Presented By: Cushman & Wakefield
Office Leasing Success in 2021 Meant Showing Up, Working Hard, and Loving Variety
In the wake of a challenging year, Mark Weiss, an executive vice chairman at Cushman & Wakefield, more than rose to the occasion, finishing 2021 as the company’s highest-grossing leasing broker in New York. Partner Insights spoke to Weiss to get his take on the tumultuous year that was 2021.
Commercial Observer: You were the highest-grossing leasing broker in New York at Cushman & Wakefield in 2021. Talk about your formula for success.
Mark Weiss: When the pandemic hit in 2020, I quickly accepted that things were going to be forever different. Too many people in the industry were sitting around and waiting for things to come roaring back to “normal,” but it was apparent to me that things might not revert back to what had been considered normal. I needed to dramatically reinvent myself, my outlook and my practice in order to best serve my clients, pick up market share, and find a different pathway to success. My formula to success centered on remaining resilient even in tough situations and anticipating what our clients would be needing most as they adjusted to their new reality. I also used this downtime to improve all of our materials, processes and market knowledge.
How did that manifest as far as what you might have done differently than many of your peers?
When things were slow at the beginning of 2021, I embarked on a major and comprehensive refresh of the market. I physically looked at every new development or interesting real estate project in the city. I felt like a young broker again, touching the bricks and mortar, which gave me a great edge because I never felt more in tune with the marketplace than I did at the beginning of 2021.
When we talk about you being Cushman & Wakefield’s highest-grossing leasing broker in New York in 2021, let’s talk about what that really means as far as your highlights for the year.
I am very proud of the diversity of our transactions, from private equity firms to not-for-profits. We also diversified into the education industry in a much more fulsome way. We represented the Orthodox Union on a very large commercial condominium purchase in an innovative, challenging transaction at the low point of the pandemic. On the other end of the tenant-type spectrum, we also represented the United Bank of Africa in an office relocation. It was intriguing working with a not-for-profit one day and then the largest bank in Nigeria the next. We represented three very large law firms and had terrific outcomes for each: Seyfarth, Bracewell and Dechert. We represented the Spence School on an intricate air rights transaction, and also worked with a 100-year-old for-profit school called the Swedish Institute in two large, but below-radar transactions. The key for our success over the year was not getting bogged down in any one particular industry segment and staying away from negativity. We used all the tools in our collective tool kits to be successful, and that took a lot of gumption, because when you spread the net really wide, it is hard to maintain quality control. But we maintained it through diligence, hard work, and complete focus.
What impact do you see work-from-home having on the office market over the next five to 10 years?
Over the next five to 10 years, I expect that work-from-home trends will result in a fair amount of office space in New York City becoming vacant, notwithstanding the natural absorption that will come from economic growth. The good news is that companies have faith in New York City’s rebound as we’ve always bounced back from adversity and come back stronger. Tenants will always want to be in New York City because talented young people will always want to live in New York City.
So we should prepare for a city with a lot of empty office space?
Think of it this way: As office space empties out, prices will come down in certain parts of the city. The lower cost will then attract new businesses and new industries, which will ultimately result in growth. Growth is the only pathway to offset the impact of work-from-home.
Given all this, what are your greatest concerns about New York City over the next one to three years?
Public safety, fiscal discipline and cleanliness. I have confidence in New York City’s rebound and still believe it is one of the best cities in the world notwithstanding the recent stresses we’ve all faced here. However, it will be hard to remain the center of the commercial and cultural world if New York City doesn’t feel safe, seem clean and orderly, and if spending doesn’t become more disciplined.
Of all the brokers you’ve worked with in your career, who do you admire the most, and why?
Aside from my colleagues at Cushman & Wakefield, Mary Ann Tighe of CBRE is one. She combines brilliance, creativity and integrity unlike anyone our industry has ever seen. She has had a spectacular career, and yet always makes time for anyone who reaches out to her for help. So I’m a big fan. I’ve learned an enormous amount from her as she has been consistently generous with her time, advice and guidance. The other person I admire tremendously is Ira Schuman from Savills. He trained me at the start of my career in 1984. He was a spectacular mentor with a penetrating intellect and a level of kindness that is breathtaking. He really set my career in a very good direction.
What are your thoughts on promoting diversity within the major New York City brokerage firms?
Prioritizing diverse workforces that are reflective of our society as a whole is long overdue. It’s a great step that all the major brokerage firms have recognized the importance of promoting diversity. I understand that we have a long way to go, but from what I’ve seen at Cushman & Wakefield and from some of our peers, I have very high hopes that we are heading in the right direction.
Would you recommend to a young person that they go into the commercial real estate brokerage business?
Yes! Like other industries, we’re going to face challenges, and there may be times when it is harder to make significant income; however, I predict that there are going to be far fewer people doing what we do and, at some level, that’s going to make it easier. If we do have big growth when the city is fully recovered, it’s going to be a wonderful business for young people. They’ll do great work, they’ll learn, they’ll have fun, and, hopefully, they’ll make a fortune.