WSJ - Real Estate Executive Brings a Down-to-Earth Approach

His down-to-earth approach and political adeptness were key to getting the job

By KEIKO MORRIS, WSJ

John H. Banks III is no fan of the necktie. He comes from a working-class family, and he enjoys doing things where the Windsor knot would be out of place, like going to a Yankees game or tending his garden.

His down-to-earth approach, along with his frankness and political adeptness, are a good fit with his new job as president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said people who know him and those who helped select him.

The 54-year-old Mr. Banks is the fourth president of REBNY, an organization that represents New York City’s real-estate industry.

In July, Mr. Banks succeeded Steven Spinola, REBNY’s chief for almost 30 years, and became the group’s first African-American leader. He came fromConsolidated Edison Inc., where he worked 14 years as head of government relations.

Mr. Banks’s relationships in Albany and city government as well as his understanding of how both government and business work were important reasons for his selection, according to members of REBNY’s search committee. Another was his modesty.

“He doesn’t have a personality that deals with powerful figures one way and the man on the street another way,” said Mary Ann Tighe, chairman emeritus of REBNY and chief executive of the New York Tri-State region for CBRE GroupInc., a real estate services firm. “He is always John.”

For those who have worked with him—and those who have disagreed with him—the appeal of Mr. Banks is his ability to be firm and deliberate yet still inject levity.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, dealt with Mr. Banks when he was at Con Edison and expects to sit across the table from him in his role at REBNY.

“He has always had the ability to turn a quick joke to lighten a moment,” said Mr. LaBarbera, who also praised Mr. Banks for his straightforwardness. “He doesn’t pull punches. I respect that very much.”

As for the necktie, Mr. Banks wears one if he has to but sees it as a vestige of a bygone era, an accessory with no purpose except to attract spills and run up his dry-cleaning bill. His avoidance of ties is more a matter of comfort and, he mused, perhaps a reflection of his roots.

“I grew up in a blue-collar family,” Mr. Banks said. “That’s how I look at myself.”

The second oldest of five children, Mr. Banks recalled his youth in New Rochelle, N.Y., as idyllic and disciplined. His mother, who was a nurse, made sure her children went to summer camp but ran a tight operation—he teasingly called her General Patton. She became a single parent when his father, a bartender, died of cancer when Mr. Banks was 17.

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