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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Former Cushman & Wakefield Chairman Bob Knakal

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Bob Knakal is one of New York City's best-known deal-makers.

Most recently, he was the chairman of New York investment sales at Cushman & Wakefield. But last week, the firm “terminated” its relationship with Knakal just days before his contract there was due to expire.

Bob Knakal and his wife, Cynthia, at Tavern on the Green

He has yet to announce his next move, but some reports suggest the abrupt departure was because C&W executives found out he was planning to leave of his own accord. 

Knakal co-founded Massey Knakal Realty Advisors in 1988 with his partner, Paul Massey. C&W bought the firm in 2014 for a reported $100M, and Knakal joined as part of the acquisition. His first commercial real estate job was a summer position at Coldwell Banker in 1981. 

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Knakal: I tell them, “I sell buildings.”

Bisnow If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Knakal: That’s a tough one because I have never done anything but commercial real estate. Maybe I would be an NHL goal judge. I would have great seats for every game and would put the red light on every time my beloved Rangers got the puck close to the net.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Knakal: A paper route when I was 13. It was horrible.

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Knakal: My biggest deal was getting a summer job at Coldwell Banker between freshman and sophomore years in college. They hired me even though I initially thought the place was a bank. That was a big deal because it changed the course of my life.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Knakal: I have always been too slow to pick up new technologies. Until a couple of years ago, I still had a flip phone. Technology is changing the world and I am trying to do better in that area.

Bisnow: How do you define “making it”?

Knakal: I’ll let you know when I make it!

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Knakal: Probably when technology does not work properly. We have become so dependent on it that when we can’t get email for 30 minutes, it is tough to handle.

Bob Knakal and his family in Minnesota

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Knakal: Steve Siegel. He is the Babe Ruth of real estate. Steve has always served as an inspiration to me, has given me great advice over the years and has even become a client.

I consider him a great friend and he was on the Massey Knakal advisory board for many years. MK would never have been what it was without him, and neither would my career. I love you Steve!

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?

Knakal: The best professional advice I’ve ever gotten was to specialize my sales brokerage practice geographically when I was starting out to create a competitive advantage and differentiate myself from the thousands of other brokers out there. The worst advice I’ve ever gotten was to get that paper route job at 13 — thanks Dad!

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Knakal: Helicoptering to the country house in the summer.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Knakal: LaGrenouille on 52nd Street — my wife and I went there on our first date and we go on every birthday, anniversary and special occasion. The second floor is not well-known and is one of the most romantic dining rooms in the city.

Bob Knakal and his daughter Sophie at Madison Square Garden.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Knakal: You really expect an answer?

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Knakal: Taking out $60K in credit card advances to keep the lights on at Massey Knakal in the early 1990s.

Bisnow: Whose work do you most admire?

Knakal: I am a big fan of impressionist art and love most of Van Gogh’s work.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Knakal: Caffeine. I have been a decaf guy for over 30 years. When a restaurant slips me regular coffee, it kills me. I usually fall asleep right away due to the wine, but wake up at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., go to the gym, then to the office at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. I always make note of those restaurants.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Knakal: My wife, Cynthia, and my daughter, Sophie. I love them more than anything in the world and their health and happiness are my top priority.

Related Topics: Bob Knakal, Beyond The Bio