Partner and chairman of the real estate department at law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. He negotiated the record $5.4 billion purchase of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town in 2006, among other noteworthy deals. The law firm brought in $470.5 million in gross revenue in 2006.
What is your full name?
Jonathan Lawrence Mechanic.
What is your birth date?
October 1, 1952.
Where did you grow up?
In Paterson, N.J.
Where do you live?
In the East Village.
Do you have any other homes?
In East Hampton.
What is the first job you ever had?
Working in my mother’s auto parts store in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. She was a woman who was way ahead of her time. I started working there in the summers when I was 15 or 16 until 17 or 18. I did whatever needed to be done.
When did you realize you wanted to be an attorney?
Early on. My household was a very outspoken one. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone loved sharing them. You needed to be on top of your game to be sitting at the dining room table. I thought I’d use those advocacy skills to make a living. I think when I was in college, I thought that law school offered a lot of career opportunities.
Why did you want to be in real estate?
My father, in addition to being a dentist, was a real estate developer in New Jersey on a small scale. He used to buy and renovate buildings in the area where we lived. I have a clear recollection of when I was 12 or 13; he had bought a ShopRite, which had gone out of business, and he decided to turn it into an office building, which he leased to IBM. I remember walking the site with him as they were tearing out the guts of the building and reconfiguring it as a swanky new building. I liked that.
What’s your best childhood memory?
Probably playing tennis with my father as a kid — when he set aside time for us to do things together.
How many deals do you work on in a given year?
What’s it like to be behind the scenes rather than in the limelight?
Well, I guess I don’t see myself as being behind the scenes. The press has always been kind to me. I think my clients believe I contribute a lot to the transactions that close. I don’t think I’m in the foreground or in the background. I’m just part of the team that gets it done.
What word would you use to describe yourself?
What word would others use to describe you?
I think some would say charismatic.
How do you deal with high-pressure situations?
Humor is always a big help.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Someone taught me about the art of negotiation: They said the key to negotiation is to care, but not too much. You need to negotiate hard, but you need to always be able to walk away.
What’s the greatest mistake you have ever made?
Maybe not getting a business degree at the same time
I got my law degree.
What activity do you do most regularly in your free time?
I play tennis a couple of times a week at Tennisport in Long Island City.
Do you work out too?
Three times a week at Harry Hanson [Fitness One-on-One] on Lower Broadway.
What’s the last book you read?
To connect with my kids [two boys, ages 12 and 17], I read the final version of “Harry Potter” a couple of weeks ago. It was a way to see what they were talking about.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
The building of the real estate department at Fried Frank.
What was the biggest obstacle on your path to success?
I’m never satisfied that things are as good as they can be. There are some people that can sit back and rest on their accomplishments. I am always looking for ways to expand and grow the practice. It is a good thing in terms of being ambitious, but it is always like trying to hit a moving target — that every time you approach it, it moves a little farther away. I imagine there are people in the world that say, “I met my goal, I am done.” Not me.
How do you deal with confrontation in your personal life?
What quality do you think you could improve in yourself?
How many days do you eat dinner with your family?
Not as often as I’d like — maybe once or twice a week at best.
What if you lost it all tomorrow? How would you start over again?
The good news is I have a pretty significant skill set and relationships, so it’s not where I can’t transport that or do that all over again.
Have you ever had to hire a lawyer for yourself?
Do you care to share the circumstances?
Interview by Lauren Elkies