With his clean-cut suits and boyish good looks, it’s hard to imagine Paul Amrich laboring under the summer sun like a grunt, lugging around materials on a construction site.
But when he was a high school and college student years ago, that’s just what he spent his breaks doing, courtesy of his father, a construction engineer who was able to get Mr. Amrich work on sites he was consulting on.
“You name it, I carted brick and concrete to the bricklayers, lugged sheetrock,” said Mr. Amrich. “It kind of teaches you the value of education. It makes you appreciate the opportunity to be in a city like New York and to be able to walk in and work at a good company. I’m psyched every day.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Amrich was named a vice chairman at CBRE, one of the highest titles a brokerage executive can achieve at the company. At 39, Mr. Amrich is also one of the youngest executives in the firm’s history to receive such a lofty promotion, which requires yearly commission levels most brokers never even come close to consistently earning. Yet those who know Mr. Amrich are not surprised by his early success.
Mr. Amrich has taken a workmanlike approach to the business that even rivals find hard to begrudge him for.
Take a recent deal at 444 Madison Avenue for example, one of several high-end boutique buildings that Mr. Amrich has built a lucrative business representing. An executive at a competing brokerage firm recounted how he was representing an investment firm interested in taking space at the property. The requirement was for only about 5,500 square feet, a modest deal, and the tenant needed to move fast, requesting to see the availabilities at the property immediately. Late on a recent Friday afternoon, the broker showed up at the building with the tenant in tow, expecting to meet one of Mr. Amrich’s underlings for the tour. Instead, Mr. Amrich was there himself ready to explain the property’s virtues.
“We were there for a small space at a time when most top guys have left the office and already are on their way to the Hamptons,” the
broker recalled. “I was surprised to see Paul. I got the sense from that that he’s just willing to work harder than the next guy.”
Impressed by the presentation the tenant signed on days later.
Mr. Amrich’s hands-on approach stems from important early observations of brokerage. As a broker starting out, he noticed that though top leasing executives might have the business development skills to secure impressive assignments with landlords, they often lost touch by handing them off to staff in order to pursue more work on other buildings.
He vowed not to make the same mistake when he too rose through the ranks and, in fact, took advantage of that shortcoming in competitors.
In the early 2000s, working as a junior for the top leasing executive Tara Stacom, Mr. Amrich dreamed of not just servicing her accounts but winning business. He had noticed 1370 Avenue of the America despite the star-studded team overseeing its leasing. Mr. Amrich suspected that despite the big names, there were few lower-level brokers to do the grunt work of marketing the space and tirelessly taking tenants on showings.
He pitched the landlord, Normandy Real Estate Partners, and won the 350,000-plus-square-foot property, a huge victory for a broker so young. He was undaunted by the surprise win. To hear Mr. Amrich explain it, there is never anything too complicated in a leasing assignment, just fundamentals to which he diligently adheres.
“It was about hitting the marketplace the right way,” Mr. Amrich explained. “You have to be in the trenches and get all over it. It was simple; it wasn’t being presented with good photos, with the right website. Some of those details were just kind of weak and we changed that stuff and crushed it.”
Within months Mr. Amrich and colleagues brought the property to near full occupancy. Having met its leasing goals, Normandy was able to sell the building. But the company, impressed with Mr. Amrich, wanted to show him its gratitude.
“In the sale they arranged, they remained on as a manager of the asset and they kept our team in place as leasing agents,” Mr. Amrich recounted.
The experience cemented another tenet: Do well by clients and they’re likely to remain loyal.
It was around this time that Mr. Amrich was pitching agency work in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield’s Joshua Kuriloff for 2 Grand Central Tower, a property then owned by the father-and-son real estate investment team of Harry and Billy Macklowe. The bank JPMorgan Chase had recently left the property, leaving a huge hole of vacancy about 400,000 square feet in size. Billy Macklowe, who many brokers have called an intense landlord who would work agents mercilessly for results, hired the pair after previous teams failed to find takers for the opening. Just months in, Mr. Amrich found a government tenant to take 80,000 square feet at the base of the tower, what had been some of the hardest vacant space to lease. From 2003 to 2006, the team steadily followed up on their early success and filled the remaining space.
Mr. Amrich had made an impression on the Macklowes. Soon after, Harry invited him to play golf—Mr. Amrich is an accomplished player who went to college on a golf scholarship—in the Hamptons. At dinner afterward, Mr. Amrich remembers Mr. Macklowe scribbling flootplates on the back of a dinner napkin with a pen: a boutique office tower that would cater to high-end financial firms and charge top dollar rents. Mr. Amrich didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Macklowe was sharing his prototype vision for what would be 510 Madison Avenue.
“I told him, I could lease that for him,” Mr. Amrich said.
It was around 2006 and the Manhattan leasing market was roaring.
Though Mr. Amrich said he remained close at that time with senior-level brokers at C&W whom he worked with, including Ms. Stacom, he was also searching for a career change in order to help shift from being regarded as a top junior-level broker to a team leader in his own right. His potential was no secret to recruiters on the prowl for new talent and soon CBRE, the city’s largest brokerage company, made him an offer to join the company. Mr. Amrich was hired by the firm and took with him an impressive client list and growing portfolio of agency assignments.
Mr. Macklowe’s 510 Madison Avenue was by far his most prominent agency, however, a huge vote of confidence in the young Mr. Amrich’s abilities.
But Mr. Amrich’s big break wasn’t going to come without immense bumps.
By the time 510 Madison Avenue was finished in 2010, Mr. Macklowe’s real estate empire was in serious distress and he was grappling with SL Green, one of the building’s lenders, which was seeking to foreclose on the property. Though the tower featured luxury amenities, such as a private gym for tenants and a roof deck, leasing amid the backdrop of Mr. Macklowe’s financial uncertainty was virtually impossible.
But even through the dark depths, including a fire that ravaged part of the building’s lower floors and set back its construction, Mr. Amrich toiled away loyally, trying to lease the property.
“Every week I lived with the possibility that the building might get acquired and the new owner would want a fresh slate and I would get blown out after putting all those months in trying to lease it,” Mr. Amrich said. “But the respect that Harry continued to show me and his commitment to the project was tremendously motivating. You don’t kick someone when they’re down. I felt like I wanted to hang in there for him and try to help him. And how could you not be motivated by the quality of the architecture that he created? I mean 510 is just incredible.”
Mr. Macklowe eventually relinquished control, selling the tower to Boston Properties. But he championed Mr. Amrich in the transition and the new owner, one of the largest landlords in the city, kept Mr. Amrich as its leasing agent. With the market recovering and the building on strong financial footing, Mr. Amrich has gone on to lease about half of the tower and continues to fill space at impressive rents.
“I’ve learned if you hang in there, there’s usually a happy ending,” Mr. Amrich said.