“Dress for success, arrive at 8 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. Reach out to colleagues, find a mentor, and hang in there!” – Robert’s advice to young brokers.
A native New Yorker, Executive Managing Director Robert Ballard joined Cushman & Wakefield in 1968. In 1974, Robert won The Real Estate Board of New York’s prestigious “Most Ingenious Broker of the Year” award for leasing The Great Hall and its underlying Greenwich Street level at 25 Broadway to the U.S. Postal Service in a long-term lease.
Among many notable achievements over a long career, Robert, a graduate of Harvard University, authored the Directory of Manhattan Office Buildings, published by McGraw-Hill Book Company in 1978, and to this day maintains a file of 2,036 office buildings. In 2013, he represented NYC Health & Hospitals Corporation in a 221,180 square foot lease at 55 Water Street.
Below, Robert discusses his long-term career, memorable experiences, what makes him tick, and seek his advice for young people in our business.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to the way business is done over the decades and what hasn’t changed?
Robert: Soliciting new business has gone from walking an office building and knocking on doors to the sophisticated use of the internet. Yet it is still a people business; it is still about relationships, face-time, teamwork, persistence, and serving the client.
What were some high points in your career?
The Case of Mistaken Identity: Long ago, when canvassing meant taking the elevator to the top of a building, and then knocking on doors all the way down, I was welcomed into an office by a secretary who said, “Go on in, he’s expecting you.” As this was a cold call, I knew he wasn’t! Once in his office I was asked what I had for him. I responded with a listing in a nearby building. He wanted to see it and when I showed it to him, he wanted to rent it. When we returned to his office to discuss details of the deal, he said, “But I thought you wanted to show me space in this building?” Clearly, he had mistaken me for his building’s leasing agent with whom he had an appointment. Lesson learned: Go with the flow!
Never Give Up: Some time ago, during a slow period, I began my “letter-a-day” campaign to CEOs of major corporations. Every day, a letter went out, followed up by a call. The letter was one sentence long, requesting a meeting. One day, after numerous letters had gone out, I hit the jackpot: Coca Cola called me, and it was the beginning of a great relationship.
Hurricane Sandy: When it was safe to venture out after Hurricane Sandy, my wife and I went downtown, where my major client had office space in 160 Water Street. We wanted to assess the damage. The insurance district was a ghost town, and my client’s basement was under water. The next day, my good friend and Cushman & Wakefield neighbor Jeff Lichtenberg, the leasing agent for 40 Wall Street, placed my client in a vacant, short-term sublet and they were up and running immediately. You always have to solve a client’s needs.
If you had to describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be, and why?
Robert: Gregarious, creative, and tenacious because I enjoy being with people, love parties, and think out of the box to solve difficult problems — and I never give up.
If you could have dinner with any one person, living or dead, who would that be, and why?
Robert: Winston Churchill, because he never gave up defeating Hitler.
What have you liked about working for Cushman & Wakefield, and how does the firm differentiate from the competition?
Robert: My fellow brokers have always been generous with their information and advice. Cushman & Wakefield is a collaborative institution.
What are some of the secrets to your success?
Robert: Minding my own business. Tenacity. Flexibility. Strong relationships based on mutual respect. Plus, I love New York City. I was born here!
What’s one or two things that many of your colleagues would not know about you?
Robert: I keep a file of every office building in Manhattan. It currently comprises 2,036 office buildings. Away from the office, I am a devoted family man. I was the long-term President of the East Side House Settlement, a social services agency in the South Bronx. I swim after work, and when on Nantucket I race my catboat. I am a voracious reader of history books, and I love walking the city, taking notes.
What do you see as becoming the biggest drivers of change for clients as we move forward?
Robert: Access to our experienced brokers who provide our clients with a wide range of research and expertise.
How do you see property strategies changing to meet future changes?
Robert: The landlord of the future should provide amenities to their tenants such as an on-site gym and an on-site child care facility.
What advice can you offer young people in the business today?
Robert: Dress for success, arrive at 8 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. Reach out to colleagues, find a mentor, and hang in there!
Robert Ballard Milestone Transactions
- New York Telephone Co. for proposed switching center in Chinatown: 26 adjoining parcels totaling approx. 110,000 square feet.
- New York Telephone Co. for proposed switching center at Eleventh Ave. and 42nd Street. Three adjoining parcels totaling approx. 67,780 square feet.
- The Continental Corporation for its 41 story, approx. 982,000 square foot headquarters at 180 Maiden Lane: Two parcels totaling approx. 40,918 square feet, plus 305,580 square feet of air rights, plus the bed of De Peyster Street from The City of New York. Subsequently coordinated the development on behalf of Continental (i.e. hired the architect and general contractor, obtained city agency approvals, and served as Exclusive Leasing Agent).
- Jack Resnick & Sons, Inc. for its 35 story, approx. 1.2 million square foot office building, One Seaport Plaza at 199 Water Street (i.e. purchased block 74, comprising 39,759 square feet plus 120,000 square feet of air rights). As Exclusive Leasing Agent closed major leases with Lloyd’s Bank and Prudential Securities covering approx. 800,000 square feet.
- The City of New York for its 509,000 square foot long-term lease of 180 Water Street.