A relative newcomer to the firm, Mr. Knickerson interviewed for the spot on Mr. Nelson’s team upon college graduation, swayed to do so by a family friend familiar with the firm. He had been eyeing a broker position in Brooklyn.
“I kind of fell into it, so I consider myself to be incredibly lucky,” he said. “It has been a blast working for him.”
Mr. Nickerson recalled a recent deal where three contracts out to potential buyers came back the same night. All three were pulling out. But Mr. Nelson sat at his desk the next morning, at 6:30 a.m., “cracking a smile on the phone,” canvassing to get the deal back in motion.
“That, to me, speaks volumes about the kind of person he is,” Mr. Nickerson said. “If you asked me what my biggest takeaway of James is, it’s his optimism … it’s always what can we do, how can we stay positive.”
In no small part, it earned Mr. Nelson Massey Knakal’s 2012 Gerald W. Bridges Award for company-wide Salesperson of the Year, for the sixth year in a row (“I’m not keeping score,” Mr. Nelson quipped), and the Ofer Yardeni Award for Manhattan Salesperson of the Year.
The celebration, at Caroline’s on Broadway, was filled with “lots of laughs,” and was another opportunity for Mr. Nelson to bring the firm’s veterans together with its next generation.
“It’s really amazing to see how much we’ve grown,” he said. “When I started in ‘98, there were 20 people, and now we’re an organization of 200.”
His other noteworthy sales have included 102-08 West 57th Street to Hilton Land Vacations for $63 million; 625 Broadway for $60.9 million; the Portman Portfolio for $55 million; the 99-year land lease of 10-12 Bond Street, valued at over $60 million; and 100 Vandam Street for $27.5 million.
In December 2010, he sold a Bleecker Street portfolio of six retail properties with tenants like Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Michael Kors and Mulberry for $34 million, garnering the third-highest price per square foot ever paid in the U.S. at that time.
“When we put it on the market, we received offers that were definitely strong, but it was not until they put in Burberry and Michael Kors that we stabilized the investment and were able to push it over the edge,” he said. “At that point it was record price, but that sounds like a bargain today, so I think the buyer there, American Realty Capital, was definitely forward-thinking on that.”
Mr. Nelson credits his success to a work ethic ingrained in him since his days as captain of Colgate University’s swim team, and more recently as a triathlete—and to his team, which he considers irreplaceable.
“You look at the sales that I did last year, and there’s just no way I could have done all that on my own,” he said. “I’ve got a great team here that has assisted with every aspect of transactions, from the underwriting to execution, so I’m really grateful to them.”