The ascendants: New leaders take the helm at city’s top brokerages
A string of departures by high-profile dealmakers ushers in a changing of the guard
New York City’s top brokerages are going through shake-ups at the top.
More than a dozen powerful figures — from management to dealmakers — have vacated their perches in the past few years, paving the way for rising stars. Some veterans have died, others have retired and a couple have faced down some hard times, while still others have opted to go elsewhere.
“There’s been a huge paradigm shift,” said James Famularo, who heads retail leasing at Meridian Capital Group. “We’ve lost many great leaders.”
To name a few: Colliers International’s top investment sales trio Richard Baxter, Yoron Cohen and Scott Latham bowed out of the business in May of last year. Sinvin’s Steven Rappaport retired over the summer. After engineering one of commercial real estate’s biggest consolidations, Cushman & Wakefield CEO Brett White will step down from that post on Jan. 1, while hospitality legend Steven Kamali is no longer handling real estate deals.
And in retail, a couple of titans have fallen: Jeff Winick is being forced to sell the majority stake in his eponymous brokerage after filing for personal bankruptcy, while Robert Futterman sold his retail brokerage to Newmark before his firing in 2019, reportedly after the broker exhibited erratic behavior and was arrested for alleged drug possession.
Meanwhile, Ben Lambert, co-founder and chair of Eastdil Secured, who pioneered an institutionalized approach to commercial brokerage, died in January. CBRE’s powerhouse retail broker Amira Yunis died after a years-long battle with cancer in September.
In their stead have stepped in younger leaders and rainmakers, who bring a different approach to the business.
“In every industry I would assume there’s just a natural evolution of leadership as people age and the next cycle begets new leaders,” said J.D. Parker, the 40-year-old COO of the Eastern Division at Marcus & Millichap, who ascended to that role upon former company COO Mitch LaBar’s retirement in 2019.
But with so many high-profile departures, questions remain over not only who ascends to the throne, but how to execute delicate successions in an industry built on outsized egos and relationships.
The commercial carousel
When LaBar retired — for the second time, after an earlier retirement in 2008 — his responsibilities were assumed by Parker and Richard Matricaria. Parker ovesees the East Coast, and Matricaria the west. There was little room for intrigue around the succession, as CEO Hessam Nadji made clear what was to come well before LaBar’s exit.
“Richard and I were sort of groomed to take over that role from him [LaBar],” Parker said.
When LaBar returned to Marcus & Millichap as COO in 2016, Parker said, he and LaBar really mentored each other.
“I was able to help him fill in a lot of the blanks on how the firm had evolved in his absence,” Parker said. “He mentored me on being in a leadership role at a public company and how to work with an executive committee and a board.”
At the end of January, Lambert, who founded Eastdil in 1967, died at 82. Like at Marcus & Millichap, the succession plan was cut and dried. Roy March and Michael Van Konynenburg had already been running day-to-day operations as CEO and president, respectively, since 2006.
At Sinvin, Rappaport — who specialized in restaurant deals in Soho — retired on his 74th birthday in July, but colleagues say he has maintained a presence from afar to help assure a smooth transition.
Rappaport said he packed it in due to the pandemic, despite describing the first six months of the year as “the best” in his career. Away from the office, the major draw to retirement, he said, was “the freedom to travel for lengthy periods.”
“I never thought I would do it,” Rappaport wrote from Spain. “I loved my job and the people I worked with. But Covid opened my eyes to another way of life.”
Sinvin’s Margie Sarway said Rappaport has remained an “invaluable” contact as she’s inherited some of his clients.
“The successful transition of clients from longtime trusted relationships requires vigilant caretaking,” Sarway said. “Institutional knowledge of business practices, negotiating preferences and idiosyncrasies of property, person and dealmaking can be a huge value to ownership.”
Two months after Rappaport’s exit, Jane McVerry joined Sinvin. For the 10 years prior, McVerry had been the CEO at her own firm, retail leasing specialist Atria Properties. Rappaport’s retirement had no bearing on her hiring, she said. But as it did for Rappaport, the pandemic altered her perspective.
