Origin Stories: How Newmark EVP Sean Moynihan Went From Bartender And Professional Soccer Coach To CRE
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Sean Moynihan entered the world of commercial real estate when he was teaching a number of commercial brokers' daughters.
Moynihan, who is an executive vice president at Newmark in Atlanta, spent his early career as a professional soccer player and coach, first at Monmouth University, and then later as the coach for a youth soccer club in Atlanta that involved the children of some of the biggest names in Atlanta commercial real estate.
But Moynihan admits success in the industry, even for a professional athlete, can be elusive.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Moynihan: In 2001, I came to Atlanta as a full-time soccer coach at Tophat Soccer Club in Buckhead. Every day around 4, I would see guys pull up in very nice cars so I could coach their ”Little Hatters” and then wait around to drive their older daughters home.
I asked another coach how are all these guys out here as much as us and what do they do for a living. He said commercial real estate.
Some of the CRE professionals I met while coaching their kids were [Newmark Vice Chairmen] Neal Golden and Patrick Duffy, [Carter Chairman] Bob Peterson, [Carter CEO] Scott Taylor, [Cushman & Wakefield Vice Chairman] Chris Spain, [Childress Klein Managing Partner] Gordon Buchmiller, [Greenstone Properties Partner] Chris Schoen, [Hardie Real Estate Group Managing Partner] Eben Hardie, [Atlanta Commercial Property Services principal] Chandler Spratlin and [former Cousins Properties Executive Vice President] Joel Murphy.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Moynihan: My first job in CRE was with Newmark as a tenant adviser. I was coaching Neal Golden’s daughter at Tophat and we would talk about how to succeed in CRE. He told me that athletes do well in CRE because they understand the discipline of training needed every day, and in CRE that meant making 50 cold calls a day to chief financial officers. I started out 100% commission-based, which was a big leap of faith for me.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Moynihan: Aside from my Georgia real estate license (which I didn’t have when I was first hired by Newmark), my education was more of an apprenticeship of listening to the senior brokers, reading annual reports and learning how to get a meeting with decision-makers.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Moynihan: [Microsoft] Excel skills. CRE is a lot of math, and the better you can work a spreadsheet, the better you can advise your clients.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Moynihan: Before moving to Atlanta, I played and coached soccer professionally while running the daily operations of my father’s trucking company in New Jersey. On the weekends, I was also a bartender at the Jersey Shore.
Every one of these jobs has offered me a strong foundation of skills that still play a role in my CRE career. I learned the importance of customer service and listening to a client’s needs as a bartender, being disciplined from competing athletically, basic business skills gleaned from working with a public tire company and the Teamsters Union.
All of these diverse experiences have helped me navigate every day as a CRE professional.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Moynihan: Early on, when you make hundreds of calls and people are telling you no all the time, I would wonder if I was ever going to make a penny in this business, the thought would cross my mind that I needed to find another job to pay my bills to support my family.
On more than a few occasions, I would be down to my last chip, and all of a sudden I would find a deal or be brought into a deal that kept me in the game.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Moynihan: One of the toughest parts for me was how brokerage felt like an individual sport (most of the successful brokers were tennis players or golfers) and as a team player, I thought we would be more effective if we worked together to help everyone succeed.
My toughest competitor was not at another firm, it was the person sitting next to me calling the same companies, saying the same thing I was taught to say. In my opinion, the most successful people in this industry have a team structure, like the team Lou Alvarado and Robert Griffin have in Newmark’s Boston office.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Moynihan: I have had several unofficial mentors in this business, Neal Golden taught me how to pitch. [Newmark Vice Chairman] Bert Sanders taught me the numbers of CRE. Patrick Duffy taught me how to hunt. [Newmark Executive Managing Director] Dale Karrh how to sell. [Avison Young principal] Art Waldrop and [Managing Director] Steve Dils how to lead, and [principal] Char Fortune how to package all of those skills into my approach today.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Moynihan: Always leave on good terms. Newmark gave a soccer coach with no experience a shot to be a tenant adviser, and then they brought me back to be a leader.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Moynihan: There is no overnight success in CRE. It takes three to five years of hard work before you have a shot of success, and even then you need to work harder and have a quality support structure (family, mentor, leader) to keep improving your chances of success.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Moynihan: I have had the benefit of working at Carter, back to Newmark, to Grubb & Ellis, then to Avison Young and finally back to Newmark. And I would not trade any of those stops because the lessons I learned have shaped who I am today. No one likes to learn from failure, but that is the best teacher, and even though there were many struggles along the way, I hope I can share those to help others on their CRE journey.