Landed Gentleman

Michael Fascitelli ’78 may have risen to the top of New York City’s commercial real estate world, but the former North Providence resident still embraces his roots.

“My style is to be a regular guy, to make people feel comfortable,” he said, clearly proud of his ability to maintain a Rhode Island accent and small-town demeanor in a world of big-time deals.

But don’t underestimate Fascitelli. For the past 10 years, he’s been president of Vornado Realty Trust, a company that today owns and manages more than 60 million square feet of office space in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as other holdings across the country. In 2006, Vornado had $2.7 billion in revenue.

He’s immersed in high-stakes negotiations to buy and sell commercial real estate. Like many of the buildings at the center of those deals, the price tags are often sky high.

Consider Vornado’s bid earlier this year to purchase Equity Office Properties (EOP) Trust, the nation’s largest owner of office buildings. Vornado offered $41 billion in cash and stock. Blackstone Group countered with an all-cash offer of $39 billion. Blackstone’s bid won out.

“It’s like playing poker, but in the end the other guy had the final trump card,” Fascitelli said during an interview in the 46th floor conference room at Vornado’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. In the case of the EOP deal, the Blackstone Group’s trump card was an all-cash deal over Vornado’s mix of stock and cash—an all-cash offer would have required approval from Vornado’s stockholders.

Other negotiations play out differently. For example, in May Vornado purchased a 70 percent interest in buildings in San Francisco and New York for $1.81 billion; developer Donald Trump owns the remaining 30 percent stake.

Like Trump, Fascitelli loves the art of the deal.

“I go over the numbers and structure of the deal; I get involved in the key business points,” he said. An example: determining the price that assets are valued at, and how the buyer would handle a tax liability inherited from the sellers.

Fascitelli has always had his sights set on the big picture. He initially wanted to study civil engineering so he could build big bridges—like the George Washington Bridge that connects New York with New Jersey. When he discovered that projects of that size come along only once every five years, he targeted industrial engineering.

At URI, Charles James, then chairman of the Industrial Engineering Department, was an inspiration to Fascitelli. “He made you believe that you can take engineering as a discipline and have an impact on a broad set of issues—how a company works, functions, manufactures, and sells; that as an engineer, you can make a real impact as a leader. Not just a technical engineer.”

Physics Professor Kenneth Hartt also encouraged Fascitelli to look beyond the basics of engineering. “He said that I had a rare skill; that I could intuitively see how things were put together; that I could look at numbers and see what was wrong, how they fit together. He thought I could be great at solving or understanding numeric problems,” said Fascitelli, who graduated with a B.S. in industrial engineering.

Fascitelli applied to graduate school to study engineering or business. When Harvard Business School admitted him on a deferred basis—he would need to get two years of work experience before starting classes—Fascitelli jumped at the opportunity. He spent two years as a process engineer and manufacturing supervisor at a Bristol-Meyers plant outside Buffalo, N.Y., before heading to Cambridge, Mass.

Upon completing his degree at Harvard in 1982, Fascitelli took a position in New York City at the management consulting firm McKinsey; in 1985 he went to Goldman Sachs where he lobbied to work in the investment bank’s fledging real estate group. “My résumé didn’t say real estate,” he said. But Fascitelli convinced his superiors to give him a chance. He clearly succeeded, being named a partner in 1992 and head of the real estate investment banking business.

In 1996, he joined Vornado as president and helped the company grow over the past decade. “We work very much as a team,” he said, recalling another experience from his days at URI that serves him well even now—a two-year stint as a guard on the basketball team.

Today, Fascitelli runs in some of the same circles as Donald Trump, who he counts as a friend. However, Fascitelli and his family keep a low profile, and he prefers it that way. He is married to Beth, who he met at Harvard; she is a partner at Goldman Sachs and is successful in her own right. They are the parents of three children: Nick, 14; Matt, 13; and Jack, 10.

Fascitelli chalks up his success to multiple factors. “Hard work,” he said, “being in the right place at the right time, having the right mentors, and getting a few lucky breaks. Also, being humble, not being arrogant, and treating all people with respect. And I am not a bad negotiator.”

Still, there have been obstacles to overcome: “I came from a working class family, so I did not really have a business framework.” The first in his Italian-American family to attend college, Fascitelli’s role models at home embodied a work ethic that has kept him grounded. His mother was a seamstress, his father was a tailor, and an older brother built and renovated houses. “They were not educated but were very street smart,” he said.

What advice would Fascitelli give to recent graduates? “Start with the best company you possibly can. Go with the best team, the best people. The training you will get is irreplaceable,” he said. “Most important, find your passion.”

Fascitelli also cautioned against having a rigid career development plan: “You should have a three to five year plan, but be flexible. You cannot predict what’s going to happen,” he said.

By Anna Maria Virzi ’79