Top Office Brokers Shine Amid Gloom

Eight leading brokers who overcame a weak market to close big deals

New York office leasing remains lukewarm as the uneven pace of the economic recovery continues to slow a market pickup.

In recent years, the sluggish economy has checked demand for office space. While job growth has been showing signs of strength lately, much of the lack of demand still stems from low hiring rates at the companies that aren t leasing larger offices. Law firms represent the most active of lessees, but demand for new space by financial services companies continues to lag.

Amidst the gloom, however, some of the industry s brightest stars have turned formidable challenges into remarkable accomplishments in the past 18 months.

Here, The Real Deal profiles eight of the top New York office leasing brokers of 2003. For some, last year was their best ever, though other top performers saw yet another year at the very top of their game.

Mitch Steir of Studley, a 20-year industry veteran, was involved in the largest new Downtown lease since Sept. 11, 2001, brokering a deal in which law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft took 460,000 square feet of space at One World Financial Center.

Another veteran, Merrill Roth of Grubb & Ellis, pulled off the largest leasing deal in Connecticut in a transaction exceeding 200,000 square feet on behalf of Dow Chemical in Danbury.

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Up and coming broker Dirk Hrobsky, 32, led Trammell Crow’s New York office in its largest deal of the year with a 600,000 square foot industrial lease, while Cushman & Wakefield’s John Cefaly notched his second consecutive year as his company’s top broker. He’s been among the top five for more than a decade.

So what does it take to be a top office leasing broker?

Our top brokers came to commercial real estate from diverse backgrounds, from computer sales to ad sales to investment banking, but all seem to share similar creativity in how they package their deals. Not surprisingly, too, they re all people persons, sharing a fascination with the idea of meeting and interacting with others.

For Cefaly, the draw of his job is “the personal interaction, the creativity in transactions and all the challenges to overcome.” In Hrobsky s world, the joy of the job is “access to interesting people and projects,” and for David Hoffman, Jr. of Colliers ABR, it s “breaking down” clients initial “stereotypes” about dealing with brokers.

Of course, there is always the downside. “You could work years on a deal and it could fall apart for any reason whatsoever,” notes CB Richard Ellis Brad Gerla, another top broker.

In selecting the brokers for this piece, we approached eight of the top small and large commercial leasing firms in New York and asked them to nominate their top office broker [or producer] for the year, regardless of their official positions in their respective firms. We were looking for a combination of reputation, big deals and total square footage leased in 2003.