CEO's Notebook

If last year was a big party for businesses, Barbara Koz Paley's enterprise was the quiet girl in the corner. It seemed as though Paley's company was the only one standing still.

Paley's New York City company, Art Assets LLC, leases fine art to the owners of glass-and-marble skyscrapers. Last year Paley was also dabbling in mounting private exhibitions and producing a bombproof case for transporting art.

But revenues had been a stagnant half-million dollars for years. Paley's enthusiasm for new adventures had left her scattered. "I was devoting my energies to building different things simultaneously," she says.

Strapped for cash after buying out a partner, Paley called in an old friend, Les Gray, a former entrepreneur and managing director for the consulting firm Morgan Group LLC. Gray assessed Paley against some standardized personality tests that confirmed his perception of her. "Bobbi's a relationship person," Gray said. "She should be in a relationship-type business" -- like leasing, which capitalizes on her well-honed ability to schmooze her real estate contacts and get them to sign deals. The exhibitions, by contrast, require a project manager's maniacal attention to the mundane. (Gray's tests are available free at

Gray also took a comprehensive look at Paley's financials -- something Paley does not do regularly, she admits. "The leasing business was a home run," Gray says. "It's a three-year lease at 5¢ a square foot," Paley explains. "On a million-square-foot tower, that adds up to $150,000. The first year's profit is 20%, because most of my costs are up front," she says. "The second and third year, the profits are significantly higher." The new-product launch, by contrast, is less of a sure thing, as the fine-art world isn't looking for a new transportation case -- not even a bombproof one.

Paley took Gray's advice and poured her energy into expanding her leasing business, parlaying her deals with flagship New York City buildings into contracts in other cities. Her once flat revenues doubled in the first 10 months. Perhaps equally rewarding is Paley's new understanding that prioritizing based on what she loves most is also the most lucrative way to run her business. "I felt unfettered" after regrouping, Paley says. "There's this tremendous opportunity, and I'm determined to take advantage of it. There's nothing stopping me but myself."

CEO's Notebook

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