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Beacon Communities’ new CEO has expansion on her mind

Dara Kovel
Dara Kovel(Chris Morris for The Boston Globe)

Dara Kovel has been CEO of Beacon Communities for less than a month, and she’s already thinking about the Boston real estate company’s next big acquisition.

Kovel (below) certainly had time to prepare for the transition: Her promotion was announced back in March by board chairman Howard Cohen. Kovel took over on Jan. 1 from Pam Goodman, who was Beacon’s top executive since 2013.

Kovel had been commuting from Connecticut via Amtrak, typically coming to Boston on Monday, and returning to work from home after work on Wednesday, for her previous job as president of the company’s development arm. But the promotion prompted her to relocate last year with her family to Brookline. A New Haven native, Kovel says she considers herself “a city girl by nature.”

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Kovel has spent her entire professional career in affordable housing, moving between nonprofit, for-profit, and government employers. She came to Beacon, which specializes in leveraging federal tax credits to pay for housing construction and renovations, from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority in 2015.

That meant she was on board when Beacon made the biggest acquisition in its history: the purchase of Pittsburgh-based National Development Corp. in 2017. The deal brought 5,300 units to Beacon’s housing portfolio, increasing its total to 17,500 at the time. The company, based at 2 Center Plaza, employs nearly 850 people today.

Kovel wants to build on that acquisition by looking for deals of a similar scope. Beacon’s focus has primarily been in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but the acquisition expanded its footprint to farther-flung states such as Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio. She is intrigued by the idea of expanding the company’s geographic market and wants to ensure it has the back-office technology to do so.

“We’re looking for the next opportunity to do something like that,” Kovel says of the National Development deal. “Beacon is in that teenage stage of development. We’re making sure we have all the operations systems we need.” — JON CHESTO

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Out with mahogany, in with white walls

Nixon Peabody is showing off a whole new look.

Last week, the law firm relocated its Boston operations into sleek white offices on four floors near the top of the 53 State St. tower. Gone are the old mahogany walls and internal windowless offices that gave Nixon Peabody— and, frankly, many other legal and financial firms downtown — a warren-like feel. Now, the walls are glass, and natural light shines through.

Nixon Peabody had already made the switch at its Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco offices. Many other industries have already undertaken similar transformations. But as CEO Andrew Glincher says, “legal lags.” Goodwin, which moved out of 53 State in 2016, also adopted a more open approach at its new Seaport office.

It’s not quite the open floor plan that other industries have embraced in recent years. Nixon Peabody’s lawyers still have their own offices. But everyone essentially has the same-sized office now. And the offices take up considerably less space: The 300-plus people who made the move occupy about 112,000 square feet, compared with 167,500 at 100 Summer St., Nixon Peabody’s old address.

Ruth Silman, managing partner of the Boston office, says it was important for the firm to pick new artwork that could show connections with parts of the city. For that reason, it hired Pittsburgh photographer John Barbiaux to create a vertical mural that spans four floors and features several city scenes.

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Sure, Nixon Peabody saves on real estate costs by shrinking its square footage. But the new Gensler-designed digs are also intended to prompt colleagues to interact more frequently. Most of them, Glincher says, are embracing the change.

“Having this type of space really makes it dynamic,” Glincher says. “When we were walled off, some people just hibernated in their offices. You can’t hibernate here.” — JON CHESTO

Networking on a global scale

For Kylie Wright-Ford, the trip to Davos, Switzerland, last week was an invaluable experience, a way to mix and mingle with prominent executives from around the globe.

Of course, it’s good for business, too. As CEO of the Reputation Institute in Boston, Wright-Ford is looking for clients who want a better way to manage and track the public’s perception of their companies. She says she found a few at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“It’s a chance to step back and think big,” Wright-Ford says of the conference. “You’re at the hub of global politics, economics, and environmental conversations. . . . I was really impressed by the melting pot of different backgrounds.”

She wasn’t the only member of Boston’s corporate community who made the trip. Bain Capital cochairman Steve Pagliuca attended, as did Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan and Anne Finucane. Hedge fund manager Seth Klarman didn’t go, but his annual letter to Baupost Group investors was the talk of the conference. (Klarman wrote about the risks of the United States’ rising debt and receding leadership on the global stage.)

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MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall found himself interrogated at Davos by Andy Serwer, editor in chief of Yahoo Finance. Serwer mentioned the $3 billion in tax breaks used to entice Amazon to open a new corporate campus in New York, and compared it to the $46 million in state tax credits that MassMutual is getting to expand its Springfield headquarters and open a new office in Boston’s Seaport. The Boston office could play a crucial role in attracting talent from around the world.

“It’s a heck of a good investment,” Crandall told Serwer. “Kudos to the Amazon guys, but we’re very thrilled to bring 2,000 jobs to Massachusetts, and most importantly 1,500 jobs to Springfield.”
— JON CHESTO


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