The Closing with Chris Schlank

The Savanna head talks about gas guzzlers, catching marlin and not Tweeting — despite owning Twitter’s headquarters

Aug.August 01, 2014 07:00 AM
Chris Schlank (Credit: Max Dworkin)

Chris Schlank (Credit: Max Dworkin)

Schlank is the founder and co-managing partner of Savanna, a real estate private equity firm that’s invested $2.3 billion in real estate assets since 2006. Schlank has personally overseen the acquisition and redevelopment of more than 65 real estate assets, comprising over 19 million square feet of space, the vast majority of which has been in New York City. In May, the company teamed up with KBS Capital Advisors to buy the 32-story office building at 110 William Street for $261 million. It also recently paid $56 million for a 21,000-square-foot retail condominium at 10 Madison Square West. On the sales side, Savanna listed 21 Penn Plaza for $250 million last month, three years after buying the 16-story office building for $137 million.

Name: Christopher Colgan Schlank

Born: 9/18/66

Hometown: Manhattan

Marital status: Married

Children: 3

Where in Manhattan did you grow up?

On the Upper West Side in a brownstone on a dead-end block — 71st Street between West End and Riverside. We played soccer and baseball on the street without worrying about getting hit by cars.

What were you like as a kid?

I went to a [private] school called Collegiate on 78th and West End. It’s the oldest school in the country. I was definitely not the smartest guy in the class. I was pretty shy and never got into too much trouble.

Where did you go to college?

The University of Pennsylvania. I was a French studies major and an Urban Studies minor. I spent my junior year abroad in France, in 1986. What could be better than being 19 and living in Paris and having no worries? They were having student protests then over a hike in tuition costs. I remember going to class and there was tear gas everywhere. I still speak French today where I can. I have a good accent.

Where do you live now?

In Greenwich, Connecticut. I have three kids who are very sporty, so living in New York City became difficult. My oldest son, Johnny, is 16; my daughter, Julia, is going to be 15 in September; and my son Luke is 11. Johnny’s sensitive and sweet like his daddy, Julia’s a tough chick, and Luke is a surfer/skateboarder wild man.

Do you have any other homes?

I have a house in Wainscott [in the Hamptons]. I have a boat, actually, a 26-foot regulator. I love to fish. Out there, it’s striped bass and bluefish, pretty much.

What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?

When I went deep-sea fishing with my father in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 1978, I caught a 150-pound marlin.

What do you drive?

A suburban gas-guzzler. All these guys I know in Connecticut have three different sports cars. I’m not a gadget guy.

How long have you been married?

Seventeen years. I met my wife, Joey, at a bar. We both went to Penn. She was a year older. She’s an art consultant.

Why real estate?

I’ve been in real estate my whole life. My mom’s a real estate broker. She had her own company, Joan Blackett Schlank Real Estate, for 20 years. At one point in the ’80s, she had 30 people working for her. She still works a little bit, though she’s almost 80. I grew up listening to her on the phone talking about co-op packages and how to get a dog into a building that didn’t allow dogs. She worked from our kitchen for many years.

What did your dad do?

He was in advertising. He produced “Black Beauty” and “The Galloping Gourmet.”

So how did you get started in the business?

After Penn, I worked for a nonprofit called West Side Federation for Senior Housing. In 1991, I went to the masters in real estate development program at Columbia. The first day of the program, I met the guy I started the business with, Jonathan Leitersdorf. He had a lot of money and didn’t really want to work that hard. I had no money and wanted to work. While still in school, we bought our first building, 228 East 10th Street. It was a 24-unit, five-story walk-up. We bought the debt from Amalgamated Bank for $215,000.

How did you meet your business partner Nick Bienstock?

Nick and I knew each other in high school. I think we might have dated some of the same women. I’m not sure. I founded Savanna in 1992 right out of Columbia, [where Nick and I reconnected]. Nick joined in 1998.

What are your bad habits?

I’ve got a bad temper and I tend to talk too much. My worst habit is saying things how I see them out loud. I’m trying to develop a filter.

Do you exercise?

I do a great thing called gyrotonics. It’s like three-dimensional Pilates. There’s a machine that’s called “the tower.” It’s like a medieval torture device. I do a one-on-one with a former ballerina at a studio on 71st Street.

You own the building that’s home to Twitter’s NYC headquarters. Are you big on social media?

No, I don’t even know how to Tweet.

Do you make as much money as you’d like?

Right now? No. But I don’t spend any time thinking about money.

Are you religious?

I don’t believe in God, but I believe in a spirit that guides us. I believe that the world is round and in being nice to people because it comes around to bite you.

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