The Head Hunter: Avison Young’s Greg Kraut on the Art of the Big Poach
Daniel Geiger May 15, 2012, 10 a.m.
At CBRE Greg Kraut always seemed to be cut from a different cloth.
The real estate services firm is the biggest in the world, and in Manhattan its brokers handle many of the city’s largest commercial leases—deals that are often hundreds of thousands of square feet in size. In his mid-30s at the time, Mr. Kraut wasn’t focused on becoming a master of the city’s dealmaking universe. He liked to work alone, and he dedicated his time to smaller and mid-size deals—anywhere from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet or more—and churned out transactions with notable consistency.
His track record earned him a different kind of reputation. From the list of deals he amassed at CBRE, it was easy to tell he had an undeniable knack for connecting with start-up companies and smaller tenants who had blossoming space requirements.
At a firm widely considered the city’s epicenter of brokerage, Mr. Kraut had carved out a quiet niche for himself. By building a stable of clients and sticking with them over the long term as they expanded, Mr. Kraut seemed to have firmly embraced a patient approach to the business that, with a lot of luck and hard work, could have, one day, placed him near CBRE’s top executives.
As it turns out, however, Mr. Kraut isn’t patient at all.
Last year he abruptly left CBRE and joined the Canada-based real estate services company Avison Young in order to establish a New York branch for the firm. No big announcements were made trumpeting Mr. Kraut’s departure, but the move drew notice in the city’s real estate industry and for good reason. Months later, it’s clear just what a seismic bet Mr. Kraut had made and how it has instantly propelled him from being just another broker slogging away in an endless sea of competitors to a recognized industry executive poised to rise to even higher reaches of the business.
“It was just the right move for me,” Mr. Kraut said during an hour-long interview last week in which the commercial brokerage veteran repeatedly stayed on message, especially when asked about his job shift.
Of course, the move wasn’t an obvious choice from the start. Avison Young has an established presence in Canada, but in New York the firm is little known. And just as tenants are often reluctant to work with unproven companies in the city, so too are many brokers loathe to move outside of the established players in the business. Many brokers knowledgeable with Mr. Kraut’s move saw it as a blunder, a half-baked stab at advancing his career. After all, whom would he be able to convince to follow in his footsteps?
“I wanted to build a brokerage company from the ground up, with the best people and the best culture,” Mr. Kraut told The Commercial Observer. “The thought of that was exciting beyond words to me.”
Not that it’s hard to sympathize with Mr. Kraut’s dream. One of the underlying truths of the city’s brokerage business is that firms are often rife with internal competition that is sometimes so fierce it can become antagonistic. Almost every firm has its tales of epic rivalries and rifts, stories that oftentimes need not be told in past tense.
For all of its risks, helming a start up would seem to come with the alluring opportunity to wipe the slate clean and mold a working environment from the ground up, without the damaging infighting and with an emphasis on the kind of collaboration that most brokers say is essential to successfully servicing clients’ evermore-sophisticated needs in the modern age.
“I loved CBRE and will always be grateful for my time and experience there,” Mr. Kraut said. “But since I started with Avison, I really love getting up in the morning, I love what I’m doing. I can’t think of anything negative to say about CBRE but, on the other hand, I feel like Avison Young is the future.”
All of this could have been just as foolhardy as it was heartwarming. Even the most sentimental brokers in the business know how daunting, hopeless even, it is to try to start from scratch and expect to compete with major services companies who are equipped with armies of talented personnel and vast resources.
Either consciously or subliminally, Mr. Kraut had grasped what has turned out to be the zeitgeist of the industry, a climate of dissatisfaction that amazingly has made his career move not a dicey gamble but a brilliant forethought. Among the recent developments that have made his timing prophetic was the bankruptcy of Grubb & Ellis earlier in the year, which cast off a number of talented brokers, such as Michael Gottlieb and an investment sales team led by Vincent Carrega that Mr. Kraut expertly poached.
“Getting the right people has been the biggest priority for us,” Mr. Kraut said. “We’re not trying to be pompous, but we have been incredibly discerning. We’re only taking the best, the kind of people who are huge performers but also will fit in here for having tremendous ethical standards and the ability to be team players. We’re not in a rush, we’re waiting for the right opportunities. We’re not going to compromise.”
Mr. Kraut’s timing became even more perfect when, last month, he recruited Arthur Mirante, the former chief executive of Cushman & Wakefield. Mr. Mirante, a well regarded and prominent industry figure, lent Avison Young an instant aura of credibility.
“Getting Arthur was huge,” Mr. Kraut said. “He’s the kind of guy who is so emblematic of everything we’re going to be. When he joined, I think people really realized that we had arrived.”
During flush times in the real estate industry it would have been hard to attract industry professionals of this ilk, especially in such succession. Credit Mr. Kraut for spotting the subtle, brewing circumstances that would allow him to execute the company’s bold hiring objectives and propel the company from a one-man show to what now seems like a budding competitor.
“I just listened to my own feelings,” Mr. Kraut said. “I feel like right now, I’m living the dream.”