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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Dorn’s Way

Sue Dorn, Board President
25 East 86th Street
Resident since: 1974
Board member: 25 years
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Two co-op board presidents in the same family, in the same city, at the same time? How likely is that? “Most unusual,” says Neil Davidowitz, president of Orsid Realty. “I’ve only seen it once, with Sue and Martha Dorn.”

“My daughter not only lives in the city,” says Sue Dorn, the president of her 95-unit co-op at 25 East 86th Street, “but she must have gotten genes from her father and me. She’s now board president of her cooperative at 515 East 85th Street.”

The unusual scenario finds mother Dorn often exchanging notes with daughter Dorn about board experiences. “We’ve both lived through it,” says Sue, who notes that they have two key traits in common: “We’re both good listeners, and we each have a sense of humor. Without those, you’re doomed to fail.”

Sue Dorn was born in Seattle 83 years ago – “before New Yorkers knew there was a Seattle,” she says. “When I was nine we moved to Portland. My whole family is on the West Coast, but I married a New Yorker.” She majored in sociology at Stanford University and subsequently taught emotionally handicapped teenage boys in the New York City public school system for nine years. She also worked at Yale, eventually becoming associate vice president of the university.

After that, she took on the job of deputy director at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). “The museum was a delight,” she recalls. “I probably would have stayed there for the rest of my professional career if my husband hadn’t died. Having been there, the museum is a very social place. We were there lots of nights, and he was there with me a lot. [After he died,] the guards would come up to me and say, ‘Gee, we miss Mr. Dorn.’ I finally thought, I need to change environments.”

She then became vice president of New York Hospital, and vice provost of Cornell’s medical school. She continued to live in the East 86th Street co-op that she had moved into with her husband and two children in 1974.

Dorn was selected as president of the nine-member board 25 years ago but found few surprises: “My husband had been on the board for a year, and when I became president, I was aware of the issues of the building and certainly knew a number of the board members.

“I don’t think it’s a thankless job,” she adds. “That’s the reason that I’ve lasted this long, because I feel that the board is appreciated. I had leadership experience at Yale and MoMA, and we have a great partnership with our manager, Orsid Realty. I start meetings on time, which people learn right away, so now we actually often start them 10 minutes before the hour. If someone should go off on a personal issue, I say, ‘Talk to the manager after the meeting, but not on everyone else’s time.’ When you say that often enough, people realize it, and they stay on point. I rarely have a meeting that’s more than an hour.”

The co-op has not had difficulty, common in many co-ops and condos, with finding people to serve on the board. “The reason I think I’ve gotten quality boards and do not have to scrounge for board members is because I don’t take advantage of the board,” Dorn says. “We really run an efficient, effective meeting. People get to say what they want to say, but we stick to the subject at hand. The other thing, which has been very helpful, is that we have a strategic plan. We have a capital plan. We know where we’re going.”

All is not sweetness and light, of course. “Every building has a couple of ‘thorns,’ and we’ve had ours,” she says. “There are always a couple of people who find that nothing is ever right, and you just have to listen to them and do what you can.”

Her most unsettling problem? “When I chair a meeting, I can’t knit. If I’m only a member, sitting around a table, I can knit, but I can’t when I chair.”


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