Stars to Watch 2014: Melissa Roman Burch

Executive Vice President, Forest City Ratner Cos.

Greatest Accomplishments: Development of Atlantic Yards, most recently including the groundbreaking development of an innovative new modular design concept for the residential buildings. But “it’s hard to top the excitement of developing your first project,” Burch observed. “My first building, 80 DeKalb Ave., was the first residential building that our company developed in Brooklyn.” The 365-unit housing project is ”a first for myself and for Forest City Ratner Cos. It launched the residential business for the company.”

Secrets to Success: “I am a curious person. I don’t accept the easy or the first answer. I am relentless, and those qualities have truly served me well.”

Greatest Challenges: Thinking creatively about how to build prefabricated housing offsite for development in congested urban spaces. “We did not invent modular housing, but we did invent high-rise modular housing,” Burch said. “This is a way of addressing the challenges of building in site-constrained markets, as well as looking at how you can control and reduce the cost of construction, with a higher-quality product.”

Advice to Others: “I have a little adage that I love: ‘Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I’ll understand.’ What that means to me is that the real estate development business is in so many ways an apprenticeship business. You need to find people that are willing to invest in you, that are willing to take you to the meetings and bring you in on the strategy. I have benefited tremendously in my time at Forest City from people who were willing to make that kind of investment in me, to help me really understand by involving me. That’s why that quote really hits home.”

What Others Say About Her: “She is a strategic ‘big thinker’ and a very effective ‘doer.’ Melissa knows how to drive a transaction and structure a development for success through her acute understanding of real estate fundamentals, strong leadership skills and ability to work collaboratively with others. Melissa understands this is a relationship business—she values people, and her integrity is beyond reproach. Having worked closely with Melissa, what stands out most is that she is a strong and effective negotiator; she is realistic and knows how to build bridges,” observed Laurie Golub, general counsel & COO for HFZ Capital Group.

—Leah Etling

More details on the accomplishments of CPE’s 2014 Stars to Watch appeared in the January 2014 issue.