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Suffolk CEO looks beyond construction for top talent

John FIshChris Morris for The Boston Globe

As John Fish tries to turn Suffolk Construction into more of a tech company, he has decided to look outside of the construction industry to build his top management team.

For his latest C-level hires, Fish tapped Lea Stendahl from E-Trade to be his chief marketing officer and General Electric’s Puneet Mahajan to be his chief financial officer.

The Suffolk CEO informed his roughly 2,300 employees about the appointments in a memo on Friday. Stendahl will relocate to the Boston area from New York, where E-Trade is based, while Mahajan had moved here around the time GE relocated its headquarters to Boston in 2016. Both will report directly to Fish.


The hires represent the latest moves by Fish to buttress Suffolk’s tech bona fides. He dropped the name “Construction” from Suffolk’s marketing materials in 2017. As part of his $60 million headquarters expansion in Roxbury, Fish built a “Data Wall” that allows company officials to track the progress of various projects in real time, as well as a “Cave” that enables clients to tour virtual models of their future buildings. These elements are part of the “Smart Labs” he has opened in various cities where Suffolk does business, to test various construction technologies.

“As we continue to try to build an iconic company, we need to put the best players on the field,” Fish says. “We’re bringing on skill sets that really address the future needs of the company.”

The two new executives replace Suffolk veterans: former CMO Kim Steimle Vaughan and former CFO Mike Azarela. Both had worked for Suffolk for more than 15 years; Vaughan left in September, while Azarela left earlier this month. “Both are extremely talented individuals and helped the company out enormously during the periods of time they were here,” Fish says.

The end is approaching for two of Suffolk’s biggest Boston projects: the Encore Boston Harbor casino/hotel, which Suffolk is building for Wynn Resorts in Everett, and the One Dalton Place condo and hotel tower in the Back Bay, which Carpenter & Co. is developing.

Next up: building the nearly 700-foot-tall Winthrop Square tower on behalf of Millennium Partners.

GE has also said that it would work with Suffolk to build a 12-story tower in Fort Point, but the prospects of that happening seem to shrink each time word emerges about GE divesting another portion of its business. If the GE project doesn’t happen, at least Fish was able to land one of its top executives.


At real estate event, more diverse faces

There was something different when the Real Estate Finance Association’s board held its first meeting of the new year last Thursday: The makeup of the room had become much more diverse than the local commercial real estate industry that the group represents.

Change has to start somewhere — and the board members at REFA hope the example they set can help set the tone for others. Diversity isn’t just about being inclusive because it’s nice or the right thing to do. It’s also good for business.

Let’s look at the numbers. Board member Paul Ayoub, who just stepped down as board president, says the group had 69 corporate sponsors and about 600 members in 2016, before its new diversity push. Those numbers are now up to 105 and 720, respectively.

Today, there are 19 women or people of color on the 37-member board, compared to six out of 30 in 2016. Ayoub, a partner at the law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish, says board members intentionally broadened their outreach and recruitment efforts. The work, he says, paid off.

“The result has been a much more robust discussion, a real sense of energy and forward movement,” Ayoub says. “The key is not to look just in the room, but to look outside of the room. If you’re going to just look in the room [for board candidates], you’re going to see the same people.”


Regan PR firm looks to luxury market

George Regan has another reason to hop a plane to Florida now.

Regan Communications last week launched a joint venture by partnering with the 10-person Luxury PR Group in Palm Beach to create “Regan Luxury,” a concierge-like level of service that can be offered at a higher price to Regan clients. (The Palm Beach agency is now part of the joint venture, which gives Regan the option to eventually acquire Luxury PR outright.) Regan welcomed the addition of Luxury PR to his agency’s portfolio by hosting an event at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on Wednesday.

Regan says he was introduced to Luxury PR’s owner, Marianna Abbate, by a mutual friend in the marketing business. Abbate caters to high-end clients — think Neiman Marcus and Lamborghini. Regan says Abbate will benefit from the additional services his team offers, such as graphics and website design.

“Luxury is a thing we never really excelled at,” Regan says. “She gets it. We can help her grow. . . . It seemed like a natural marriage.”

Regan already has one office in Florida, in Jupiter, about 30 minutes from Abbate’s office, and a home in Palm Beach Gardens.

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