“The pandemic changed a lot for me,” McVerry said. “I wanted to be part of a larger team, and I was ready to give up working on my own.”
When Faith Hope Consolo, the self-styled “queen of retail,” died suddenly before Christmas in 2018, her team in Elliman’s retail division — Arthur Maglio, Corey Shuster and Diana Zisholtz — continued using her name for about a year before rebranding as the Maglio + Shuster + Zisholtz Commercial Team.
“Rather than trying to be Faith,” said Zisholtz, “we’ve taken the core principles that she has taught and combined our own approach, style and systems to adjust for our personalities and the times.”
Another top retail broker, CBRE’s Yunis, handled deals such as the H&M flagship at the Durst Organization’s 4 Times Square and New York’s first-ever Trader Joe’s at NYU’s Palladium Hall in Union Square. With her passing, Yunis “had a team who continue to serve our clients,” a CBRE spokesperson said.
Kamali, a restaurant consultant and landlord rep, worked with Brookfield, Silverstein Properties, Lightstone Group and Related Companies, among many others. He confirmed that he has ceased handling real estate deals, but declined to comment further.
One source said that Karma McDermott, who had been a partner at Kamali’s Hospitality House advisory firm for 17 years, became Kamali’s de facto successor. She broke off on her own in June 2020, founding KMc Hospitality. McDermott did not respond to requests for comment.
At one of the largest commercial property management companies worldwide, Cushman President John Forrester will replace White as the firm’s CEO on Jan. 1. A spokesperson for Cushman said Forrester and White would not be commenting until they are in their new roles (White will remain as executive chair, a title he has held since 2015.)
Another major retail broker, Jeff Winick, has found himself in a bind of his own making but does not appear ready to hand over the reins just yet.
The founder and CEO of Winick Realty Group, Winick has personally overseen millions of square feet of leasing transactions on behalf of tenants and landlords, including SL Green, Moinian Group and Related.
Winick filed for personal bankruptcy in September 2020, owing nearly $10 million in taxes. His 63 percent interest in the brokerage will be sold at auction this month, with a minimum bid of $330,000.
Winick, who did not respond to a request for comment, has not been making headlines on the deal front, but one source said he’s still an active broker. He is listed as an exclusive agent on many of his firm’s listings, including 404 Fifth Avenue, 428 Broadway and 795 Columbus Avenue.
Two of the city’s most established residential brokerages have also gone through executive overhauls in recent months.
When Halstead Property — which CEO Diane Ramirez co-founded in 1984 — merged with Brown Harris Stevens in June 2020, Ramirez became the brokerage’s executive chair and senior adviser. Bess Freedman, who became BHS’ first-ever CEO in 2018, kept the title at the combined Halstead and BHS.
Ramirez said she was content with her post-merger role.
“When the discussion of a merger came, I felt this was the right role for [Freedman],” Ramirez said. “I was more than happy not to take on that role. It wasn’t my brand. The right brand for the merger was Brown Harris Stevens. And she was the CEO of Brown Harris Stevens.”
Ramirez exited in July, a little over a year after the merger, to become chief strategy officer at the New York office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
“My role is to expand their efforts,” Ramirez said. “This happens to be my particular strength, and this new role — it was tailor-made for me.”
Freedman hired Doug Williford — the former manager of Elliman’s Tribeca office and a top-producing agent at Warburg before that — in October as the firm’s first-ever chief strategy officer.
“He’s doing a bunch of stuff that Diane did,” Freedman said. “Diane brought her special stuff. And Doug brings his special stuff. I would never replace what Diane stood for, but Doug brings something totally different, and I’m excited to learn.”
At Elliman, longtime CEO Dottie Herman stepped down in August, to be succeeded by president and COO Scott Durkin.
“As a company, we were growing in leaps and bounds and we had grown a lot, but now we were going all over the country, and it was time,” Herman said.
Speculation over Durkin’s purported grooming as Herman’s successor abounded since 2017, when he was elevated to president.
“I built one of the biggest companies from scratch,” Herman said, adding that she would love to do so again in the near future, already missing the action of real estate brokerage.