Contact Us

Paul Massey, Francis Greenburger, Simon Ziff On 'Making It' In CRE

New York

Commercial real estate can be a harsh career, where many exist from deal to deal and must stomach fierce competition for business. Despite the grueling environment, it offers a chance to be part of a thrilling, exciting industry and to play a role in shaping New York City. The risks and stress, to those who have been successful, are worth it.


At Bisnow’s How To Make It In Commercial Real Estate event Dec. 12, curating and creating a successful career will be the focus of the day. We asked industry leaders to reflect on a moment or moments in their career when they felt like they had really “made it" — or something close to it — and why.

Francis Greenburger in 2013

Francis Greenburger, founder and CEO, Time Equities

When Larry [Silverstein] told me that he "liked the design of 50 West St. and thought it was a wonderful addition to the downtown skyline.” Why? Because Larry is an outstanding and courageous developer both as to design aesthetic and his willingness to take on unimaginable development challenges.

Simon Ziff

Simon Ziff, President, Ackman-Ziff Real Estate

In 1992, I drove six hours each way to pitch a piece of business with a small town developer in Central Pennsylvania, not too far from where I grew up. Shortly thereafter, he hired us to arrange the financing to complete two unfinished malls in Georgia and Vermont, and I was able to structure a $76M loan with three foreign banks and earned a 1% commission. It was a very difficult financing market, and that’s when my obsession started: to identify and meet the newest debt and equity sources from around the world. I would call that an early milestone. As far as “made it,” there is still a lot that needs to be accomplished for me and my team.

James Kinsey

James Kinsey, Principal, Avison Young

I think it is difficult to say one has “made it.” As with anything, I view my career as a work in process and that there isn’t really a finish line. I suppose that the way I would pinpoint success, so far, is by the support of my co-workers and executive team. Having people want advice, collaboration and teamwork around my efforts at work tells me I am on the right track. The real estate market goes up and down — and revenue with it — but the relationships we build are what’s lasting.

L&L MAG CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin and B6 Real Estate Advisors CEO Paul Massey at a Bisnow event in 2018.

Paul Massey, CEO and founder, B6 Real Estate Advisors

I knew I was going to make it as a broker in 1985 when Bob Knakal and I sold our second transaction, 969 Madison Ave., a commercial condo. I figured lightning wouldn’t strike twice in a short period of time, so I thought, "Maybe I can make a living as a broker." I felt I was going to make it as a brokerage manager when our entire company at Massey Knakal gave me an award for managing through the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. I thought, "If they liked me after that experience ..."

Better Spaces' Bukky Awosogba, SL Green's Steve Durels, Rockefeller Group's Bill Edwards, Brookfield's Duncan McCuaig, Newmark Knight Frank's David Falk and Equiem's Gabrielle McMillan

David Falk, New York Tri-State Region President, Newmark Knight Frank

Every December, Fried Frank throws a tremendous party at Cipriani, which is attended by the major players in the New York market, most of them landlords. About 15 years ago — after spending two hours talking nonstop at the party to clients and friends — I realized that I had, over the years, developed so many special client relationships that were all in the same room. It was a defining moment for me as I could clearly see that these special, meaningful relationships I had formed were the main reason that I was able to expand our business to a higher level.


Carl Schwartz, Co-Head of Global Real Estate, Hunton Andrews Kurth

In the early 1990s, I stood with my parents in the middle of Times Square at 43rd Street, and described to them the work I had done on the buildings on each of the four corners. I had worked on the signage on the southwest corner, represented the mortgage lender in connection with the defaulted loan secured by the property on the northeast corner. I represented the owner of the northwest corner in connection with the theater/restaurant lease and refinancing of the property and done something else on the southwest corner. I felt like my parents' money had been well spent.

Andrew Deverell-Smith

Andrew Deverell-Smith, CEO, Deverell Smith

I’m not sure I feel that I have made it. Perhaps that’s what keeps me focused on the endgame. The joy and fascination of what I do is studying what makes the world’s greats the world’s greats. I’m only 18 years into my career. In order to join that league, in my view, it almost always takes three to five decades. There’s a long way for me to go!

Brian Flax

Brian Flax, Managing Director, Meridian Capital Group

The moment that comes to mind was when I finally closed a loan for a specific, highly sophisticated client we had been pursuing. We were speaking to this owner for several years, with limited success despite numerous attempts. As with all experienced and sophisticated clients, they have direct banking relationships that are difficult to compete with. Then everything changed. The client sent us a deal that had several complex nuances. We went out to the market and identified a lender that checked all the boxes and exceeded the client’s expectations in every way. It was a great feeling, because we stuck with them and earned their business, and it has now blossomed into a great relationship.

Transwestern partner Lindsay Ornstein

Lindsay Ornstein, Partner, Transwestern

It’s difficult to nail down a moment in my career where I’ve felt that I’ve “made it” as there is always more to learn and accomplish. There are a few defining moments though, such as receiving the “Young Real Estate Professional of the Year” award from the Real Estate Board of New York and helping Transwestern earn the No. 1 ranking on the “Best Places to Work in New York City” list by Crain’s New York Business for the last three consecutive years. To those starting off, the key is cultivating business opportunities that complement what you are passionate about and building your business practice around growing those initiatives.

Convene's co-founders: CEO Ryan Simonetti and President Chris Kelly

Christopher Kelly, co-founder, Convene

While we’ve celebrated many small victories to date, nobody at Convene feels like we’ve “made it,” and I hope that we never do. The market is a quickly moving target, our clients’ expectations of us are always rising, we’re always tackling new things and our growing scale is always introducing new challenges and responsibilities that keep us hardworking and humble. Our greatest and proudest accomplishments have been to watch our culture come alive into a vibrant, living thing and to see the careers and capabilities of our team members develop.