As Avison Young looks to bolster its presence in New York, hiring an executive with expertise in the region was key.
Joseph Harbert, the 71-year-old former Colliers International president, has recently joined the brokerage as principal and director of operations for the company’s Northeast region. Multiple industry players said that though the departure is unlikely to have a huge impact on Colliers, it marks a major step forward in Toronto-based Avison’s efforts to muscle its way up the city’s brokerage food chain.
“I think he had taken Colliers to where he could take it, which was building it bigger and better than it was when he joined,” said Brad Mendelson, Harbert’s former colleague at Colliers. “I think that Avison Young wants to do the same.”
Harbert has worked in real estate for more than 30 years, starting as deputy director of real estate at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He has spent time at Edward S. Gordon Company, CBRE and Insignia/ESG as well and moved to Cushman & Wakefield in 2004, where he was COO. He had been at Colliers since 2012.
“I wasn’t actually looking to leave Colliers,” Harbert said, “but this opportunity came up.”
Some real estate sources said Harbert’s departure was set in motion about seven months ago, when Colliers brought on Paul Massey’s former mayoral campaign manager David Amsterdam as president in charge of leasing, investments and the Eastern United States. Amsterdam took over several of Harbert’s responsibilities, which may have contributed to his decision to leave, sources said. Amsterdam did not respond to requests for comment.
Harbert himself disputed this, noting that he was the one who had originally recruited Amsterdam to come to Colliers. He did acknowledge that this resulted in a new position for him at the company as president of national client services.
“We actually created a new national role for me so that David could have some freedom to implement his plan in New York,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that played a role, although when I compare the new job I moved into [at Colliers] with the opportunity here, this looked more like what I liked to do.”
At Avison, Harbert will focus on growing the company’s presence in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester County and Fairfield County. He may also work on areas outside of the New York metro area, like Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
“The thought is that you focus on the basics, which is office, industrial, retail, capital markets…including debt and equity, and you try to grow those four areas,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you won’t find a niche.”
Avison has already expanded its New York office from 80 to 130 people in three years, and the company previously grabbed a big name in January, when James Nelson joined from Cushman.
Harbert’s move is meant to shore up this presence even more, according to CPEX managing partner Tim King.
“I think that Avison is putting a big push on ramping up their New York operation,” he said, “and Joe will be a big part of that.”
Harbert will work closely at Avison with Mitti Liebersohn, president and managing director of New York City operations for the company. Liebersohn said both he and the firm’s tristate president Arthur Mirante previously worked with Harbert at Cushman, and this history played a role in taking him on at their new company.
“It was just a natural fit,” he said, “because we both had such a good working relationship with Joe in the past.”
Harbert said he was excited for the opportunity to help grow Avison Young. “I’m just looking forward to taking all that I’ve learned in all these years,” he said, “and kind of applying it here and making this thing accelerate, take off.”