The Re-enrolled Old-Schooler
Ask anybody who knew the late, great real estate entrepreneur Edward S. Gordon, and you’ll hear words like “integrity” and “tenacity” bandied about.
For veteran broker James Emden, who counted him as a friend and mentor, those qualities served as a bellwether during a three-decade-plus run at Gordon’s eponymously named firm and various M&A-induced hybrids. Those attributes also go a long way in explaining what propelled Mr. Emden to leave Gordon’s still-buoyant bubble of influence in favor of a vice chairmanship at Colliers International under its tristate CEO, Mark Jaccom.
“I came here because I like what Mark Jaccom is doing,” said Mr. Emden, who joined Colliers International earlier this month after more than 35 years with the Edward S. Gordon Company, Insignia/ESG and, most recently, CB Richard Ellis. “I look at Mark as the Eddie Gordon that I grew up with. Mark has definitely taken the Edward S. Gordon approach, in my opinion.”
Under the name Carid Associates, Mr. Emden and brother Jeffrey posted ads in The New York Times, listing a phone number that connected to a pay phone outside a Manhattan Blimpie location. They hung an ‘out of order’ sign on the phone and paid an employee at the sandwich shop $20 a month to make sure it never got tied up by customers.
That approach, said Mr. Emden, is typified by an old-school appreciation of the real estate industry, what with its focus on loyalty and shoe leather. Despite its designation as a global firm with more than 480 realty offices in 61 countries, Colliers International remains an underdog, Mr. Emden, 63, said on day 10 as a Colliers broker.
Mr. Emden’s 450,000-square-foot deal for Viacom in 1989, while still an ESG broker, is emblematic of that old-school philosophy. What began as a cold canvassing in 1976 came to fruition only after 13 dedicated years of biannual meetings with officials at the media conglomerate, which at the time occupied an estimated six offices throughout the five boroughs. In what would later become the epicenter of teenage frenzy-MTV’s Total Request Live-Viacom inked a huge landmark consolidation deal at 1515 Broadway.
“Today, they have as much as 1.3 million feet in 1515 Broadway, plus other locations,” said Mr. Emden, who no longer represents Viacom. “But if I had not canvassed in 1976, I would not have had the opportunity in 1987 to bring [Viacom] into the Edward S. Gordon Company. At that time it was the largest fee ever earned by ESG.”
More recently, Mr. Emden completed a transaction for the media company Blue Rock Productions, which, in 2007, took 40,000 feet in the top five floors of the Silverstein Properties-owned 575 Lexington Avenue. The lease was followed in the same year by a 40,000-foot expansion deal for Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co., an investment advisers group that signed on for three floors at 1775 Broadway. Those are on top of a career that has included more than half a billion dollars in real estate deals for clients that have included the Bank of Montreal, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the OMNICOM Group.
“Any career has steps,” said Mr. Emden of his transaction tallies while at ESG and CBRE. “When I look back on the last 40 years, well, it’s been a good run-and it’s not just money. It’s been a good run overall.”
With those real estate firms behind him, however, among Mr. Emden’s first transactions as a Colliers International broker will likely be one for another media company seeking to move from midtown to Lower Manhattan. Although Mr. Emden declined to name the client behind a planned 85,000-square-foot relocation to 4 New York Plaza, a source familiar with the negotiations confirmed it was American Media Inc., the publisher of, among others, The National Inquirer. (Because of contractual obligations, the deal will be tallied for CBRE.)
“I think they’re going to put us down by the water,” National Inquirer executive editor Barry Levine was quoted as saying in a recent article in GQ that described the company’s current One Park Avenue digs as akin to a FEMA trailer. “By the wharf. Where the rats are even bigger.”
BEFORE EMBARKING ON his 35-year relationship with Edward Gordon, Mr. Emden was a rental apartment agent with neither a phone nor an office. Freshly graduated from Ohio State University, the Long Island-raised ingénue set out to raise funds by renting apartments in Gramercy Park.
Under the name Carid Associates, Mr. Emden and brother Jeffrey posted ads in The New York Times, listing a phone number that connected to a pay phone outside a Manhattan Blimpie location. They hung an “out of order” sign on the phone and paid an employee at the sandwich shop $20 a month to make sure it never got tied up by customers.
Despite his ramshackle strategy, the business paid off, and, by the time he bid adieu to the rental market, Mr. Emden had pocketed a cool $20,000.
“I had about $10,000 in school loans and then the market collapsed in New York, so there were tons of apartments and you no longer needed to pay a fee to a broker,” said Mr. Emden of what ended his brief residential stint in the early 1970s, which saw him standing next to the “out of order” pay phone for hours on end. “In those days, if you rented an apartment for $300, the fee would be around 10 or 12 percent.”
While no longer the struggling broker, he said he maintains the same work ethic he honed as a young man. It’s perhaps for that reason that Mr. Emden, who lives with his wife in Manhattan’s Sutton Place, so cherishes working with Mr. Jaccom at Colliers.
“I feel in my heart that Mark is my mentor and that I can go to Mark with any problems or questions and he’d be there for me, and that, to me, was the main reason why I felt comfortable coming to Colliers,” Mr. Emden said. “I feel like I got in at the bottom because, remember, Colliers just acquired a large portion of FirstService Williams, and I felt I was one of the first brokers to come on since that happened.”