Cover Feature Mann Report

Jodi Pulice: Fighting the Good Fight for Inclusion and Diversity

Ellen Israel, Jodi Pulice and Pay Wu (Photo by Jill Lotenberg)

It all started with a baseball team in the 1990s. Jodi Pulice,  already an established commercial real estate broker at a New York City-based firm, had joined her company baseball team as a shortstop. A good athlete her entire life, she more than held her own with her male teammates for three years. 

Then someone at the league level decided that women couldn’t play. She was offered a role as team manager but passed. The same obstacles existed for women in the corporate world. 

“I was having meetings with gentlemen in our industry who were just dismissive, even if it was my deal and I brought it all together,” Pulice said. “They would never let me speak. I wasn’t given a seat at the table.” 

Instead, she built her own table. She founded JRT Realty Group, a full-service firm that has become the largest certified woman-owned commercial real estate firm in the United States. And even as she continues to help women shatter glass ceilings, she now is helping others who have been traditionally underrepresented in the industry come into their own in a very insular business. 

Toppling that structure isn’t easy. But Pulice’s strength isn’t surprising for the Staten Island-raised daughter of an NYPD lieutenant detective dad and a gym teacher mom. 

“My dad was in the 10th Homicide Division in Brooklyn,” she recalled. “While he prepared for retirement, he was also serving as a travel agent for the police department. We’d go on group tours with him. I saw all of Europe and many other continents with the police department.” 

While she was earning her bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and public health from Wagner College, she worked three jobs to pay her way, coaching sports at her former high school, making eyeglasses at Sterling Optical and even cleaning the science labs at college. 

“My dad wanted me to make my own way, which I appreciate now,” she said. 

An internship in a pediatric cancer ward dissuaded her from a career in health, so she turned to travel, becoming a top sales producer at an airline and then seeing the world in the tours department. But tiring of flying standby, and one too many nights spent sleeping in an airport sent her in search of a more earthbound career. Friends suggested she interview at both residential and commercial real estate firms. She opted for the commercial side, working with Mary Salerno at Berley & Company for clients including the United Nations and a number of permanent missions to the U.N. (She also met her husband Greg Smith, JRT president, there.) When Berley & Company closed, she moved on to Huberth & Peters, and then to the Sylvan Lawrence Company. 

But seeing she couldn’t make change from within an already established structure, Pulice formed JRT in 1996, offering a full range of customized client services, including strategic planning, corporate real estate portfolio management, tenant representation, leasing and property marketing, property management, financing and investment sales. 

She began developing her own accounts including investment giant TIAA, a natural fit for her company. 

“Their big focus was on women-owned and minority companies because 65% of their annuitants were women and people of color. They were teachers,” she said. 

On TIAA’s advice, she had the firm certified as a minority and women-owned business (MWBE) and began working with New York State, New York City and other agencies. 

“From that point, we continued to grow and flourish,” she said. 

She formed a non-exclusive strategic alliance with a larger company that provided a national footprint and stream of work. Today, JRT’s clients include Fortune 500 and institutional clients, as well as federal, state and city governments. The firm has worked on deals as small as a few hundred square feet to as large as one million square feet, including a recent 640,000-square-foot, long-term transaction that was the second-largest of 2023 in New York City. But despite her own success, Pulice continued to see that women and professionals of color were excluded from the top decisions. 

She made it her mission to change that.

Fortunately, she has sympathetic ears and vast experience with her team, including Ellen Israel, executive managing director, a 30-year industry veteran, who joined JRT in 2011. 

“Ellen and I always had that spirit,” Pulice continued. “There aren’t that many women around in the industry. Ellen knows what I’m going through.”

Her advocacy extends beyond increasing the number of women in the power structure to bringing in others who didn’t have a voice in the industry, including business owners of color. In 2022, she co-founded MWBE Unite, which brings together the most qualified minority and women-owned firms to offer the commercial real estate industry and corporate occupiers a comprehensive resource for diverse project teams. Pay Wu, a former executive with experience working for a global real estate firm as well as name brand organizations including Deloitte, TD Bank and American Express among others, was brought in as president.

“Pay was in corporate America and has an unbelievable resume. We were doing presentations and various deals together,” Pulice said. “We saw how we could join forces to make this better.”

Wu knew skilled women and minority professionals who could be bidding on lucrative jobs, but they had trouble completing the often-complex RFPs, and faced the challenges of competing with larger, better-known contractors. 

Together, Wu and Pulice created a platform where talented women and minority-led firms and indviduals could support each other, with Pulice’s and Wu’s guidance — often their presence at a presentation can sway a decision in the firm’s favor. In just two years, the platform has grown to more than 50 firms with the potential to affect generations. 

“Generational growth will bring generational wealth,” Pulice said. 

She continues to promote women’s success, distributing Female Friday Features, a weekly email that highlights trends and notable women in the news. She also continues to educate her clients on the needs of all working women, especially in the post-pandemic era.

“We lost 4.5 million women in the workforce during COVID-19,” she observed, largely due to childcare issues. 

To bring hybrid workers back to the office, many landlords installed luxury amenities, including golf simulators, fire pits, bars, restaurants and basketball courts, she observed. They may be well intentioned, but it doesn’t solve the problems of a working mom — or dad. 

“If I have kids at home and need childcare, what am I going to do with those amenities?” she said. While acknowledging the challenges of providing onsite daycare, she’s brought this up at meetings, to discover there is not even one pilot program. “This must change. There has to be part of a contract with employees where childcare is considered, where mom and dad can drop off the child and take them home in the evening. This is the world we live in.” 

Despite her success, being a woman in the industry is still a challenge, though the newest generation in the industry is more open to change and accepting of women in the industry and a more diverse workforce, she observed. 

It’s all a part of building her own legacy in the industry. 

“Do I know how to close deals and generate revenue? Absolutely. Have I done that? Absolutely. Now, what is my legacy? At this point in my life, I’m bringing in people who sit with me, architects, engineers, talented women who just want a seat at the table,” she said. “It’s bringing other people into the industry and giving them a voice. I want to give them a voice and empower them to be successful. ” 

As the three women have been the recipients of numerous awards from REBNY, the Greater New York Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management, the Association of Real Estate Women (new CREW Network) and more, Pulice makes a point of bringing junior associates on stage with her as she accepts the honors. 

“I want to show them that they, too, can do this,” she said. 

She also serves on a number of charitable boards, including the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, Columbus Citizens Foundation, United Nations Federal Credit Union Foundation to help women and youth overcome poverty and the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles. JRT also offers an annual internship program to help top students get into the real estate business. 

Ironically, though, Pulice said her greatest success will be when the MWBE certification is meaningless. 

“Certification is something for the Dark Ages. Why do I have to be certified as a woman-owned business, if I’m good enough for the job? I’ve been doing this for 35 years. When am I good enough?” she said. “When women and people of color don’t need to be certified, that’s when I feel we’ve succeeded.”