The Wunderkind at 30
Tom Acitelli Oct. 6, 2009, 10:27 a.m.
When Will Silverman finally realized that his chosen path as an investment banker was not all that was promised, he simply made a decision to change careers—and never looked back.
With no experience to speak of, Mr. Silverman fled a high-paying job at JP Morgan Securities in 2002 and set his sights on the real estate industry, particularly on a job as an investment sales broker at Insignia/ESG.
Thanks to an acquaintance with Insignia’s then-CEO, Stephen Siegel, Mr. Silverman was able to land a coveted meeting at the well-regarded firm with building broker Woody Heller, an experience that the younger man simply describes as “the weirdest interview I’ve ever had in my life.”
“He picked up the phone and he made a phone call and the call lasted about 10 or 15 minutes, which seemed interminable at the time,” recalled Mr. Silverman of the Insignia meeting. “When he hung up the phone, he said, ‘O.K., what building was I talking about? Where is it? Who’s the retail tenant at the building?’ He was trying to ascertain if I knew the basics.”
The two men hit it off well, but Mr. Heller decided that Mr. Silverman was simply too green to be hired. Mr. Silverman did not necessarily agree.
“For the next five months I called him, I emailed him, I sent him writing samples, I had people call on my behalf—everything,” Mr. Silverman recalled last week during an interview in his Park Avenue office. “I just hammered away at him.”
And hammer away he did. He read textbooks and the biographies of real estate titans like William Rudin, all the while hounding anyone he knew with a broker’s license. In short, reader, he was a nag and a pest—and it paid off.
Perhaps exhausted from the deluge of phone calls, Mr. Heller finally relented. Six months after his first interview, Mr. Silverman was given a tryout at Insignia/ESG, where he was tasked with selling a pair of nursing homes during the day and given homework assignments during the evenings.
“Woody said, ‘If at the end of the week we think it’s working, you’re hired,’” recalled Mr. Silverman. “‘And if not,’ he said, ‘I’ll cut you a personal check for your time and we’ll figure out an equitable solution for that.’”
MR. SILVERMAN IS NOTHING if not persistent, a personality trait he gladly acknowledges has guided his rapid ascent in the real estate business.
Indeed, since transitioning from investment banking to Insignia/ESG, and then moving to Studley with Mr. Heller in 2003, the wunderkind has amassed sales transactions of $2.1 billion and more than 7 million square feet. In 2005, Mr. Silverman was named the youngest managing director in Studley’s history—at the ripe old age of 26 years old. He attributes his success to neuroses.
“It has to do with the orientation I have in general,” said Mr. Silverman, now 30 years old. “I would be a neurotic toll booth operator. And you’ll find that people who are successful in this business, one thing that is shared is they’re frequently neurotic, because that’s the only way to keep track of everything you need to keep track of and the only way to sweat every detail you need to sweat.”
A lifelong New Yorker, Mr. Silverman was born in working-class Whitestone, Queens. The only son of jewelry salespeople, he graduated from Bronx Science and received a business degree from Tufts University.
Mr. Silverman married Susannah Mills Silverman in April; they met at the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas in 2007.
“What you have to understand about the ICSC conference, it’s as much about the cocktail circuit as it is about the conference,” said Mr. Silverman, who lives in Brooklyn Heights with Ms. Mills Silverman, a Jonathan Rose Company employee. “So I called over that Monday and said, ‘Look, I’m in town, I’ve got nine parties to go to tonight, would you like to come to them?’ And she did and that was that.”
Mr. Silverman rhapsodizes about real estate in the same way that a foodie talks about Tribeca hot spot Locanda Verde, frequently punctuating stories about recent deals with the sort of detail only a broker could appreciate.
A recent deal at 110 East 42nd Street, for example, piqued Mr. Silverman’s interest when it became clear that attracting potential buyers to the Class B building was no more difficult than capitalizing on the high-end image the building had already been fostering for some time as the home of Cipriani, the tony midtown venue.
“It attracts any major power player in New York at least a couple times a year,” said Mr. Silverman of the 207,000-square-foot office and condominium building, which was sold by SL Green to Gotham Realty Holdings earlier this summer for $111.5 million. Mr. Heller and Mr. Silverman worked on the deal.
“The marketing angle from our perspective was, you didn’t have to necessarily reposition people’s view of it as a prewar Class B building,” Mr. Silverman said, his voice swelling. “All you had to do was bring it up to the standard or present it in a way that’s merely consistent with the expectations you’d have if you were used to attending events at the venue.”
But just as soon as Mr. Silverman could finish detailing the midtown sale, the broker returned to the original point he was trying to make. “The greatest thing about the real estate business is that it’s the most pure meritocracy, in that generally people don’t care how someone is dressed, what their background is, how old they are or anything like that,” he said. “It’s an industry that relentlessly rewards persistence—and that’s nice.”