The Closing with Jeffrey Gural
Jeffrey Gural is the chairman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the full-service commercial real estate firm, which was recently acquired by BGC Partners. He is the son of the late Aaron Gural, the company’s former chairman, and has headed the firm since 1978 with business partner Barry Gosin. During their tenure, the New York company expanded nationally and, in 2006, formed a strategic partnership with London-based real estate firm Knight Frank. Jeffrey Gural is also the owner of New Jersey’s Meadowlands Racetrack and the chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, which owns two upstate racetrack/casinos, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.
What is your full name?
Jeffrey Robert Gural.
What is your date of birth?
July 6, 1942.
Where do you live?
The El Dorado [at 300 Central Park West]. I exercise in the park every day when the weather’s nice. By exercise, that means walking fast, not running. [My] running days are over.
Where did you grow up?
On Long Island, in a town called Woodmere.
What’s different since BGC Partners acquired Newmark Knight Frank?
For me, it’s had very little impact because my focus has always been on the buildings Newmark Holdings owns [which includes about 8 million square feet of office space in Manhattan] and charities and politics. But everything’s different [working for a public company]. Before, if there was a decision to be made, I’d just make it — rightly or wrongly. Now, when you’re part of a public company, there’s a whole process involved. But I’m 70 years old, so it was really time to make a change, and I think it enabled the company to grow.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made since joining the family business?
Barry and I owned one building — 521 West 23rd Street — and we sold it for a $1 million profit. We were so happy because, in the late ’70s, West 23rd between 10th and 11th avenues was no great spot. [Recently,] my granddaughter wanted to take a walk on the High Line, and when I got to the end and went down the stairs, the stairs emptied out right in front of the building. Now that building’s got to be worth a fortune.
How did you meet your wife?
I went to Rensselaer [Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.], which is an all-male school, and she went to Russell Sage, which is an all-girls school, and they’re about three miles apart. It was fairly common for Rensselaer guys to date girls from Russell Sage. Back then, when you graduated from college, you either got married or you broke up. We’ve been married for 47 years, so it was a good decision.
How many kids do you have?
Three kids and six grandchildren. I like the grandchildren better than the kids.
You are a major financial backer of the Democratic Party, including President Barack Obama. Why?
Right now, wealthy Americans are doing fine and everybody else is struggling. I don’t think the system is fair.
How did you get involved in politics?
I was always pretty much a liberal. But I never was involved until my daughter’s friend was a fund-raiser for John Kerry when he ran for President. I got to meet him, and then I became good friends with Nancy Pelosi. Over time, I’ve met just about every major politician on the Democratic side.
What was that like?
He’s a charming guy. He actually called me over Christmas to thank me for helping out.
How did you know it was actually him?
They tell you in advance that he’s going to call. And then they say: “This is the White House operator, please hold for the President.” It’s a thrill.
What are your hobbies?
I’m involved in the standardbred horse-racing business. I own two standardbred breeding farms and I own three racetracks.
How did you get interested in that?
I grew up near Roseville raceway, and I started going to the track when I was in high school. That was actually a cool thing to do back then.
How would you describe yourself?
A nice guy, basically. My business philosophy is to be nice. … I never understood why people get a reputation for being difficult, and they look at that as the way to be successful. But I can tell you I’m successful by being nice and charitable. I think I’m more known for being a nice guy and a charitable guy than I am for being a brilliant real estate person. But that’s okay.
How did you get to be the chairman, then?
Nepotism. I had the intelligence to recognize it would be easier to go into a business that was family-owned than to try to be a hero. Not that I don’t totally respect people who didn’t have a leg up. … I think that I proved myself to the employees [at Newmark] by working hard. If you work hard, people will accept the fact that, “Yeah, okay, his father was one of the owners of the company, but he didn’t just go on vacation.”