Top Rutenberg exec Michael Barbolla decamps to Level Group

Executive's move to competitor another big loss for Rutenberg
By E.B. Solomont | August 05, 2015 02:33PM

Michael Barbolla, the chief operating officer and backbone of Rutenberg Realty, has jumped to rival firm the Level Group to head up residential sales. His exit marks the third high-profile management departure in the last year at Rutenberg, a company he helped build.

Barbolla, who spent nine years at Rutenberg as the firm’s general sales manager and, more recently, as its chief operating officer, was tapped as Level Group’s COO, effective Wednesday.

Hiring Barbolla comes as the firm — which like Rutenberg offers its agents 100 percent commission — is experiencing rapid growth. “Things are really busy, which is part of the reason we’re bringing Mike in,” said Michael Greenberg, Level Group’s CEO and general counsel, who focuses more on commercial sales along with President Larry Link. “We’re getting to the point where we need time spent growing and managing that [residential] division, and we need someone to help pull it forward,” Greenberg added.

Barbolla told The Real Deal that when the opportunity came along at Level Group, he felt ready for a new challenge. He also hinted that its smaller size, and the opportunity to build a business, was a draw.

“It’s constantly spoken about as a family… In the beginning [at Rutenberg], that’s exactly what it was like for us and our agents. Of course, now they’re a larger firm,” he said, noting that he plans to actively recruit at Level. He said he’s looking to build its residential sales division into a top-ten powerhouse in New York.

Level has 160 agents and $57 million in sales listings, including multifamily properties, according to data from listings portal On-Line Residential on Aug. 4. The firm, started in 2004, also has $162.4 million worth of rental listings.

Last year, Rutebnerg’s former top guns Paul Purcell and Kathy Braddock, who at one time owned one-third of the company’s New York division, left the firm to launch William Raveis NYC.

At the time, Rutenberg executives downplayed their departures, saying Barbolla was the backbone of the firm and the main point of contact for agents. Barbolla’s track record makes him a valuable asset for Level, Braddock said in an interview Wednesday.

“It would make sense to take someone that’s lived in that [100 percent-commission] space versus a traditional company,” she said. “You definitely think and execute differently.”

Braddock said his move would leave a vacuum at Rutenberg, which he built alongside her and Purcell. “He really built it with us from day one, out of my living room before we had office space,” she said. “He’s a hard worker and creates a lot of loyalty.”

Rutenberg president Stefani Markowitz, commenting on Barbolla’s departure, told TRD: “We wish him well.”

Barbolla’s exit offers Markowitz – whose grandfather, Richie Friedman, founded the New York branch of Rutenberg in 2006 — to leave her own imprint on the brokerage. She took the helm in November.

According to TRD’s most recent ranking, Rutenberg is the sixth-largest residential firm by agent count with 544 agents as of March 29. The brokerage had $96.9 million in exclusive listings at that time, according to OLR.