It didn’t take long for Jeff Rosenblatt to sense something awry in the house of Kent Swig.
It was 2009 and Mr. Swig, at the time a large landlord in the city, had purchased the real estate services company Helmsley-Spear a year earlier. In the months after his big acquisition of the legendary brokerage firm, Mr. Swig had offered Mr. Rosenblatt a senior position managing its leasing operations.
Mr. Rosenblatt had been a successful leasing broker at several major brokerage companies, including Newmark Knight Frank, Cushman & Wakefield and Grubb & Ellis. But Helmsley-Spear seemed to have a real chance to become a power of its own in the city.
Not only did the company have a decades-old brand and name recognition with some of the city’s biggest and most powerful landlords, but Mr. Swig’s ownership also appeared to give the firm a guaranteed pipeline of business handling deals in his substantial commercial portfolio.
Like many brokers before him who have gambled on a startup or sought to move to a less-established firm for the chance to build a brokerage from the ground up, taking a personal hand in styling its culture and cultivating its talent, Mr. Rosenblatt was intrigued. Mr. Swig was also very charming, wooing Mr. Rosenblatt over lunch at some of the city’s best power dining spots, like the Regency. Mr. Rosenblatt had also known Mr. Swig—though not well—for almost two decades, since the early 1980s when Mr. Swig was dating Elizabeth Macklowe, the daughter of landlord Harry Macklowe, who had worked at Newmark Knight Frank when Mr. Rosenblatt was there early in his career.
“When I first met him, he just seemed like this really nice California surfer guy,” Mr. Rosenblatt recalled.
And so, with the help of a lucrative signing bonus, Mr. Rosenblatt took the plunge. His decision to join—and Mr. Swig’s decision to hire him—seemed affirmed when, within months of hopping over to Helmsley-Spear, he brokered a large lease, one of the first significant deals the firm transacted and which demonstrated that both he and the firm could still do meaningful deals outside of mainstream brokerage.
Celebratory drinks and dinner were planned. But this time Mr. Swig didn’t pick the Regency. They ended up at the Midtown diner Burger Heaven.
“It just seemed so strange,” Mr. Rosenblatt recalled.