The Comedian at Work
Jotham Sederstrom March 1, 2010, 5:02 p.m.
The lesson imparted to a young Eric Gural sounded suspiciously counterintuitive, not least of all because of the esteemed source of the directive.
“‘Your job is not to make a fortune,'” Mr. Gural recalls his grandfather, the late legendary real estate mogul Aaron Gural, telling him in 1991, shortly after he began working at what was then the firm Newmark & Company. “‘It’s your job not to lose a building.'”
The advice-basically, “don’t take risks on investments I made”-left an impression on Mr. Gural, who during a 20-year career in real estate has come to adapt many of the old-school methods of his relatives, the brothers Leon and Maurice Spear included.
Indeed, in an industry that often rewards risky investments and lightening-quick property flips, Mr. Gural and cousin Brian Steinwurtzel have opted for a modest business model anchored by the belief that holding on to property is the wise bet. The philosophy has allowed the duo to manage a growing portfolio of 42 buildings and more than 9 million feet with few of the disruptions that have beset some competitors.
“We were built in terms of what our grandfather taught us, to buy when it’s not competitive, when it’s harder for people to buy-not to buy through the rise,” said Mr. Gural, now an executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank. “He told us to buy during the fall. So we’ve stuck with the model he set up because it works.”
Seeing that the time has arrived, Messrs. Gural and Steinwurtzel most recently chose to acquire a stake in 515 Madison Avenue, a deal that was recast numerous times over the past two years until, in December, the Gural and Hemmerdinger families purchased a majority interest in the 340,000-square-foot, 42-story tower.
“That’s a building that my grandfather actually got a lease on from his uncle in 1963, so we’re very happy,” said Mr. Gural, 42, who was named among the “40 under 40” real estate professionals eight years ago in the pages of Real Estate New York.
Skewing closer to the leasing deals that they are most responsible for, the cousins also inked a net lease at 420 West 45th Street, a building originally used as a Tootsie Roll factory. Inked in December, the deal will allow service employee union DC-1701 to occupy a 63,000-square-foot building now being vacated by longtime media tenant IMG.
That transaction came on the wings of another closely watched leasing deal that allowed clothing retailer the Gap to occupy 265,000 square feet at 40 Worth Street. The fresh deal was not only the biggest in terms of square feet for Newmark, but also for New York City last year, according to news reports.
“Forty Worth, in its history, has always been a building that has had a lot of state and city agencies,” said Mr. Gural of the departments of Transportation and Health, both of which are expected to vacate the property later this year, when the Gap is scheduled to relocate its offices there.
“It was kind of fortunate that those leases expired two years ago and we were nice enough to say, ‘It’s O.K. if you want to stick around,’ although we might’ve been better off getting the space in 2007 as opposed to 2009.”
MR. GURAL WAS RAISED on real estate. As a boy, he watched his dad, Newmark Knight Frank chairman Jeffrey Gural, debate his grandfather, and before long the pair were lassoing the younger Gural into those discussions.
“He would insist on it when I was young,” recalled Mr. Gural of his grandfather. “He would sit there and look at me and say, ‘You’re next, you’re next. You better listen to this, Eric.'”
As a teenager, Mr. Gural worked day shifts at his grandfather’s growing portfolio of buildings, sweeping stairs and operating freight elevators whenever a porter took a summer vacation. The experience allowed Mr. Gural an opportunity to tour many of the prewar buildings that nowadays he is responsible for managing, including 40 Worth Street, and properties on Eighth and Madison avenues.
“I worked in almost every building because I would switch every week,” Mr. Gural said. “Someone else would go on vacation and then someone else would come back, so I would go to a new building every single week.”
But real estate isn’t the only interest Mr. Gural shares with his family. Like his father, who has made a name for himself in philanthropic circles, the younger Gural has become active in several charities across the city, most notably Computers for Youth, a nonprofit that gives donated computers to sixth-grade students at city schools. He learned about the charity through a longtime tenant, who runs the group from a property at 322 Eighth Avenue.
“That’s a moral fabric for me,” said Mr. Gural, who himself has two young children, ages 9 and 11, and has also raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims and, even more recently, survivors of the earthquake in Haiti. “My grandfather always did it, and my dad does it to an even greater extent. We think that’s important. We think giving something back is important.”
Lest you mistake Mr. Gural for a one-trick pony, with only real estate on his mind, be aware that the Staten Island-raised New Yorker now living in Lower Manhattan has a wicked sense of humor. In his earlier days, it developed into a stint in the stand-up scene, which allowed him to tour the city’s comedy club circuit. Even now, he occasionally performs at industry events, including one in honor of his dad at an awards ceremony about two years ago.
“What’s fun about it is, you get instant gratification,” Mr. Gural said. “You know right away if you’re funny or not, or whether it’s good or not.”
When asked what he thought funny about the real estate industry, Mr. Gural let out a hearty laugh, but in the end, he chose to keep the joke to himself. “There’s always funny stuff about real estate.”