It was an exclusive invitation with roots that go back at least 26 years.
In May, real estate executive Mary Ann Tighe attended an intimate reception to commemorate the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, where she mingled with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other luminaries.
Ms. Tighe, chief executive of CBRE's tristate region, was a guest of longtime client Condé Nast. It was she who brokered the deal to move the publishing giant to 1 World Trade Center starting later this year, giving a huge boost to the redevelopment of the WTC site. Earlier in her career, she orchestrated Condé Nast's relocation to 4 Times Square, helping to transform the formerly seedy neighborhood into an acceptable corporate address.
Ms. Tighe's relationship with Condé Nast started around 1988, when she was a neophyte broker looking for business. The former Vogue freelancer called an editor to find out who handled the company's real estate needs. "I knew I really needed to build up my network," recalled Ms. Tighe, adding she was grateful when the editor passed along the information and said to "use my name when you call."
The introduction eventually led to an assignment that brought more deals.
Today, Ms. Tighe is one of the city's most successful brokers. She has leased 87 million square feet of space for such companies as Coach and communications giant WPP. She has chaired the powerful Real Estate Board of New York and sits on the boards of several nonprofits.
In 2011, she was asked by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's management to co-chair its prestigious Business Committee. Other members as of the end of its last fiscal year included Leon Black, co-founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management; Thomas Renyi, former chairman and CEO of Bank of New York Mellon; and Edith Cooper, Goldman Sachs' executive vice president and global head of human capital management.
Like them, Ms. Tighe is one of the 200 most-connected people in New York business, according to Crain's Most-Connected New Yorkers list, powered by Relationship Science. One of 25 women on the list, Ms. Tighe (No. 163) is somewhat of an anomaly in the group, which is dominated by older white men in finance. Yet like most of them, she is a seasoned professional who works in a business with tentacles in many other industries, and who actively participates in numerous civic and charitable causes.
Together, the 200 help rule over the city's largest businesses, shape its economic and social policy, and steer the cultural agenda. Twenty-three percent of them are either current or former members of the board of the Partnership for New York City; 14% likewise sit or have sat on the boards of either Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts or New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Harvard is the school of choice: 20% of those on the list attended its business school, making it the most popular institution among the 200. Harvard Law School was second, with 11%, and 10% earned their undergraduate degree at Harvard.
"In this city, it is more like just one degree of separation," said Judith Rodin (No. 42), president of the Rockefeller Foundation, whose board includes former Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons (No. 24) and former Aetna Chairman Dr. John Rowe (No. 181).
Before joining Rockefeller, Ms. Rodin was president of the University of Pennsylvania, where her board members included MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc. Chairman and CEO Ronald Perelman (No. 23) and cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder (No. 125).
"With all the Penn alumni, I came to New York pretty plugged in," said Ms. Rodin, who has been sitting on the Citigroup board since 2004. A total of 15 people on the list are either current or former members of the bank's board, including former Chairman Sanford Weill (No. 26) and James Turley, former chairman and chief executive of Ernst & Young (No. 66).
Ms. Rodin unabashedly boasts about using every channel she can find as she tries to further the Rockefeller Foundation's mission, which includes alleviating poverty and creating a more sustainable environment. Those vast challenges go beyond what Rockefeller's $4 billion endowment can remedy, so she is always trying to find ways to involve others in the cause.
In 2007, when she sought to create a vehicle that provided solid returns while improving social conditions, she tapped her Wharton and Citi colleagues to gather some of the best minds in finance. Today, the concept of social investment has caught on. "For me, it's all about how can I leverage connections," said Ms. Rodin.
Those on the list stress that a lead can open a door, while real alliances come only after people have proved themselves by fulfilling their promises.
"You can take 1,000 people to lunch, and it won't mean a thing if you don't deliver," said Shelly Lazarus (No. 2), chairwoman emeritus at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.
Once developed, however, the relationships can be invaluable. Andrew Tisch (No. 54), co-chairman of the $15 billion in revenue Loews Corp., went into overdrive when his alma mater, Cornell University, was competing in 2011 to win the bid to open a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
As a vice chair of the Ivy League institution's board, he called many New York alumni to see if there was any way they could help with the application. Other prestigious graduates include his brother James (No. 19), who is Loews' president and CEO, and Emigrant Savings Bank CEO Howard Milstein (No. 48).
It also helped that he knew all the appropriate contacts in city government. When he saw Mr. Bloomberg (No. 64) at various social and charitable events, he'd stress his desire for Cornell to win.
"I was never obnoxious about it," said Mr. Tisch.
Keeping up with the city's elite is easy for Mr. Tisch because Loews owns the Regency Hotel, home of the city's "power breakfast" since the 1970s and where he dines several times a week. The tradition—and the family's legacy of civic involvement—started back when Mr. Tisch's father and uncle ran the firm.
Others on the list also inherited some of their connections through their families. William Rudin (No. 43), is chairman of the Association for a Better New York, which was founded by his late father, Lew. He also sits on the board of the Met Museum, as well as its Real Estate Council, a group co-created by his father.
"I don't know how not to be involved," said Mr. Rudin, vice chairman of Rudin Management Co., which owns 14 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate, and is redeveloping the Manhattan site of the former St. Vincent's Hospital. "It's just in my DNA."
Kevin Ryan (No. 154), founder of Gilt Groupe, one of the youngest and one of the few tech executives on the list, has received overtures from the city's prestigious boards to help develop digital and social-media strategies for their institutions. For now, he sits on the boards of his alma mater, Yale, and Human Rights Watch.
"I'm very interested in issues of international social justice," said the 50-year-old.
He also sits on the executive committee of the Partnership for New York City, which he says is important for him as the city's de facto tech evangelist. In fact, he serves on a committee with JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon (No. 4). He occasionally sees Lloyd Blankfein (No. 22), CEO of Goldman Sachs, which took public one of Mr. Ryan's former companies.
Still, he isn't convinced that such ties can directly help his business.
"Do I think I get better service at the banks because people know I have a direct line to the CEO and if I don't they'll hear about it? Yes," Mr. Ryan said. But, on the other hand, he added: "Those guys can't help me increase sales. They can't help me find a CTO."
Editor's note: Andrew Tisch and William C. Rudin are among the investors in Relationship Science. The firm's outside investors had no role in determining RelSci's and Crain's rankings of the Most-Connected New Yorkers.
A version of this article appears in the June 23, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business.