Laura Vulaj, SL Green

Laura Vulaj

Creating the
People-Centric Workplaces of the Future

Editors’ Note

Laura Vulaj oversees SL Green’s ESG program in addition to executing strategic company initiatives. She is also responsible for developing and managing SL Green’s hospitality program, a new concept focused on enhancing the workplace experience for tenants. Vulaj serves as a Board Member for Urban Green Council and previously served as a member of the Energy Efficiency & Housing Advisory Panel for the New York State Climate Action Council. She also assisted in developing the Food1st Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by SL Green to alleviate food insecurity in New York City, provide meals to emergency service workers, and support the restaurant industry. In 2019, Vulaj was an honoree at NEW’s (Nontraditional Employment for Women) annual Equity Leadership Awards Luncheon. She earned her BS degree in economics from Northeastern University.

Company Brief

SL Green Realty Corp. (slgreen.com), Manhattan’s largest office landlord, is a fully integrated real estate investment trust, or REIT, that is focused primarily on acquiring, managing, and maximizing value of Manhattan commercial properties. As of March 31, 2023, SL Green held interests in 60 buildings totaling 33.1 million square feet. This included ownership interests in 28.8 million square feet of Manhattan buildings and 3.4 million square feet securing debt and preferred equity investments.

Will you highlight your role and areas of focus?

As Senior Vice President of Hospitality and Sustainability for SL Green, Manhattan’s largest office landlord, I am responsible for executing the firm’s strategic operational objectives, including overseeing our industry-leading ESG program and our innovative hospitality program aimed at transforming the traditional office experience into more people-centric workspaces.

Will you provide an overview of SL Green’s diversity and inclusion strategy?

While encouraging a supportive and entrepreneurial workplace culture, SL Green attracts the best and brightest within the industry largely due to our investment in the well-being of our employees and commitment to fostering an inclusive environment. SL Green’s people-centric approach is integrated throughout our business as we prioritize creating equitable opportunities for success, growth, and development at the firm.

How ingrained is diversity and inclusion in SL Green’s culture and values?

SL Green’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is reinforced by its employees, managers, and executives at every level. From recruitment and hiring to training, SL Green is committed to action when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This effort is evident in our recruitment strategy which continues to broaden our candidate outreach to further diversity within our workforce. I am proud to say that as a result, each year our employee diversity continues to grow. For example, across our entire employee base, 73 percent of our 2022 new hires identify as racial minorities. Our dedicated People Experience team has introduced specific employee programs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion which help shape our company culture and directly contribute to our success within the industry. We are proud to be Great Place to Work® certified, signifying the strength of the SL Green workplace experience.

How important is it to have diverse perspectives and experiences at the table when addressing client needs?

Diverse perspectives and experiences are essential to the growth and success of any business, and SL Green understands this deeply by incorporating diversity as a key component within our business model. Our long-standing success as the premier office landlord in New York City is a testament to how a pluralistic workforce creates valuable contributions to strategic operations across the board. We couldn’t have had the success we’ve witnessed at One Vanderbilt Avenue, or our newest transformative development One Madison Avenue, without constant engagement with our partners and stakeholders, taking into account their diverse perspectives and experiences. A diverse team helps foster innovative thinking and ensures we approach issues from multiple angles, considering the economic, social, and environmental aspects of each decision and allowing us to cater to the needs of our clients and key stakeholders.

Do you feel that there are strong opportunities for women in leadership positions in the industry?

It’s no secret that the commercial real estate industry has historically been male dominated. Over the years, however, we have started to see changes take shape, and at SL Green and throughout this industry more women hold leadership positions at leading firms. Though we are always striving towards higher representation of women in the industry, the game is changing. SL Green has been pushing for more female representation in its key decision-making and strategic operations, including at the board level. The representation of women in leadership positions is an important force that helps to motivate the next generation, and we are proud to be seeing more of that. As such, while there is much work left to do, talented women today have more opportunities for leadership and growth in the sector than ever before. To women who are looking to break into commercial real estate, I say this: there is no better time to make your mark than now.

Laura Vulaj SL Green One Vanderbilt

One Vanderbilt

SL Green has a long and deep commitment to sustainability. Will you discuss SL Green’s sustainability initiatives?

SL Green’s commitment to sustainability is a core value within our organization. This past year we released our 10th annual ESG report which outlines the expansiveness of our program and integration of ESG throughout our business. It’s important to recognize that “sustainability” isn’t limited to environmental initiatives – it encompasses social, cultural, financial, and environmental strategies that are focused on creating long-term value.

One Vanderbilt is a paragon of “sustainability” when you think of its broader definition. From a social perspective, we made a $220 million investment in public transit improvements that allow the MTA to move thousands more people each hour and we transformed Vanderbilt Avenue into a public plaza that improved both cleanliness and safety. The development has had a substantial economic benefit for New York City, bringing workers back into the office, stimulating local businesses, and making East Midtown a tourist destination. One Vanderbilt has also become a cultural epicenter with the opening of SUMMIT, Le Pavillon, and Jōji. Environmentally, it’s the only building worldwide to achieve LEED v3 Platinum and v4 Gold simultaneously. The development revitalized East Midtown and our investment in public transit reduced urban sprawl which is similar to what we’re now doing at One Madison. One Vanderbilt is the perfect example of transit-oriented development that reduces the number of vehicular commuters by encouraging public transportation from the Metro North, Long Island Railroad, and New York City subways.

From an environmental lens, SL Green is continuing to implement portfolio-wide decarbonization strategies to reduce our carbon footprint and optimize our energy portfolio’s efficiency to continue to create safe, healthy, and sustainable spaces for our tenants and their employees.

What was the vision for developing SL Green’s hospitality program and how is the program enhancing the workplace experience for tenants?

SL Green has always valued, above all, a best-in-class, wellness-forward experience for our team and our tenants. This value system has been recognized as a key differentiator leading to our success as New York City’s largest office landlord. Our hospitality program is centered around service to meet tenant demand for five key building amenities: food and beverage, meeting spaces, social spaces, commutability, and health and wellness. These are all vital areas of consideration when it comes to delivering high-quality spaces that encourage employees to thrive in the workplace.

As our hospitality program is based on the revitalization of these values, this has guided us in defining our commitment to hospitality and wellness. A great example is One Madison Avenue, our latest Class-A office building set to be completed later this year, in which our hospitality-driven program will be in full view. One Madison will offer tenants a rooftop terrace and garden, and a 7,000-square-foot tenant-only amenity space called “The Commons.” The Midtown South office tower will feature best-in-class amenities and wellness with the inclusion of a DOAS HVAC system and the building is expected to achieve LEED-Gold and WELL certifications.

Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud will be opening two new French culinary destinations, bringing to life a European petit marché and an upscale French steakhouse, ensuring there is something for everyone at the building, whether it’s fine dining or picking up fresh seasonal ingredients from local purveyors. We are proud to be creating the people-centric workplaces of the future through highly-amenitized office buildings and the delivery of concierge-level service to all our tenants and their guests.

You have spent over ten years of your career at SL Green. What has made the company so special for you?

When you find a good workplace that inspires you, it’s important to stick with it. For me, SL Green’s leadership and enterprising culture is unmatched. Though SL Green is a large organization, I see an incredible amount of cohesion among our staff and enjoy the constant collaboration. All of this comes together to illustrate how we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest in the business, and why I believe that regardless of fluctuations in the market, our team is always able to adapt and come out on top. As our company continues paving the way for the future, our commitment to cross-collaboration across different departments, teams, stakeholders, and partners will be invaluable to the idea-generation and problem-solving ability that sets us apart among our competitors.