The Simone Sisters: Following dad’s path in real estate

Sisters Patricia and Joanna Simone are the third generation to work in the family business, the major, metro New York real estate firm Simone Development Cos.

Sisters Patricia and Joanna Simone are the third generation to work in the family business, the major, metro New York real estate firm Simone Development Cos.

On any given workday in the Bronx office of Simone Development, you’d likely find all three generations of the real estate family hard at work.

There’s Patricia and Joanna’s father, CEO and president Joseph Simone, and the company chairman, their grandfather, Pat Simone, 91 and still coming in daily. The company owns and manages more than 5 million square feet of commercial, health care and industrial space in the tristate region. 

The Simone office is on the penthouse level of 1250 Waters Place, a nine-floor building that is one of two medical office towers in Hutchinson Metro Center, the company’s most significant development to date. 

In a conversation with WAG from a conference room adorned with renderings of the company’s latest projects, the two Simone sisters described the 42-acre medical office complex as an example of the company’s ingenuity and vision. At a time in the early 2000s when few developers took interest in the Bronx, Joseph Simone saw in the 1970s state psychiatric center the possibility for a sprawling, modern Class A medical office space. 

“Our father is a visionary,” says Patricia Simone. “He has a gift and we’re fortunate to be able to learn and watch him.”

The two sisters are no longer just learning and watching. Patricia has been working for the family company a decade, Joanna for seven years. In that time, they have climbed the corporate ladder and guided projects with serious effect on the New York metro real estate market.

The company’s recent Westchester projects include opening a full renovation of the Boyce Thompson Center, an 85,000-square-foot mixed use medical complex that brought doctor’s offices, restaurants and a Starbucks coffee shop to a formerly abandoned brick research institute in Yonkers last year. In 2015, the company opened the county’s first new Westchester Avenue office building in 25 years: a four-story, 85,000-square-foot medical office for Westmed, part of the company’s revitalization of the Purchase Professional Park.

“In addition to health care development and having that niche, we really specialize in public-private partnerships and figuring out how to get things done that benefit the community,” Patricia says.

She has risen from a college intern in the company to president of Simone Management Group. Joanna is the company’s vice president of leasing and property management operations.

As two of three sisters in the family, they say working together hasn’t changed their relationship. All three sisters have always been close, Patricia is quick to say. But working together has added a new dynamic.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Joanna says. “Nothing is like sitting in a conference room and all having each other’s back. No one even has to know, I can just look at my sister and know that she is there and she gets it.”

The sisters followed different paths to the family business. Both were raised in Harrison and described being introduced to the real estate business at a young age. They’d ride along with their father to check on properties or track the progress of construction.

Patricia, the youngest of the three Simone sisters, was interested in a career in her family’s industry almost immediately.

“As a child growing up, she was always following my dad around, watching everything,” says Joanna. “She was a cute little kid, in that sense, who wanted to help out.” 

Patricia completed multiple real estate internships while studying at Emory University in Atlanta. She was working at Simone Development’s headquarters, then in New Rochelle, within two weeks of her college graduation in 2008.

“Especially for real estate, there is nothing like learning in the depth of the financial crisis,” Patricia says. “It’s easy to go into a business when everything is going well. It’s beneficial to start your career in a down market and have to fight your way up and learn that way.”

She started as a lease administrator, helping with documentation for about six months before spending a year and a half assisting with the actual leasing of the company’s diverse portfolio. At that point, she was promoted to director of leasing for the entire company.

“It was a sink-or-swim moment,” Patricia says. “I pulled it together and it was the hardest I’ve possibly ever worked and possibly ever will. I was nonstop.”

On top of that, she decided to go back to school to take night courses for a master’s in real estate at New York University.

“Luckily, that’s when Joanna entered the picture and saved me, and everyone, and my sanity,” Patricia says.

Joanna started her career with five years in the fashion industry. She worked for a wholesaler that bought and resold contemporary and luxury clothing for discount retailers, first as an assistant before working her way up to national sales manager of the company’s women’s division.

She called her time in fashion, “the best learning experience and boot camp I could have ever asked for.” But she says she eventually realized her passion may not be in fashion. To her surprise, she found herself drawn to the family business.

“I took a huge risk, because I wasn’t sure if I would love real estate or where I would land at the company,” Joanna says. “No one really knew.” 

She started in January 2012, through a yearlong crash course in the company during which she took courses at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. She landed in the company’s leasing department, which she says became a natural fit for her sales background.

Flipping the sibling’s age dynamic, Joanna started under her younger sister’s management. But Patricia says her older sister proved a quick study.

“She came in cold. We had to start from the bare basics,” Patricia says. “And now, seven years later, she’s a leasing force. She can run with the best of them and no broker is getting one over on her.”

And, as Patricia tells it, Joanna was able to handle more of the leasing work while she was pulled toward roles on the operations and marketing ends of the company.

“Our father in particular has very high expectations of us, so it was a lot of pressure,” Patricia says. “Having Joanna come in, while I didn’t know it at the time, was really a life saver and the best thing that could have happened.”

Today the two work closely together, even while handling separate responsibilities. They say there are occasional disagreements — similar to any among coworkers —but they can talk through them and leave any issues in the office. 

“That’s what makes it work, having that balance of work-life together, not just work,” Joanna says. “We see our father on the weekend for a family event and have that fun experience. But then we come to work on Monday and have a project meeting and it’s back to work.”

In preparing for the interview for this siblings-themed feature, Patricia says someone mentioned that they’re not just siblings in business together; they are sisters in a real estate industry that still is in many ways dominated by men.

“That’s not something you often come across,” Patricia says. “We don’t think about it often, but it’s a cool thing to realize.”

It’s also something they hope to have a hand in changing. Real estate may be behind the times in integrating women into leadership positions, but they’re each in a position to help the industry catch up.

“I think it’s something that we’ll see change and develop,” Patricia says. “We plan to promote it to young women to enter the real estate workforce coming out of college, through internships. We see it happening.”

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