The Eager Pupil
Jotham Sederstrom Dec. 21, 2009, 11:25 a.m.
To hear it from the man himself, Greg Wang had the sort of existential crisis that paralyzed Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.
Just 10 short years ago, Mr. Wang, then majoring in American Studies at George Washington University, was floating from one offbeat job or internship to the next, working short stints at Comedy Central and Archie Comics while trying to jerry-rig a career path.
But instead of the advice Braddock received-“One word: plastics”-Mr. Wang was fortunate enough to count among family friends the real estate veteran Robert Freedman, then the vice chairman of GVA Williams.
“I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do,” said Mr. Wang of his college years. “And, you know, I ran into Bob in passing one day and he said, ‘What are you going to do for a job?’ I said I didn’t know and he said, ‘Why don’t you try out real estate?’
“It was kind of like, ‘O.K., I’ll give it a shot,'” added Mr. Wang, now 29. “But 10 years later, here I am. I never left.”
With Mr. Freedman acting as a mentor-or “rabbi,” as Mr. Wang prefers-the young upstart took an internship at GVA Williams, which was rebranded FirstService Williams after the Toronto-based FirstService Corp. acquired the company late last year.
When Mr. Wang was hired as a broker two years later, the acts of Sept. 11 had only months earlier sent shock waves across the country as well as through New York City’s real estate community. The experience served as a baptism by fire for Mr. Wang, who months after the tragedy was assigned to represent the sublandlord at 115 Broadway, the towering Lower Manhattan office building that overlooks ground zero. In short order, Mr. Wang and his colleagues successfully subleased 80,000 square feet to the Port Authority, among other tenants.
“The market now is kind of tough, but that was a really bad time to be in the business,” said Mr. Wang last week during an interview at FirstService William’s Madison Avenue offices. “So I took that time and opportunity to learn the business. I was almost kind of, like, juiced about that assignment.”
Since then, the Bronx-born, Scarsdale-raised Mr. Wang, now a managing director at the firm, has racked up more than 1.5 million feet of leasing transactions while representing a diverse array of tenants that include companies from the legal, financial, nonprofit and tech industries.
Among his most cherished assignments, Mr. Wang pointed to a handful of deals he inked on behalf of the late developer Stanley Stahl’s estate at 3 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a commercial condominium tower near the United Nations now occupied by the American University of Beirut, the governments of Sudan and Oman, and the mission of Greece, to name a few.
“I got such a kick dealing with all these different governments and nonprofits, and it was just really fun,” said Mr. Wang of his work at the 167,000-square-foot building, which became fully occupied last December. “I’ve never strayed away from one type of deal just because it’s a little more complicated. I take an academic perspective on some of those deals. You just learn.”
Mr. Wang racked up an estimated 900,000 square feet and inked 52 transactions in 2009. The activity included deals on behalf of tenants at 30 Rockefeller Center, 90 Park Avenue, One Bryant Park and 59 Maiden Lane, as well as transactions on behalf of the landlord of 400 East Fordham Road in the Bronx.
This year has been among the busiest to date for Mr. Wang. Besides the challenges of adjusting to the firm’s acquisition, the affable broker was also appointed as co-chairman of FirstService Williams’ newly launched law firm practice group. Oh, and he also got married to his longtime girlfriend, Liza Wang, back in May.
The law firm practice, in particular, has been an exhilarating experience for Mr. Wang who, over the course of his career, has inked numerous deals for lawyers across New York City. It helps, he said, that his father and brother are attorneys, as was his late grandfather. In fact, Mr. Wang has represented the law firm Foley & Lardner, where his father, Peter Wang, practices, in all of its leasing transactions at 90 Park Avenue.
“As I joke about with my wife, I’ve been losing hair at a very dramatic pace,” said Mr. Wang, dragging his hand across his scalp. “But, I mean, it’s never been easy. There’s always been ups and downs. It’s just been busier.”
Mr. Wang’s rising success has been especially notable because of his youth. Only 19 when he joined what was then GVA Williams, Mr. Wang said that he has had to prove himself to his older colleagues.
“Even internally here, I had people who kind of questioned my dedication to the job,” said Mr. Wang of his early years at the firm. “Now some of those people are my biggest supporters and fans. But it’s still a challenge that I have to overcome every single day.”
Still, Mr. Wang spared no praise when asked about his mentor, the man he knew growing up in Scarsdale as “Crazy” Bob Freedman.
“I can vividly remember Bob at my bar mitzvah. He was always around,” said Mr. Wang, who attributes his success to Mr. Freedman’s tutelage. “More than anyone else, Bob has been great to me over the years, and he and [FirstService Williams’ executive managing director] Alex Jinishian have always looked out for my best interest. If you have someone looking out for you like Bob, who you trust as your rabbi, it’s invaluable.”