The Reformed Accountant



augustdirenzo The Reformed AccountantWhen August DiRenzo reported to legendary Cushman & Wakefield honcho Jim Peters on his first day of work as a broker in the mid-1960s, the upstart asked a simple question.

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“O.K., what do I do?”

“Look out the window,” said Mr. Peters, peering from his Cushman office tower, then located on Madison Avenue, 13 blocks south of its current headquarters. “What do you see?”

“Buildings,” answered Mr. DiRenzo, surveying the soaring edifices on 40th Street, many of them packed to the gills with glitzy advertising firms.

“Go into those buildings, find out who wants to move and then let me know,” said a matter-of-fact Mr. Peters, who would later rise to become president of the global real estate behemoth. “That’s what you do.”

Four decades later, Mr. DiRenzo—a vice chairman at Cushman whom friends, family and associates know as Augie—continues to employ many of the same canvassing skills he honed in those heady days before financial advisory services and market data departments became the industry norm.

With an estimated $10 billion in commercial property transactions, Mr. DiRenzo has helped execute some of the biggest deals in New York City history, not least among them the 99-year lease of the World Trade Center to Larry Silverstein and dozens of complicated mega-deals with longtime clients Cablevision, Verizon, Citibank, Met Life, Computer Associates and Con Edison.

“As it is now, it hasn’t changed,” said Mr. DiRenzo, from a corner office that sits across from an identical space occupied by his younger brother, Donald, another vice president at the firm. “The business is canvassing, developing relationships, having a good understanding of the business and integrity. Above all, integrity.”

In a career of plaudits that reads something like a lifetime achievement award, Mr. DiRenzo has earned the coveted “Deal of the Year” award from the Real Estate Board of New York for his unique handling of a complex deal in 1976, involving the State University of New York’s school of optometry at 315 Park Avenue South.

Additionally, Mr. DiRenzo has been named among Cushman’s Top 10 brokers worldwide in eight of the past 15 years. But Cushman spokesman Dwayne Doherty is quick to point out that the accolades could go back even further than that: “That’s when my data stopped,” insisted Mr. Doherty.

This year alone, Mr. DiRenzo has handled approximately 500,000 square feet in commercial transactions, including a July deal that will move Cablevision employees from Madison Square Garden to 11 Penn Plaza during an ambitious renovation at the home of the New York Knicks. The 140,000-square-foot deal at 11 Penn, which Mr. DiRenzo estimated was one of about 40 he has inked for the Garden-owning Dolan family, will include expanded studio capabilities for Cablevision, he said.

“At Madison Square Garden, they had quite a bit of employees housed within the arena itself, so they had to find a new home for these people,” Mr. DiRenzo said. “But they’re also expanding the studio space, too, so it’s a big deal.”

 

MR. DIRENZO WAS BORN in East New York, Brooklyn, where, before joining Cushman as an accountant, he earned money by washing cars, shining shoes and selling junk he found on the street, among other low-paying entrepreneurial endeavors he fell into as a working-class 13-year-old boy.

Asked if he’d deign to return to any of those professions one day, perhaps at the car wash, Mr. DiRenzo demurred. “I’d like to own a few,” he joked.

A graduate of finance at New York University, a young Mr. DiRenzo set out to become an accountant in the early 1960s, having been inspired by a Cushman & Wakefield advertisement in the Sunday New York Times. He was hired and paid the princely sum of $8 a week, but he was soon moved to appraisals, a welcome relief from the monotony of number-crunching.

“I’m pretty good at numbers, but it was just too slow,” said Mr. DiRenzo, the father of three grown children who lives with his wife, Marilyn, at homes on the Upper East Side and Long Island. “It was just too boring.”