CBRE’s Andrew Goldberg Talks Bagels, Ed Gordon and Breaking a Lease With Donald Trump

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Earlier this month, Andrew Goldberg, a vice chairman at CBRE, was named the company’s top retail producer for 2017, having completed 49 leasing transactions over the course of the year representing brands including Tiffany & Co., Valentino, Tourneau and Balmain. While an honor for sure, Goldberg is no stranger to distinctions at the firm, as in 2013 he became the first retail brokerage service group professional at the company ever to evolve to vice chairman.

SEE ALSO: Tiffany Renovating NY Flagship, Will Expand Into Nike Space for Three Years

But the accolades are not surprising, as Goldberg, 49, has risen steadily through the ranks, completing transactions worth about $5 billion since starting at the Edward S. Gordon Company in 1991 (that company was bought by Insignia Financial Group in 1996, becoming Insignia/ESG, which was subsequently bought by CBRE in 2003).

Goldberg’s, and his six-person team’s, recent deals include leases for fashion house Balmain at Bal Harbour, Fla., in 2017 and at the Wynn Las Vegas this year, 13 leases around the country for Tiffany (nine last year, four in 2018) and six leases for Shake Shack in 2017 on top of one this year.     

Goldberg, who hails from Port Washington, N.Y., lives on the Upper East Side with his wife of 13 years, Susan, and their 10-year-old daughter, Alexandra. He spoke with us at CBRE’s Manhattan offices at 200 Park Avenue about the 2017 honor and about a career that took some time and effort to get off the ground.

Commercial Observer: As CBRE’s top retail producer for 2017, what is your take on the current state of retail?

Andrew Goldberg: Retail had a tough year last year. We saw a lot of renewals, renegotiations or relocations of stores. We didn’t see a ton of new people coming to the market. I spend a lot of time on the luxury side, and we didn’t see many new entries. Overall, my take is that the internet is going to work hand-in-hand with brick-and-mortar retail. I don’t think it’s internet or bricks and mortar. The two will come together. People have started calling it omnichannel, which is that the sale can happen at any point throughout the channel. We’re starting to see Amazon opening up stores, and several other brands that were only internet brands. Warby Parker has a chain of stores. Bonobos. There will be many other brands that started online that will have stores.

Let’s talk about your background. Did you come from a business-oriented family?

I grew up in a family business: Goldberg’s Bagels. The bagel business goes back to my grandfather. He had four sons, and all are in the bagel business.

Is it a chain?

Owned by different people. We have a dozen stores in the Hamptons. My father’s place was in the Meatpacking District before the Meatpacking District was the fun cool place—where the actual meat packing happened. You were in an alternative universe there. Everything happened in the middle of the night. The big 18-wheelers from the Midwest would come with sides of beef on hooks. We were wholesale, so we were doing 5,000 dozen bagels a night. I did that through school. I went to [New York University]. My brother worked there and my parents were there. Finally, I said, I got to get out of this business. There’s got to be a better way. I knew I wanted to build buildings. I liked physical real estate.

Where did that desire come from?

I don’t know. I always liked building things. In 1990, when I graduated, someone I spoke to in real estate said, “Is anyone in your family in real estate?” I said, “no.” He said, “Well, then you’re not getting into real estate.” So I said, “I have to get a job somewhere.” Through sheer persistence and annoyance, I got a job interview at a brokerage firm.

Did you feel that working with your family left you with a strong business background?

I was working at the wholesale bakery during the day and going to NYU for business classes, and I kept laughing, because I kept raising my hand [in class], saying, “What you’re teaching me has no bearing on what I see every day.” It was a very different world. I definitely learned a lot more from being in the bagel business than I did going to school. I realized in the bagel business that you can have great margins, but when you’re selling an item for only pennies, the margin doesn’t matter. You’re still only making a penny. When you start to realize that all your expenses are going up in dollars but your profits only rise in pennies, it’s very tough to keep up. So I realized that with inflation, we weren’t doing so well.

I just liked real estate. I had a friend in high school whose father was in real estate. He drove a Rolls Royce. We didn’t. His life didn’t seem as stressful. I didn’t know a lot of people having the same financial struggles I was that were in real estate, so I figured I’d want to give that a shot.

What was your first job?

Riverbank Realty [which was acquired by Galbreath in 1992] on Fifth Avenue. I worked for Bruce Mosler, later CEO of Cushman & Wakefield. It was a boutique firm. There was no salary, no draw. I graduated college on a Friday and started on Monday. The guy I was working for said: “Between 10:00 and 4:00, you’re not allowed in the office. I want you to walk the streets and map the streets.” So I spent summer into winter walking every street in Manhattan, getting business cards and names. I stumbled onto one deal on Broadway. I was standing outside a building that had a “For Rent” sign on the window with a phone number, and I saw some guy writing down the number. So I asked him, “Are you interested in the store?” He said, “Yes.” So I said, “Oh, let me tell you about it,” because I happened to have just called and gotten the information myself. He wanted to start a food place. So we put in an offer, and I’m making the deal. We get it all the way, he gets an attorney, we negotiate the lease, there’s a closing scheduled, I go to the attorney’s office, everyone’s there waiting for the tenant to show up—and nobody ever shows up. The deal dies.

