The Heat Seeker
Jotham Sederstrom April 26, 2010, 5:01 p.m.
To read Ken Siegel’s bio is to witness an impressive client list that includes many of the leading law practices and financial services firms in the country, Loeb & Loeb and HSBC among them.
What it doesn’t reveal, however, is the Jones Lang LaSalle broker’s insatiable thirst for the kind of prickly, multilayered commercial office leasing transactions that would give Rube Goldberg a headache and put the Rubik’s Cube to shame. Mr. Siegel, after all, is a keen solver of puzzles.
“If I think about my niche in this market place, I would describe it as, ‘Give me the tough ones,’ the kind of intricate, complex, strategy-oriented, large, maybe even headquarters-type transactions,” said Mr. Siegel, 51, during an interview at JLL’s Lexington Avenue offices. “Those are where I find my skill set can really add value.”
Take, for example, Mr. Siegel’s deal on behalf of the Disney-owned Good Morning America, which, on the heels of the rival Today Show‘s move to a fan-friendly ground-floor studio across from Central Park, relocated to space in Times Square with Mr. Siegel’s help.
Besides providing the morning show with an equally eye-grabbing studio, Mr. Siegel succeeded in preparing a complex transaction for Disney at 1500 Broadway in less than two weeks, one that required a complete structural renovation of what was previously a multilevel movie theater.
“It was as quick a deal as you would have ever seen,” said Mr. Siegel of the lease at the New Amsterdam Theater in 1994. “It had some bumps in the road, but we did it in record time.”
Another complex transaction Mr. Siegel executed involved the hefty relocation of what was formerly Prudential Insurance and Securities from its 1 million-square-foot office. Among the challenges raised prior to the deal, Mr. Siegel said, was deciding whether to renew and expand at One New York Plaza or relocate to an undeveloped site that the insurance company had owned in midtown. In the end, said the broker, the company renewed space at One New York Plaza while also expanding back office space by 500,000 square feet at nearby One Seaport Plaza.
“In the end, it was about how does this business operate on the island of Manhattan on a long-term basis,” recalled Mr. Siegel of the 1992 deal. “We went kind of lower cost structure for the non-client-facing business, which was important, and then maintained that headquarters-like feel for that front-office business, which was the most cost-effective choice.”
Indeed, Mr. Siegel’s prowess for complicated deals-which has also included work on behalf of financial services firm DLJ-continues to this day for clients like Bank of America and a large undisclosed media company for which Mr. Siegel inked a 50,000-square-foot lease earlier this month. Since January, he has tallied about 1 million feet in transactions, he said.
Mr. Siegel added that several pending transactions expected to be finalized within the next several weeks would further increase his tallies. “They’re significant transactions with household names in the market that everyone would recognize.” One of those two deals, he added, was expected to be finalized in days.
WITH THE EXCEPTION of a two-year stint with Cowen & Co., where he traveled the country assisting in shopping mall acquisitions, Mr. Siegel has spent most of his 22-year real estate career with Jones Lang LaSalle and its predecessor, LaSalle Partners. Asked if he had considered positions with competing firms, he answered staunchly.
“I grew up at this firm, so I admit that I bleed JLL blood,” said Mr. Siegel, who joined in 1987 after a college friend convinced him to join the Chicago-based firm when it opened an office in New York City a year earlier. “In the last 10 years, we’ve really done a great job at building our national and global capabilities.”
Mr. Siegel’s first deal at LaSalle Partners was for the law firm Kronish Lieb, which inked a deal for space at the Grace Building in 1987, after a five-year relationship with LaSalle, and shortly after the stock market crash rippled its way across the real estate market.
“At that time I was probably in and out of every major Class A office building in midtown as a result of that-and most of the ones downtown as well-looking for them for the right spot,” he said, noting that the firm still occupies the Grace Building.
Since then, Mr. Seigel has tallied an estimated 400 real estate deals totaling approximately 10 million square feet, he said.
But when asked the secret of his lasting success, Mr. Siegel nods back to one of his first jobs, as a teenage waiter at the Boiberik Hotel in the Catskills. As a result of the summer job, he was able to pay his way through college at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an economics degree. Besides the cash he earned, however, Mr. Siegel, who grew up in Wantagh, Long Island, and who now lives in Westport, Conn., learned several lessons that have stuck with him since.
“It was a great way for a kid who was 18 to really make some serious money toward college for a summer,” he said. “But, more importantly, I learned three business lessons that I still use today: One is customer service; the second is that nothing replaces hard work; and the third is, if you wouldn’t serve it to your mother, don’t serve it to your customer.”