BHS’ chief of tech, communications out amid internal shakeup

Jim Cahill, Amy Gotlzer and Robert Marane are out

Jul.July 11, 2019 03:30 PM
From left: Hall Willkie, Bess Freedman, James Cahill and Amy Gotzler (Credit: BHS)

From left: Hall Willkie, Bess Freedman, James Cahill and Amy Gotzler (Credit: BHS)

Brown Harris Stevens’ chief technology officer and head of communications are out amid an internal shakeup at the luxury brokerage.

Sources said Jim Cahill — who worked for BHS’ parent company, Terra Holdings — will remain in a consulting role through the end of the year. Amy Gotzler, the firm’s former senior vice president of corporate communications and brand strategy, was let go on Monday. Robert Marane, the firm’s vice president and director of operations, was also let go as part of the recent management shuffle.

“The competitive environment, advancing technology and new industry norms have changed job descriptions dramatically,” Hall Willkie, BHS’ president, confirmed in a text message.

The overhaul also comes at a time when the high-end brand, which was founded in 1873, is trying hard to shake off its reputation as a stodgy, blue-blooded firm that hasn’t kept up with a rapidly-changing industry.

In November, Terra appointed Bess Freedman to be BHS’ first CEO, a move meant to streamline decision-making in a competitive environment. Prior to becoming CEO, Freedman was co-president with Willkie, who continues to run BHS’ brokerage operations in New York.

Freedman, who began her career as an attorney, hasn’t been shy about her desire to remake BHS’ image, which she’s doing in part by investing heavily in marketing and technology. “Everyone is pointing a finger at me on this and it’s fine,” she said in a phone interview. “As a company, we always want to have the absolute best team. It’s no criticism of anyone we’ve moved on from,” she said. “We just have to keep improving. It’s the only way we’ll succeed in this environment.”

With 1,000 agents in New York and Florida, BHS is one of the top firms in Manhattan, where it has roughly 620 agents. Last year, the firm closed $1.81 billion worth of sell-side deals, according to The Real Deal’s annual brokerage ranking.

A new BHS

Over the past year, BHS has embarked on an ambitious rebranding campaign that excised the company’s founding year from the logo and added a tagline, “Bold, honest, smart.”

In February, the brokerage tapped Pablo Marvel, son of Marvel Architects’ Jonathan Marvel, as its chief marketing officer. The move was a concerted effort to differentiate BHS from sister company Halstead, but the luxury firm also pulled back somewhat from its new tagline, which some agents felt went too far.

Under Marvel, sources said BHS has changed up reporting lines, with additional staff reporting to the chief marketer. More recently, the firm’s leaders have re-imagined certain job descriptions in order to be leaner and pack a harder punch.

Pablo Marvel (Credit: BHS)

Pablo Marvel (Credit: BHS)

Gotzler declined to comment on her departure, and neither Cahill or Marane could immediately be reached. But ahead of the shakeup, multiple sources said BHS staffers have been aware that change is underfoot.

Although a replacement for Cahill has not yet been named, BHS announced this week that Jessica Scaperotti would take over communications for Gotzler, who first joined BHS in 2008. Previously, Scaperotti worked at Related Cos., leading public relations for Hudson Yards. Before that, she spent several years working for the city and state.

Jessica Scaperotti (Credit: BHS)

Jessica Scaperotti (Credit: BHS)

BHS also tapped Abigail Garcia as vice president of broker services to replace Marane. Garcia previously worked at Halstead, where she handled broker licensing.

Hard changes

Although some BHS veterans complained that the culture of the firm is changing, one longtime agent acknowledged that change is hard — but also necessary. “The pushback at BHS, for the last five years, had been that we weren’t changing with the times,” the agent said. “People were leaving us behind.”

William Lie Zeckendorf (Credit: BHS)

William Lie Zeckendorf (Credit: BHS)

The agent said Compass, which has recruited agents aggressively, had every firm in New York on its toes. In May, amid rumors that BHS was for sale, Freedman and Willkie took the unusual step of emailing BHS’ agents to dispel the buzz. “We believe [the rumor of a sale] has been effectively driven and purposely spread by a competitor to further support their unethical recruitment tactics,” they wrote in an email.

Watchful owners

Although Freedman and Willkie said the owners have absolutely no plans to sell, Terra’s principals — Arthur and William Lie Zeckendorf, Kent Swig, David Burris and Allied Partners’ Eric Hadar — have been watching the business more closely since the last downturn, multiple sources said. That oversight has escalated over the past two years amid heightened competition and a softening in the luxury market, which is the mainstay of BHS’ business.

More recently, however, Freedman said morale is high among the owners and agents — particularly after BHS was involved in two record-breaking deals that closed in June. BHS’ John Burger represented Jeff Bezos in the Amazon CEO’s $80 million penthouse buy at 212 Fifth Avenue. And Sami Hassoumi represented hedge funder John Griffin, who paid $77 million for Philip and Lisa Falcone’s townhouse at 14-16 East 67th Street.

“Changes are good,” Freedman said. “It scares people sometimes, but the owners see us moving in a good direction.”

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