Stephen Berliner: For Love of the Game
Like most good brokers in Manhattan, Stephen Berliner loves the thrills of the job: the adrenaline of winning a client, the creativity of guiding a tenant through Manhattan’s labyrinthine options, the late nights parrying back and forth in negotiations to secure a space.
But early in his career he knew that dealmaking alone wouldn’t be enough.
Getting to the top of the city’s brokerage heap is in many ways a lonely proposition, a ceaseless, single-minded effort to fill one’s pipeline with the biggest deals and clients possible. Mr. Berliner is not lacking in ambition, but the kind of unchecked self-centeredness that would seem necessary in such a pursuit doesn’t fit his style.
Speaking with The Commercial Observer, Mr. Berliner gave off the distinct impression of someone who finds the leasing business a lot more fun when it takes on the collegial air of a locker room, which, in Mr. Berliner’s case, shouldn’t be surprising. Both in high school and in college at Wharton, Mr. Berliner excelled at athletics, and the camaraderie and lessons he learned on the baseball field and tennis court (his two main sports) form the reference points for how he still strives to do business.
“I learned a lot through my own mistakes playing sports,” Mr. Berliner said. “During high school, in baseball I was the worst teammate. I thought, you get players to play better by yelling, by telling everyone they have to do better. And I got to understanding, all you’re really doing is making them more nervous and stressed.”
By the time he was in brokerage, the mistakes of Mr. Berliner’s formative years had yielded to a innate sense of how to motivate and inspire his peers. In the late 1980s, after having been at the real estate company Helmsley Spears for a number of years, his superiors could see his gifts. He was assigned to head the company’s underperforming Long Island branch.
“I was 30 and the youngest branch manager they’d ever had,” Mr. Berliner said. “At the time, I remember feeling how there was a real lack of appropriate leadership in the real estate industry and that this was a great niche for me to be in.”
Mr. Berliner never gave up brokering leasing deals, but the “player/manager” model for his career was born.