Suzanne M. Amaducci-Adams is a partner at Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP's Miami office, where she leads the firm's hospitality group. She handles all aspects of commercial real estate and finance transactions, including acquisitions, development, leasing, commercial mortgage backed securities, real estate mortgage investment conduits, mezzanine financing and loan restructurings. She is very active in the areas of marina and hotel acquisition, finance and development.
She has advised developers in the development of hotels in mixed-use projects and is involved with the purchasing, financing, management and sale of large real estate and loan portfolios owned by institutional investors, pension funds and publicly traded companies. She restructured more than $4 billion of debt secured by hotels. She has drafted and negotiated many build-to-suit, office, mixed-use commercial and specialty leases on behalf of landlords and tenants in Class A buildings and projects, including single transactions in excess of 150,000 square feet.
Q: How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys' network?
A: I approach the business world as gender-neutral, so I do not typically see any old boys' network. The key is to develop a good working relationship with as many attorneys as possible, regardless of their gender. I always tried to be a problem solver and not a complainer. Everyone faces obstacles in their career paths — men and women — and each person's obstacles are different. Some may have more obstacles and some obstacles may be more difficult than others. You don’t choose your obstacles; you simply get them. The key is to look up and find a way around them rather than to dwell on the fact that you have to deal with them.
Q: What are the challenges of being a woman at a senior level within a law firm?
A: There are not a lot of other women at the top, so you always stand out. Standing out is not necessarily a good thing. People, men and women, try to justify why you are at the top instead of them, and take unwarranted “pot shots” at you to make themselves feel better. I always try to remember that I am at the top for a reason — a well-deserved one. I focus on who and what got me to the top and constantly work on improving myself so I can stay there. Always remember to give back to those that helped you along the way and to give back to the rising stars.
Q: Describe a time you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it.
A: It happens from time to time, but it happens much less frequently than you would think. In today's world, law firm management has zero tolerance for hostile work environments, so I find that it rarely happens within firms these days. The situation manifests itself more frequently in condescending attitudes of opposing counsel during my negotiations. In these situations, you need to speak up and change the dynamics of the situation. Meeting in person usually helps — it is much easier for someone to play “tough guy” while hiding behind the phone or a computer. You also need to recognize that some people will never change so you just need to learn how to manage them better. I find that instances of sexism create unnecessary stress and aggravation but do not change the outcome of a transaction.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring female attorney?
A: Work hard, care about your clients, build deep relationships within the firm and outside the firm. Ignore the back-room chatter. Always remember to invest in yourself. Do not be afraid to speak up if you have an issue and offer possible solutions or alternatives. Many times, management is simply unaware of an issue, or without a realistic solution, rather than unwilling to address the issue. Do not assume that management will not address an issue and dwell on it.
Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?
A: Be open-minded; different things work for different people. Respect the personal decisions of others. Do not assume you know what a person can or cannot do, or what he/she does or does not want. Open lines of communication are key.
Q: Outside your firm, name an attorney you admire and tell us why.
A: My fellow past president of CREW-Miami Lyan Fernandez. Lyan started practicing law many years ago when there were few women. Lyan worked her way through law school, managed a successful legal career, raised and educated three children, remains married to her first husband, who is also a lawyer, and used her legal skills and experience to obtain a top C-suite position at a large community bank. Lyan was able to transform herself from a litigator to a top business woman and is currently chief operating officer of TotalBank. She is committed to educating other woman and is one of the founders of the CREW, Commercial Real Estate Women, scholarship program. Lyan recognizes that she had a tremendous mentor and sponsor in her career, Adrienne Arsht, and Lyan is now acting in that role for other young women.
This article is reprinted with permission from Law360.