How long had you been walking the streets?

About four or five months by then. After about nine or 10 months, I wasn’t learning anything other than how to walk streets. Nobody was teaching me how to do anything, and nobody was giving me business. It was costing me too much money to come to work, so I started interviewing with other firms. Finally, I met this headhunter. He says, “I just came from the Edward S. Gordon Company. They have the most amazing training program. They have a new guy running their retail department. They’re looking for somebody. Go meet them.” I met with the retail guy, we had a two-and-a-half hour interview. He said, “you have a deal.” Thirty-five thousand a year, and we’ll give you a bonus. I thought I hit the lottery.

One problem though: He said I couldn’t start for six to eight weeks. So I went back to work in the bagel store for six weeks, and all I kept worrying about was, God, please, don’t take this away from me. I got a call the week before I’m supposed to start. It was 8:00 a.m. I worked [all night] the night before, delivering bagels. I get a call, “You’ve got to be in the office at 10:00. Ed Gordon wants to meet you.” I showered, shaved, put on one of my two suits. I’m praying, please don’t screw this up, please don’t screw this up. And then I met Ed Gordon, which was one of those life-changing career moments. Ed had a very unusual way about himself. We sat down, we interviewed. Luckily, the two partners that were hiring me were both in the room. Ed said, “How old are you?” I say 23. He turns to the guys and says, “What the hell is he doing in my office? He’s 23 years old. We don’t hire 23-year-olds. We don’t hire babies. This isn’t a toy. This is a real business. Get him the hell out of my office.”

My dream job was fading away, so I figured I should say something. I started trying to talk, telling him how smart I was or how good I was and how hard working, and how this would not be a tough job. I can do this. He said, “Get out of my office.” He threw me out of the office. I waited at reception. And [the other two partners] walked out and said, well, good news and bad news. The good news is, you got a job. Bad news: don’t try to defend yourself to Ed again. So I got the job, and I’ve been here ever since.

When did you start?

May 15, 1991.

In your first few years what were the milestone deals?

My first assignment was the re-merchandising and re-leasing of Trump Tower. I was working as part of the team. Trump had, at the time, the big atrium, and he had a lot of small stores, like, 150 square feet. I canvassed Tourneau, the watch company, to see if they wanted to open up in Trump Tower. They asked if I would help them expand the original Tourneau shop on 52nd Street. It was only 1,100 feet. I helped put that together, and while I was doing that, we were marketing 590 Madison, the IBM building. I brought to them the idea of opening up at 57th and Madison Avenue. That was one of the first deals I did a lot of the work on. That’s what you now see as the TimeMachine on 57th Street, which I just renewed after a 20-year lease. When those leases were being signed that day, I didn’t think I would still be doing this for the renewal.

You won a REBNY Deal of the Year award for a deal you did with Donald Trump. Tell me about that.

This was in 2006. I’m in Trump’s office in Trump Tower representing a company, [British jeweler] Asprey, that has this big store in the building. They didn’t need their space anymore, but they had a lease. I was asked to see if I could help get them out, so we went up to see Donald, and we negotiated a buyout of the lease. I had to get Asprey not just bought out, but I had to get them a home, which we then found in another location up on Madison. Then we had to get them a direct lease for the extension, which was a super complicated deal, and I needed to get them a temp location. So I successfully got them out, then Trump said, “You’ve got to find me a tenant for the space.” Gucci was a tenant he had in mind. They owned the building where they were, but I met with them a few times and was able to present an opportunity whereby they could have all of the frontage on the south store, plus wrap over the lobby of Trump Tower and take the north.

And that was one of the most valuable retail deals ever completed?

It’s still a big deal, even by today’s standards. But yeah, back at the time, I’m sure it was the biggest. [Gucci signed a lease for a 45,000-square-foot, three-level store, its biggest in the world, at Trump Tower in 2006. The exact price was undisclosed.]

You were the first-ever retail service professional to be named vice chairman of CBRE. Tell me what that means to you.

I always had a goal to get to the top. That was what they said was the top. It’s great for me, but I do everything in a partnership structure, the same way I started when I came to ESG. It’s great that I have a whole group at work that, as I’ve gone up the ranks, so have they. We’ve all climbed up the ranks together. Doing it our way seems to be paying off.