Woman makes quick ascent in high-rise management
New York — Running a 59-story Manhattan skyscraper is just a giant job of housekeeping, says Vivian Longo, the only woman manager in New York of a building of this size and scope.
What she means is that her position as building manager of the new Citicorp Center, which almost fills a city block between 53rd and 54th Streets on Lexington Avenue, involves such basic housekeeping skills as getting broken things fixed, keeping costs down, comparing prices, signing contracts, delegating jobs, setting thermostat, and making people feel generally happy and comfortable.
Any homemaker understands those skills, claims Miss Longo. But the National Council of Women of the United States takes them pretty seriously. Today they are honoring her as one of six under-35 women who have achieved notable success. Awards are being presented at the group's annual "Women and Work" seminar and luncheon.
Although she is a pioneer in the field of skyscraper management for women, Miss Longo told the National Association of Women in Construction last year that "more women could find satisfying careers as building managers if they would only try for the jobs."
What she may not have said is how uniquely qualified she is for her own position.
Vivian Longo claims she has been a "tinkerer" since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn, and that she has always been fascinated with seeing and knowing how things worked. She developed her first interest in the construction industry and in real estate projects by trailing around after her father, who built several restaurants in Brooklyn. This early exposure, plus what she terms a "natural flair for computers," helped prepare her for her later career as a building manager.
After receiving an MBA degree in finance and management from fordham University, Miss Longo worked as an administrative coordinator for student facilities at cornell University. She then joined Citicorp as a financial analyst and within a year became project manager of the company's building management system.
In 1976 Miss Longo was named building manager of Citicorp Center. Just a year later, at 25, she became the youngest manager to open a New York skyscraper and the only woman to command such an enormous project.
Mark Furio, her chief engineer, remarks about Miss Longo, "She isn't just a paperwork manager. She actually understands our mechanical problems. Men don't mind working for a woman who is as competent and as knowledgeable as she is. She directs a staff of 225 engineers, electricians, and maintenance people, and most of them are men. And they respect her calm sense of authority. She knows what she is talking about and what we are talking about."
Miss Longo has performed her managerial duties so well that Citibank, owner of the popular Citicorp Center with its office tower and dramatic inner atrium flanked by "The Market" -- three floors of engaging shops and restaurants -- recently appointed her to manage, as well, the Citibank headquarters building at 399 Park Avenue. This doubles her responsibilities and means she must please a total of 12,000 employees who come to work in the buildings each day.
From her command post in the basement of Citicorp Center, Vivian Longo schedules work, negotiates contracts with different vendors, sees that all building services are provided to tenants, takes care of exterior painting and landscaping as well as indoor painting and cleaning, and is really planning building decorations for the 1980 Christmas season. She also deals regularly with six labor unions, handles tenant relations, and manages the center's energy-saving systems by means of computer.
Her chief assistant, she admits, is the special computer system that she designed to help her handle her job. All requests and complaints are fed into the computer and then taken care of with a minimum of time and effort. This system enables her to watch over the entire operation of both buildings, checking how many calls come in, when the jobs were completed, which trade was used, and the costs associated and allocated. "It gives me control over time and costs," she says, "and gives me records of people's performances." It is the computer system, she explains, that enables her to make things happen in the most efficient and effective way.
Building management is a high-action job involving constant alertness and the ability to handle hundreds of people and calls each day. But Miss Longo says she has also coped with such unusual events as blackouts and bomb scares and, as fire safety director, has handled all fire drills. During an engineer's strike in 1979, she and other administrative personnel took turns running the building's monitoring system.Their work was so efficient that few people noticed the strike inconvenience.
"You can see why they call this a service job," the manager says, smiling. "It is essential that we give service and keep all the services flowing without interrruption."
Her management style, she says, consists of being a good listener, a fast analyzer, and, after checking out all the systems that give her instant information, being a quick decisionmaker. "You have to move fast in this business because tenants let you know in a big hurry if they don't like the temperature, the service, or the way the cleaning is done."