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Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

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“Four Votes Win, End of Story”

In her 20 years as a manager in the corporate tax department at Citibank, Dianne Ackerman learned how to deal with people. “I did a lot of interviews,” she says. “I brought that skill. There were all the things that I did for the past 20 years. I sat there in meetings, and a lot of it was similar to being on the board of a co-op. It’s essentially about how to get along with people.”

Dianne Ackerman gets along. She loves the give and take with the six other board members at her 90-unit cooperative at 241 East 76th Street. “Look, you don’t want seven people who are always agreeing on everything,” she notes. “What’s the sense of that? There’s a reason there are seven members. We discuss it, we disagree, and then we go to vote. Four votes win, end of story, and then you have to move on. The key is we’re all smart. Even though I may disagree with them, I know that, ultimately, they’re on the board for the benefit of the shareholders. You don’t put this much work in it if you’re there for yourself. It’s too much work.”

Ackerman, who moved into the building 18 years ago, lived in New Jersey for much of her life, but always yearned to live in Manhattan. When her two children moved out and her marriage ended in divorce, she sold her house and bought a unit at 241. “I have a friend who lived in the building,” Ackerman says. “She knew I was looking for an apartment in the city, and she recommended the place to me.”

There was no board interview because she bought from an investor, but she soon met the board when a neighbor urged her to run for a seat. She stepped down after a year because it was so “chaotic,” but returned 13 years later after a friend said to her, “Why are you letting other people make decisions for your largest and basically only asset?” When she was approached again five years ago to sit on the board, she thought, “You know what? I better get on.”

The board had been “revamped,” she recalls. “We had a great president, Mike Tricarico. The fact of the matter is that, this is a very, very good board. I feel it’s quite a privilege to be part of it.”

But she’s aware of the difficulties the board faces: “The most challenging thing is taking the small amount of money that we have control over, and deciding what do with it, because most of our costs are fixed. For instance, when the union gives the doormen a raise, we’re not consulted. When the city raises the taxes, they don’t call us and ask our permission. Most of our costs are what they are. With the small amount of money that we have discretion over, we’re really careful. That’s what we do, and that’s what we do best.

“For instance, we adhere very, very carefully to Local Law 11. We don’t put a bandage on problems. We don’t get fined. We fix it. It doesn’t matter if it costs a lot of money, because we have to fix it. It’s better for the building, and, ultimately, it’s better for the individual shareholder. In previous boards, instead of fixing the problem, they allowed themselves to be fined. That’s short-sighted. We fix problems as they come up. We watch the budget very carefully.”

When the board began looking for a new management company, Ackerman took it on. “We’re laypeople,” she notes. “The fact that we’re smart laypeople doesn’t make up for the fact that we’re not involved in professionally running a building. It’s important that you have a good management team to tell you what you need to do. We depend on them.” The board chose AKAM.

And the most rewarding thing about being on the board? “On some days, I think nothing,” Ackerman says with a laugh. “But this year, as I was coming out of the annual meeting, people were thanking me and hugging me, and acknowledging the hard work we did. That’s nice. That means that we’re doing a good job.”

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