President, Chelsea Lane
16 W. 16th St., Chelsea
2 buildings, 14 stories, 485 units
What she did full time: Retired from a 30-year career in public relations
Length of board service: 12 years
If I had to boil it down, it’s all about communication. We send shareholders a regular newsletter and an email blast up to three times a week about everything from project updates to local street closures. But communication has to work both ways, and our on-site manager is an important part of the chain. For example, if a shareholder is upset that someone isn’t recycling, he or she can leave a note with our manager, who will deal with it right away. If it’s an ongoing problem or a bigger issue, like someone wanting to update an obsolete house rule, our manager will bring it to our attention.
There also have to be good lines of communication between board members. In addition to meeting once a month, we have an admissions committee that reviews purchase applications every month and makes recommendations to the board to vote on. Another committee deals with building issues, and people’s expertise is really helpful, like the time we were replacing our exterior doors, and one of the members was able to tell us the prices we were looking at were way out of line.
As much as we make it a constant goal to focus on our financial integrity, safety and maintaining shareholder value, you also have to pay attention to the little things. We keep a list of residents who don’t use email and send them paper copies. Our quality-of-life committee sends sympathy cards when a shareholder’s spouse passes away. And while it’s important that repairs get done, we do whatever we can to mitigate any inconvenience. There are so many projects boards have to take care of, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact they have on people. We have 485 apartments, so that’s especially important in a co-op that’s as large as ours.
I’ve been on the board on and off since the ’80s, and I just don’t remember any periods of turmoil. The last time we had contested elections was several years ago, and we get great enthusiasm from our shareholders on the job we’re doing. I’ll run into someone who will tell me how much they love the hallway renovation and how the new carpet makes them feel like they’re walking on pillows. Maybe it’s because of my PR background, but I think you need to read your shareholders’ mood, just like you would with an audience, and whenever possible give them what they want. A good board can see where complaints are going to come from before they come.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.