The Organization Man
Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 11, 2010, 5:45 p.m.
In terms of cleanliness, only an Ikea showroom could rival Ben Friedland’s immaculately organized little office on the 18th floor of the MetLife building.
With files stacked alphabetically, awards situated evenly and dual computer screens secured tightly, the space is nothing if not the physical extension of a person for whom seven habits actually seem kind of ineffective. “Time is money, and if you’re organized …” said Mr. Friedland when asked about his oh-so-orderly office early last week during an interview. “Well, let’s just say I’m very organized.”
Far from a compulsion, the proclivity for precision has paid off handsomely for Mr. Friedland, who, at 34, is not only one of CB Richard Ellis’ youngest vice presidents but also one of its most competitive high-end brokers.
Indeed, since joining Insignia/ESG in 1999 and then continuing at the same office when CB Richard Ellis bought the firm four years later, Mr. Friedland has tallied an estimated $1.2 million square feet in transactions, with aggregate rent commitments in excess of $1.1 billion, according to the broker.
Throughout his decade at the firm, Mr. Friedland has remained a member of the agency team that has represented the General Motors building under three different owners, beginning with developer Donald Trump in 2000. Among his deals in 2009, Mr. Friedland brokered what may have been the city’s priciest transaction when, in November, Brazilian bank Banco Itau agreed to pay more than $130 a square foot for half of the top floor of the GM Building.
In December, meanwhile, Mr. Friedland inked a 10-year lease renewal for law firm Ehrenkranz & Ehrenkranz that will allow the high-end estate planners to significantly expand in the Seagram Building, yet another trophy edifice where the ambitious broker tends to place his clients.
“For the last year, it wasn’t a large transaction year in the high-end financial services world, but it was a busy one because people are looking to their advisers for advice and people want constant updates,” said Mr. Friedland. “They wanted to do what their contemporaries were doing.”
An avid basketball player who took home MVP honors in 2006 after CB Richard Ellis’ team of brokers swept an industrywide tournament, the 6-foot-2 Mr. Friedland has also excelled on the tech side of the business. Internally, he teaches computer and information technology classes at CBRE and has won tech awards from the company on an annual basis.
“The technology part is a big part of who I am here,” said Mr. Friedland, who recently snagged a seven-digit deal with a law firm after connecting with the company’s principal on the social networking site LinkedIn.
“I teach classes internally on technology, whether it’s just how to be the most efficient, or telling people just what’s out there,” he added.
Some information, of course, is best retrieved from real flesh-and-blood sources, and Mr. Friedland said he owes much of his success to the knowledge he’s cultivated from his friends in the financial services industry, many of whom have become clients.
Take, for example, a deal he made on behalf of a sublandlord at a top-tier building in the Plaza district.
When the broker representing the potential tenant suggested that his clients were considering two other spaces, Mr. Friedland went into action, culling information from his sources and learning soon enough that one of those spaces was likely not going to be available. The other space just wasn’t as nice as the office he was showing.
“The one space I knew wasn’t coming available,” recalled Mr. Friedland, amid a cacophony of computer noises whirring from his desk. “It had been rumored that it was going to be available because of a merger, but I’d learned that the merger wasn’t going to happen, and that they weren’t going to be moving anytime soon.”
(Mitch Rudin, the president and CEO of CB Richard Ellis’ tristate region, walked into Mr. Friedland’s office to say hello. When asked if he had anything positive to say on behalf of his talented senior vice president, Mr. Rudin offered a pregnant pause.
“He has a nice fadeaway,” he replied.)
MR. FRIEDLAND WAS born and raised in Westchester, the oldest of three boys, all of whom eventually shared father Robert Friedland’s real estate industry ambitions.
For the younger Mr. Friedland, however, the career path didn’t present itself immediately. A self-described “O.K. student” at the University of Albany, he “played a lot of video games” before graduating with a communications degree. In fact, until his father encouraged him to give real estate a shot, Mr. Friedland bounced around from a job in advertising to another at a dot-com during the Internet bubble.
“I really didn’t like the lifestyle there,” said Mr. Friedland of his brief stint at I-traffic, a Web site that was eventually bought by agency.com. “People were getting in at 10 and leaving at 10. I mean, I already have enough friends. I don’t need to meet more friends through work and create my social circle through my job. That’s another reason why I love real estate. I love the flexibility of the business. I love it.”
Although he had initially planned to join his father’s industrial brokerage company after learning the trade at CB Richard Ellis, Mr. Friedland told The Commercial Observer that his taste for high-end clients has changed his mind.
“What gets my juices flowing is interacting with this caliber of people,” said Mr. Friedland, referring to the city’s financial services leaders. “I don’t want to downplay the others, but for me, the type of people I interact with on a day-to-day basis is what gets me up in the morning.”
Mr. Friedland continued to chat about the benefits of working with such prestigious clients for a bit longer while acknowledging the good fortune of being paid to socialize with others. So it was perhaps unsurprising that, after a moment, the orderly Mr. Friedland asked for a small favor.
“Would it be possible,” the married father of two young children asked cautiously, “if you can just convey that I feel very fortunate to have the job that I do? Because I do.”
Mr. Friedland, it seemed, was making sure that all his ducks were in a row.