make that amount. This has been my baby and there are so many generous people where they never miss an event. In our fall event, we want to do 500K.
AM: What are your summer plans?
LFP: I am going to hockey camp, just the three of us – leaving my husband here. I will do some bronzing, work, get some reading in and my sister will come and meet me. She can spend some time with the kids as well.
We are currently building our home in Montauk on the beach with Interior Designer, Courtney Novogratz. So I will be there and plant myself to try and nest while my other son is doing a hockey camp. So we’re looking to stay local in Bridgehampton and Montauk, with a lot of hockey, surfing and of course watching the Olympics!
Pictures courtesy of Louise Phillips Forbes
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