Linda Striefsky spent college summers learning first-hand how hard her parents worked to give her a future with a different path.
Her mother and father, both first-generation Americans, worked as servers in the 3,000-seat dining room of the Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y. Sprawling over some 2,000 acres, it was one of the largest resorts in the Catskills, and an hour and a half from her hometown in Carbondale, Pa., population 8,000. So Striefsky worked there too, schlepping heavy trays alongside her parents as a waitress.
“I met a much broader array of people when I was working at the hotel than I would have ordinarily encountered in my small town,” says Striefsky, now a partner in the real estate practice group at Thompson Hine.
While working at the resort, Striefsky became friends with two brothers who had a different view of their future careers. “They wanted to be professionals — doctors, lawyers, dentists. It didn’t matter, just professionals.”
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It was a revelation for Striefsky at the time. “I hadn’t thought about it in that way,” she says.
At Marywood College in Scranton, Pa., she majored in sociology. “I did well. I took that as a sign,” Striefsky says.
And her mentor, a nun and Ph.D., encouraged Striefsky along the way. “I had an opportunity to take a different path, and I did,” she reflects. “That made all the difference in my life.”
When Striefsky was hired at Thompson Hine in 1977, the Cleveland firm had only five other female lawyers. “I never anticipated that I would move so far from home,” she says. “Coming here was a big deal.”
It was a great opportunity as well. “It was a time of change,” Striefsky says. Thompson Hine had initiated an internal support network to help raise women leaders.
It took her eight years to become partner. “It was unusual for large law firms, or any law firm, to have female partners,” she says. In fact, Striefsky was on maternity leave with her first son in 1985 when it happened.
Today, Working Mother magazine calls Thompson Hine one of the best firms for women.
Striefsky deserves some credit. She continues to help drive Thompson Hine’s women’s initiatives by never being afraid to ask the tough questions.
“We worked through issues like maternity leave and part-time issues that were significant changes in the workplace,” she says. “There were concerns about whether these ideas could really work.”
Striefsky acknowledges that being a woman leader today means taking risks and going out of your comfort zone.
“You need to stretch,” she says. Striefsky remembers a moment early in her career when Thompson Hine partner Jim McAndrews called her into his office. He volunteered Striefsky to give a presentation on purchase agreements at a Cleveland Bar Association seminar.
“I never thought that I knew enough to stand in front of an audience and talk about anything, let alone purchase agreements,” she says. “Every real estate lawyer knows about those, you’re talking to an educated audience.”
But Striefsky pulled it off. “It gave me a lot of confidence,” she says.
Now, she returns the favor by nudging young associates into positions where they can meet clients, network with other leaders and learn critical business skills.
“She combines a natural practitioner’s skill with a teacher’s intellectual curiosity,” says Robyn Minter Smyers, who joined the firm 11 years ago. “She is without a doubt the first person I consult when I encounter an issue on a transaction. From the day I arrived, Linda has been a mentor and sponsor and a true friend.”
In fact, when Striefsky was on the planning committee for the International Conference of Shopping Centers, she pulled in Smyers.
“That was an opportunity Linda wanted me to have, and she worked hard for me to have it … and has been a champion and cheerleader for me within that organization,” says Smyers, who is the committee chair this year. “That is the kind of thing that makes a huge difference in professional development.”
“Linda really gets it, in terms of understanding the importance of trying to develop young leaders and getting them integrated into the firm, getting them the training they need,” says Heidi Goldstein, firmwide chair of Thompson Hine’s Spotlight On Women initiative.
Meanwhile, Striefsky is a power player in the real estate law field, serving as past-president of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers and having been inducted into the Anglo-American Real Property Institute, an honorary organization for select real estate professionals in the United Kingdom and United States.
Striefsky served on the team that represented KeyBank during the development of Key Tower. And as co-chair of Thompson Hine’s real estate finance team and chair of the global sourcing and procurement team, she focuses on projects that range from sales and acquisitions to corporate facilities management and tax incentive issues.
Striefsky remembers assembling the land for the PlayhouseSquare parking garage and bridge in the mid-1980s. “At that time, that meant we were buying 20 to 30 separate little pieces of land, some of which were owned by multiple people,” she says.
One parcel was owned by 20 different family members scattered all over the country. “We had to track them down — and this was before the Internet — and convince them to sell their fractional interest,” she recalls.
Striefsky has been involved in the buying and selling of shopping centers and developing corporate headquarter facilities. “It’s great to have a job you go to every day where you have variety and it’s something you really love to do,” she says. “I have that.”
But it’s not all work for Striefsky, who has three adult sons. “I love my job, but it’s not all I am,” she says.
She has found ways to work her favorite hobbies — cooking and musical theater — into her busy life. She taught her children how to make all of her favorite recipes (clients look forward to her boxes of homemade cookies jammed with 12 to 15 different varieties).
“My favorite moment is when my middle son called me from college to ask me for my pierogies recipe because he wanted to make it in his dorm room,” she laughs.
Geralyn Presti, general counsel, vice president and secretary at ForestCity Enterprises, has worked with Striefsky for more than
“Linda continues to be a role model for me as a lawyer, colleague, mother, spouse and friend,” she says. “She inspires me to keep learning and growing to reach my potential.”
It’s the same motivation Striefsky found in the dining room of the Concord Resort Hotel.
There were many nights, trying to balance all those roles, that Striefsky would come home from work exhausted and think about her mom. “My mother was still waiting tables and I wondered how she did that,” she says. “My mom was a role model for being a working mother.”