The Closing: William Shanahan

The CBRE investment sales powerbroker on his Bloomingdale’s days, his biggest NYC rival and selling $100B worth of real estate

Nov.November 01, 2019 12:00 PM

William Shanahan (Photo by Studio Scrivo)

William Shanahan is one of the most prolific commercial sales brokers in the country. As co-head of CBRE’s New York City capital markets group — a role he shares with business partner Darcy Stacom — he’s brokered deals for some of the most iconic properties in the Big Apple.

In total, he said he’s sold more than $100 billion worth of real estate over the course of his nearly 40-year career. That’s included Harry Macklowe’s $2.9 billion sale of the General Motors Building to Boston Properties in 2008 and MetLife’s record $5.4 billion sale of Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village in 2006. More recently, he and Stacom unloaded the Chrysler Building for Tishman Speyer and the Abu Dhabi Investment Council. The duo, who both started at Cushman & Wakefield in the early 1980s, run a team of 22 people at CBRE. They’ve also landed the Real Estate Board of New York’s Ingenious Deal of the Year Award four times, including first-place prize for negotiating a joint venture in 2014 between Forest City Ratner and China’s Greenland Holdings at Pacific Park (formerly known as Atlantic Yards) in Brooklyn.

DOB: March 3, 1957
Lives In: Westbury, Long Island
Hometown: Fresh Meadows
Family: Married with two children

Where did you grow up? In Fresh Meadows, Queens, in a big apartment complex. It was built after the war by New York Life Insurance.

What were you like as a kid? [I was very into] sports — rambunctious, rebellious. And I’m the oldest of four. I would not want me as a child.

What did your parents do? My dad was a writer. He did a lot of technical writing: Popular Mechanics, Scientific American. My mom was a homemaker up until the youngest went to grammar school. She went to work for St. John’s University, because at that time if you worked for the university, it was free tuition. So we all went to St. John’s. You paid for your books. That was it.

What did you study at St. John’s? I got a B.S. in both finance and economics. When I graduated in 1978, the economy was in pretty bad shape. I had been doing part-time work at a Bloomingdale’s in Fresh Meadows, so I went into their management-training program right out of school for two years.

How did you get your start in real estate? I had gone back to college to take an accelerated master’s program. At the time, a family friend, Brian Corcoran, was hired to start the appraisal division at Cushman & Wakefield. Their first assignment was the World Trade Center, so it was thousands of tenants. I got hired to do that appraisal. My interview question was, “What do you know about real estate?” I said, “Brian, I don’t know anything.” He said, “Perfect, you’re hired. You don’t have any mistakes.”

How’d you make the jump from appraisals into brokerage? We were looking at a lot of net-lease and sale-leaseback transactions for Goldman and some of the other banks. I’m watching people my age doing those transactions, and I said I’d rather be doing the transactions than writing about them. So I made the switch.

How did you and Darcy meet? We were both in the same orientation class. We had started separately in sales, and then the firm said, rather than competing with each other it probably makes more sense to work together.

Did you need any convincing?  Well, you have two young, headstrong people. So I’d say the first year was a little rocky until we figured it out.

What’s the dynamic like between you and Darcy now? We’re both very familiar with [everything the team is] working on, but one of us will always take the lead on an assignment. There’s no formula. It’s more like, “Yeah, you should handle that one.”

You’ve gone head to head with Cushman’s Doug Harmon and Adam Spies. What’s that competition like? Spirited would be a good word for it. Look, they’re talented folks. We fight with them on almost every listing, but competitors keep you sharp.

What do you think about their deal for 711 Fifth Avenue (the Coca-Cola Building)? If you’re going to represent a company like that, you have to think about every possible hole and plug it.

What are some of the bucket-list deals you’ve done? The Chrysler Building. That was a real challenge given the structure of the ground lease. But we really exceeded the client’s expectations. When you look at what the value of land was — with the price of the lease — it was well over a billion-dollar sale. Even though the [Abu Dhabi Investment Council] got $151 million, I think it was in their interest.

What was the ingenious component of the Atlantic Yards deal? It was actually getting the investor to sign on for all the guarantees that were necessary, and then we had a timing issue with the city. … Because we are dealing with Shanghai, conference calls started at 10 p.m. and generally ended at 2 in the morning. Then the lawyers would start drafting the documents.

What about the GM Building sale? That seems like it was really complicated. Yeah. Harry was under some pretty severe financial pressure. So we had a timing issue. We ended up realizing halfway through the transaction that we needed to raise more money so that the Macklowe family could pay the taxes associated with the sale, which resulted in the sale of four more buildings. It was hard for Harry. It was hard for us.

What about at Stuy Town? That was a blockbuster deal, but it’s become sort of like a cautionary tale. What do you think about it now? At the time, we did everything right with MetLife. We did everything right with Tishman Speyer. What changed wasn’t the property or the people in the property. What changed was the way the government regulates properties. So I think you’re right, it is a cautionary tale.

What do you think about the broader political climate now, here in the city and nationwide? It’s starting to get the attention of offshore investors. It comes up as one of the three questions — usually about Trump or de Blasio or the regulations somewhere.

Do you invest in properties? Rarely. I feel like I’m invested in real estate through daily business.

How did you meet your wife, Sharon? At Cushman & Wakefield. She was working in appraisal.

You have a son who works in the business. How often do you cross paths? Justin, who’s 27, works for CBRE Investors, for their core fund. I had given him a property tour — one of his best tours. But we don’t have a lot of daily interaction. We sit a floor apart. I’ll see him once a week.

What’s your home in Westbury like? At the time when my kids were young, it was great. We had a lot of people over. It’s a little large right now.

How do you get to work each day? I take the Long Island Rail Road in. I’m a big believer in public transportation.

Do you get a lot of work done on it? Yes. No phone calls, but my email box is pretty clean.

Is it no phone calls because there are rules against it, or you don’t want people to overhear? The latter.

What’s the one building that you want to sell? Well, what everybody wants, the Empire State Building. But Tony [Malkin] will never sell.


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