So that’s how you do that mostly, just by breaking your back over it. But I also loved every minute of it and I think that was a magic ingredient. If I had been in the wrong field that didn’t suit my personality, long hours would have been terrible. But I was in something that didn’t feel like work, it felt like play. For me all it was, was socialising with people. I loved being around people, meeting new people, laughing, being out in the street – not having to be locked behind a desk all day. Not having a boss was a big one that I took for granted, I didn’t realise how important that was until I had it. So all those things somehow come together.
Plus I had the very good fortune of being in New York City where it’s easier to succeed than anywhere else. I’ve often sat back and thought, “I would’ve never had this success if I had been in Cincinnati or Detroit or San Francisco.” New York is a real estate town. It’s all about money. It’s all about business. I had that backdrop that accommodated me and I had it every day. Every day, every working minute I was doing my thing on a stage that valued those things.
Also, the other reason I always felt I did so well was because New York was a town that placed no value on your background or your pedigree. People would say: “Where did you go to school?” They’d never heard of my school because there were only 13 kids in the class, it was a new school. But no one placed a value on that. Maybe if you get a banking job, but certainly not a real estate broker’s job. So nobody really cared where I was from. Nobody cared if my parents had money or not. All they cared about is: could I help them now and could I really succeed in making the deal, was I the best person to work with. They loved me to death and referred me to the next client and the next client. So my business really did grow for a new business. It grew very quickly and steadily because I felt like I made a friend of everyone I worked with.
I got off course here. What I was trying to say is the city I worked in very much accommodated me. Then also, I had the good fortune of starting the business at the right time in the early 1970’s, before New York prices had gone through the roof and outward to Mars…
I came in at the worst, darkest hour for real estate. I also came in right at the cusp when it was about to change. So that was nothing more than good luck. If I had been there five years earlier, I probably couldn’t have made the sales. If I had come into the market five years later, I would have had to compete with that many more firms. The biggest firm I had to compete with when I got started had 32 people. I thought they were a monster – a powerhouse. When I sold my business, I had 1,400 people and I was the largest by far. But by then, the big companies in town had more than 300. So they had multiplied times 10 at least or by 100 in size. So that was very lucky too, if you think about it. All those stars aligned for me, all I had to do was work it.
It must have been an incredibly sharp learning curve in the early days. How did you know about things like picking the right people?
Well, I trusted my instincts and I basically picked people I liked, who had energy. I know that’s probably not the right way to hire, but for me it always worked out. If they had high energy, I could see they were going to work hard. If I liked them, I figured I was liking them for some reason, I often didn’t question why. I figured if I liked them, the client was going to like them. I didn’t care what they knew, but actually in those days no one had real estate experience. People who had larger firms than mine certainly weren’t going to come over to my shop, because I wasn’t respected and I wasn’t large, I didn’t have a brand. But so far as who I interviewed on a day-to-day basis, who I was able to hustle into the firm, none of them knew anything about real estate other than the fact they lived somewhere – they lived in an apartment or a house. But it wasn’t important. What was important I found was the people, if they had energy. What came automatically with energy was a positive outlook because people with a negative outlook never have energy from what I can see.
So if they had abundance of energy, they were usually abundantly optimistic. If they were likable, that comes with a whole cluster of things that sometimes you don’t know how to articulate. Like if you like someone you usually also trust them, you usually also think they know what they’re doing whether they do or don’t. I could have a new broker go out on a Monday with a new client never having shown anything. But if they’re personable and do it enthusiastically, usually the client wasn’t on to them that they’d never shown an apartment before, unless they walked in the wrong direction. In Manhattan, even that was good. We were a perfect grid. As long as you knew that 21st Street came before 22nd Street, you could usually get there.
You were leading a team of over 1,400 brokers at one point. How did you learn to be a good leader? Was that something that you did intuitively or did you have to learn how to do that?
Well you learn pieces of it along the way, no doubt through the mistakes you make. Certainly, I made a few whoppers along the way on people, but not many. Those weren’t my real whoppers. My real whoppers were spending money I didn’t have that I shouldn’t have spent. That’s where I usually went awry many times…