The Closing: Bob Knakal

Bob Knakal (photo by Ben Baker)
Bob Knakal is the chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services, which he cofounded with Paul Massey in 1988. The firm now has over 100 employees and four offices. To date, Knakal has been personally involved in the sale of more than 1,000 properties with a market value of more than $6.2 billion. In 2004, he handled the $179 million sale of 345 apartments and 17 stores in seven buildings for Macklowe Properties.

Do you have a nickname?

People around the office generally call me B.K.

What is your birth date?

May 5, 1962.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Hackensack, N.J., and grew up in Maywood, N.J.

How would you describe your childhood?

It was very small-town-ish: Maywood only had a few thousand residents. We’d always be out with friends playing after school, and at six o’clock the fire department would blow the fire whistle. That was the signal for all the kids to go home because it was time for dinner.

How did you end up going to Wharton [for college]?

From the time I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a stockbroker or an investment banker. I played baseball at Hackensack High School and the [coach’s brother] was the baseball coach at Penn. So I was recruited to play baseball there. I thought the combination of playing ball at Penn and being able to enhance my business education would be a good combination.

Were you the star player?

Well, I was a pitcher, and I think I’m still number four on the all-time low ERA [earned run average] list. I think I had an ERA of under one my junior year.

Which of your deals are you most proud of?

I’ll always be grateful to Harry Macklowe for hiring me to sell his portfolio of buildings. It was the largest transaction of my career on a sale-price basis.

What’s Harry Macklowe like to work with?

I was amazed at the level to which he was familiar with his buildings. If we said, “When did you renovate apartment 3C on East End Avenue?” he would know when it was renovated, and even would know what type of fixtures were in the kitchen. And he not only is very sharp, but he has an incredibly good sense of humor.

How did you meet your [second] wife, Cynthia?

She worked at my dentist’s office. People at the office were very curious as to why I was making an appointment for a cleaning every two weeks. But it became obvious after a while.

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How old is your daughter?

Sophie turned one Dec. 1.

Why did you wait so long to have kids?

For a long time I didn’t think I wanted to have children, and work had always been the main focus of my life. I have always loved my job tremendously and viewed it as a vocation and a hobby all rolled into one. But now, I would like to spend all my time with my wife and daughter. So finding the balance between a professional life and a personal life is something that I work very hard at.

Do you ever get teased for living in Murray Hill?

Well, I’m very happy being in Murray Hill. The building that Steve Pozycki and Allen Goldman built at 37th and Park [45 Park Avenue] is absolutely beautiful. And the fact that it’s only four blocks from the office is a tremendous benefit. When Sophie first started walking, Cynthia called me and I was home in six minutes and got to see her walking for the first time.

The real estate press was always talking about your hair when it was longer. Why was everyone so obsessed with it?

I never understood the fascination with it. I just started to let it grow, and people curiously starting talking about it quite a bit. But then it was time to let it go.

Tell us about a mistake you’ve made in your career.

My first week in the business, one of the first people that I cold-called was Lou Brause from Brause Realty. Mr. Brause was nice enough to set up a meeting with me. I asked him where his office was, and he said, “52 Vanderbilt.” And I said, “Where’s that?” He said, “You’re in commercial real estate and you don’t know where 52 Vanderbilt is?” [laughs]. But he was nice enough to keep the meeting.

One of the commenters on our site remarked that you have “balls of steel.” Do you think that’s warranted?

I’d like to think so. After closing over 1,000 transactions, you hope that you’re doing something right. [This job] is kind of like when you were a kid and you played a game of Monopoly that lasted for days. This is like a big game of Monopoly.

As someone who talks to the press a lot, do you ever worry about becoming overexposed?

The audiences at many of my speeches or panels consist of different segments of the market with only very minor overlap. There are thousands of participants in New York’s commercial real estate market, so there are always new people to speak to.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

I’m actually very handy as a carpenter. In college I had a business with a friend of mine building loft beds.

Maybe you can do that when you retire.

I don’t think I’ll ever retire from this business. The way technology is today, I may be able to do it from a beach in the Cayman Islands, but I don’t think I’ll ever retire.