Most people don’t try to shatter the glass ceiling before they reach their twenty-fourth birthday — but Debrah Lee Charatan was never one to wait for an opportunity to come knocking. At only 23 years old, the then-new entrepreneur had established Bach Realty, a thriving commercial real estate firm that was notable as much for its all-female sales team as it was for its knockout financial success.
When Charatan founded Bach Realty in 1980, even the idea of a women-majority sales team would have raised a few eyebrows; a women-exclusive team might have prompted scoffs. According to statistics gathered by Pew Social Trends, female representation in the business world was scarce to the point of invisibility. In 1995 — over a decade after Debrah Lee Charatan founded Bach — just 9.5% of the board members for Fortune 500 companies were women, and every one of the list’s CEOs was male.
This lack of existing gender diversity forced Charatan to be a pioneer in her field; to establish that women could not only achieve in the real estate industry but thrive. It’s fair to say that she succeeded; by the time she was 28, Charatan had grown Bach Realty’s annual sales to over $100 million.
Debrah Lee Charatan helped shatter the glass ceiling that hung over New York’s real estate sector. When asked, however, she downplays her role as a change-maker.
“I hired the best people I could find, and sought out the ones I knew would deliver results,” she says of her hiring strategy at Bach. “It wasn’t about breaking a record or making a change. At the time, I just wanted to build the strongest foundation that I could for my business.”
Charatan’s philosophy paints her as an entrepreneur who is equally pragmatic and ambitious. Both qualities underpin not only Bach Realty’s success, but it’s founder’s career as a whole. Debrah Lee Charatan began her career in New York real estate in the mid-1970s as a secretary for a management firm. She aspired higher, however; over the next few years, Charatan dedicated herself to accumulating as much industry knowledge as she could. Her efforts ultimately gained her a position as a property manager, a role which she took on even as she completed a four-year degree at Baruch College.
For Debrah Lee Charatan, putting the practical and theoretical knowledge she had gained into practice felt like an obvious next step. In 1980, she struck out on her own and, over the following several years, established Bach Realty as a significant force in New York’s commercial real estate sector.
Bach, however, would not be Charatan’s last entrepreneurial venture. In 1993, Debrah Lee Charatan achieved similar entrepreneurial success with another commercial real estate firm, Debrah Lee Charatan Realty, Inc. Around this time, she also began teaching real estate courses at New York University and Queens College and wrote several articles for industry publications such as Real Estate Weekly and the New York Law Journal.
Today, Debrah Lee Charatan has shifted her focus from real estate to her more philanthropic interests. Charatan is a member of both the Women’s Leadership Council of the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Real Estate Council. A longtime supporter of the Selfhelp Community Services Foundation, Charatan helps raise and manage essential funding as vice-chair of the board of trustees for the senior-care, independent living-focused organization.
Charatan also serves as a co-founder for the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation, an organization which provides financial support to several charitable organizations in New York City. These include but are not limited to Selfhelp, Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Park East Synagoge, the Jewish Museum, Chabad of Southampton Jewish Center, the Central Park Conservancy, Chai Lifeline, and the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.
To this day, Debrah Lee Charatan remains a prolific writer on issues of female empowerment, mentorship, entrepreneurship, and current affairs. Charatan may not have had a female mentor when she founded her first venture, but she has certainly become a role model for female entrepreneurs of all disciplines to follow and learn from.
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