Executive Profile: Mary Feldt, Park Towne Management, Inc.

Mary Feldt, 65, president and CEO of Park Towne Management, Inc., [parktowne.com] has seen a lot in her 39 years with the commercial management and leasing company. "I remember when we were paying 22% interest rates," she said. "It was a wrenching period." Feldt, who started at the firm as a receptionist, now oversees nine employees who manage and list Park Towne's commercial buildings. "Things just kind of morphed through the years," she said of her rise from receptionist to office manager, to vice president and then president.

Feldt credits her parents with sparking her interest in business. Her father, now 94, owned his own auto parts business, and her mother was a long-time secretary at Madison East High School. As a child, Feldt was an admitted tomboy who engaged in pick-up games whenever she could — playing baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. "To look at me now, you wouldn't know that in eighth grade I won every race I ran," she chuckled.

Times were different then, she said. Sporting opportunities for girls were scarce. "I used to wish I was a boy so I could play on the sports teams," she laughed. Although, while in high school at Monona Grove, she was able to join the synchronized swim team — long before nose plugs were allowed. ("It was awful!" she recalled.) As for any youthful ambitions at the time, Feldt said she just assumed she'd be a nurse. "It was … kind of expected," she said.

Feldt enrolled in the UW nursing program, but learned it wasn't a good fit. Uninspired, she left school two years later, got married, and moved to Florida.

She never did earn a college degree, but when she returned to Wisconsin in 1970, she was hired by Jerry Dohm and Jerry Ring at the only firm she's ever worked for. Along the way, she earned a broker's license and founded the Commercial Broker Group, a predecessor to Cirex and Property Drive.

Feldt put many commercial deals together, even in the face of some blatant sexism. "I remember, about 20, 25 years ago, when the president of an up and coming IT company that I'd had several meetings with, referred to me as 'that woman' [to another man]," she said. "He couldn't recognize the fact that I was a broker." Conceding that he would not close the deal with her, Feldt asked a male colleague to complete the transaction. She laughs about it now.

"You learn there are times when you want to be out front, and other times when you have to take a back seat in order to get a deal done."

Feldt gets a lot done these days. Her community involvement seems never-ending, including memberships on boards and advisory committees across the area, and for countless organizations such as the Dane County Council on Public Affairs, the MATC Foundation, the Family Business Center, and TEMPO.

She also holds a 22-year perfect attendance record at the Rotary Club of Madison West Towne-Middleton.

Recently, the state Legislature honored Feldt when they named her the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) Small Business Champion of the Year, a prestigious award presented annually to only one person from each state. She was stunned. "I always felt the things I did were just a part of my job," she said. "It was humbling."

For now, Feldt shows no interest in slowing down or retiring. "I'm on so many boards and involved in so many organizations," she said, "and I wouldn't be as effective if I wasn't working." Then she added, "My parents worked well into their seventies. Why not me?"

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