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February 5, 2008
 
       
 
 

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST OF BROKERAGE

 

A shoutout to our friends at Arent Fox, a top DC-based law firm expanding rapidly in NYC.  Led by Michael Blass, it now has over 70 lawyers at 1675 Broadway, focusing on real estate, construction, health care, corporate, litigation, bankruptcy and financial restructuring, and intellectual property.

 

You may know Bob Freedman as CEO of GVA Williams since '04, but we here at Bisnow like to tell you stuff you don't know. The man with the French cuffs below got his start 34 years ago at BBD&O figuring out how to sell Burger King hamburgers.  (He also learned to sell No Nonsense Pantyhose—another story.) So in 1974, he spent three days in Coral Cables at Whopper College.  What did he learn?  That he never wanted to eat out again.  And that the father of his then-date (now wife) was right to tell him to try real estate.

 

We stopped in to see Bob the other day at GVA's 380 Madison Avenue headquarters, where he demonstrated he still has man-of-the-people food skills. A native of Rockville Center, Bob listened when his father-in-law-to-be, who was at Williams, told him:  "You're a big personality, you're aggressive, and you have an issue with authority.  There's a great business for that."  Now Bob considers himself an extinct species:  34 years at the same firm.  He's been a tenant rep, a landlord rep, morphed over the years into consulting and investment sales. And he says what he learned long ago is still true:  "Running this place is about managing independent spirited people who are in this industry because they are essentially ungovernable. If you can rule by fiat, you don't have quality people around you."   

 

On the GVA Williams board for 20 years, Bob has represented the likes of Cigna, Colgate-Palmolive, Pfizer, Primedia, Thomson and The Salvation Army. The firm was founded in 1926, now has six offices (including one in Boston acquired last year through merger) and 225 employees, and just reported a seventh consecutive year of revenue growth. Bob sees NYC in '08 continuing to benefit from a supply constrained market; he says even if the city lost 30k financial jobs and 4M SF, that'd be only 1% out of 400M SF. Yes, capital markets will revert to more traditional loan-to-value ratios and risk will be repriced, but the credit crunch is a transitory phenomenon.  Having recently concluded assembling development sites on West 57th, the partners of GVA Williams have taken an ownership position in a 99-year leasehold at 224 West 57th, a historic building with neo-gothic fa?ade; the firm will also do the leasing and management. "This is a classic example of the vision thing," he says. "As a broker, we have been instrumental in developing that corridor and now we are committing our capital."  What's his special skill?  "I love forensics," he says, like identifying potential buyers and decision makers.  "It's why I like reading British detective novels and being in this business."

 

Here's the other thing you need to know about Bob:  He's been big into art ever since his mother took him to the Met, MoMa and the Guggenheim when it first opened.  His wife, Ann, is president of Knoedler Gallery, next to the Frick. She was a receptionist at Andre Emmerich when Bob walked into the gallery and bought a Hans Hoffman oil. Now together they travel the world collecting first generation abstract expressionists from Pollock to Motherwell; he says he feels sometimes like an "activist first lady" on behalf of his wife. Recently they went to Ann's alma mater, Wash. U. in St. Louis, where they gifted a Frank Stella. But it's not entirely a diversion from work:  He sees art as a metaphor and even a catalyst for urban renewal.  A lot of developers he notes—Macklowe, Speyer, Solow—are collectors.   But he also loves it for a more personal reason.  "I'm a poster child for ADHD, and I like art because anything that orders my life is good."  

 
 
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