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By Daniel Gutierrez ’20
Brian Steinwurtzel is co-CEO and Principal of GFP alongside his cousin Eric Gural.
Brian oversees all aspects of the company’s operations with a focus on new investments, financing, leasing, asset management, development and project management. His team has averaged more than 1 million square feet of leasing per year, including Manhattan’s largest lease in 2009, which relocated The Gap, Inc. to 40 Worth Street in Tribeca.
Noteworthy recent projects include the acquisitions of 7 Hanover Square, 40 Exchange Place in the Financial District, 10-27 46th Avenue, 11-05 44th Drive, and 43-01 22nd Street in Long Island City, as well as 7 Bushwick Place and 285 North Sixth Street in Brooklyn. Brian recently led the redevelopment of 100 Crosby/560 Broadway and 1560 Broadway into a Class A retail and office buildings in SOHO and Times Square respectively as well as the repositioning of The Film Center building in Hell’s Kitchen. He is currently leading the repositioning of downtowns 7 Hanover Square and 40 Exchange Place.
Before joining GFP Brian was an equity research analyst for Triene Inc., a Goldman Sachs Ventures firm. Previously, he worked as a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
An active member of the community, Brian serves on the boards of Cooper Union, Columbia Business School’s Real Estate Advisory Board and Real Estate Circle, The Downtown Alliance, SoHo Broadway Initiative, the Center for Family Representation, and Selfhelp Community Services Inc.
Brian received his Master of Business Administration degree from Columbia Business School and his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Washington University.
What first attracted you to real estate?
GFP is a third generation family business so I grew up around real estate. My grandfather had two primary businesses: Newmark, the brokerage firm which we sold seven or eight years ago; and owning commercial real estate, which today is known as GFP. However, my formative years were in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the real estate market experienced a recession, so my recollection growing up was that real estate was not an industry that I wanted to be in. The jobs I had during and after college were not in real estate and it wasn’t until Columbia that I decided I wanted to be in real estate.
Did your pre-real estate experience prepare you for or influence your ability in your current role?
To some extent, I think everything you do influences you one way or another. Prior to business school, I worked at Price Waterhouse Coopers in their consulting group. I worked on projects for two Fortune 500 companies, and it was interesting working inside these organizations as I began to understand and appreciate why process was important and how to implement that. Then I had sort of the opposite experience working for a start-up that was owned by Goldman Sachs. That was a very small company trying to grow very quickly so I wore many hats, but both experiences helped in terms of what I do today.
Many CBS students pursue an MBA to pivot careers. What advice would you give to CBS students who are pursuing a career in real estate with non-real estate backgrounds?
First, meet Leanne Lachman and get guidance from her—she will help you immensely. Also realize that just getting into Columbia is a great first step if you know you want to transition to real estate, because there are so many Columbia Business School alumni working in real estate in New York who also made that transition. So, spending time with as many alumni as possible will significantly help that transition.
Could you describe working in a family business and highlight a few differences between that and a corporation?
Working with your family provides a different dynamic in and of itself. Sometimes there’s a worry that things can get out of balance where one member may be doing more or less than other family members. I’m one of three family members in my generation working in the organization and roles are split evenly, so we’re fortunate in that sense. However, in order to maintain that balance, build trust by keeping family members informed and up to date. We also commit to having direct, candid conversations about anything from investments, performance, behavior, or whatever it may be. We’ve learned that straight and honest feedback tends to build trust for the long run even if it’s not what one wants to hear in the short run.
Non-family members may worry about elevating their careers above a certain point, so we’re constantly thinking about how to make opportunities available for people and how to compensate people in ways that mirror what would be available to them in the market.
GFP aims to invest in real estate assets that will outperform the broader market, but there is also a clear commitment to creating better communities. Could you discuss how these two goals work together and how GFP is able to accomplish them?
We’re generally long-term owners and we have found holding for the long-term tends to generate higher after tax returns. Capital associated with re-tenanting vacant space are one of the largest costs in real estate. When a tenant leaves, you need to improve the space, pay the broker, give a tenant free rent, etc. By providing a high level of customer service and contributing to local organizations (especially not for profits)—whether it’s by giving them discounted rent or providing a higher level of service relative to the market—we’re able to build loyalty among our tenants. That translates into above normal renewal rates which means our tenants are investing in the space and neighborhood which ultimately generates a better long-term return and builds community.
GFP invests across property types, investment strategies and regions of the New York and Tri-state area. Where does GFP see the most opportunity today?
We closed four deals in 2019—each one is different except for the fact that they are in NYC. We closed a life-sciences deal with a partner that we brought in from the Boston-area who has expertise in that field. We’re working on an office conversion where we’re buying a one million square foot property in the Financial District, renovating it, bringing it to modern standards and then re-tenanting it. We have a building that is currently empty and we are converting it to a dorm for a college here in the city. And lastly, we recently acquired an office building with stable cash flow generating core plus-like returns.
So that’s four deals, all real estate, all in New York, but all different. This highlights our opportunistic nature. We may go a year or longer without finding an opportunity worth pursuing. There have certainly been markets where we didn’t buy for a while and there have been markets where we jumped on multiple opportunities at the same time.
As Co-CEO of GFP, what is an achievement you are most proud of? What are you most excited for in the future?
I am most proud of our team—I think we have really stellar individuals. We have very low turnover. I’m proud that we can hire and retain expertise, because I do get worried about luring talent to a family business. The people who have joined the organization have been stellar and the results have proven that out.
Looking forward, our results have built the confidence of institutional partners, friends and family over multiple generations so continuing to produce for them and maintaining their confidence is extremely important and exciting to me.
Could you discuss your involvement in the MBA Real Estate Program Advisory Board and the Real Estate Circle?
Our role on the Advisory Board is to listen to what the faculty and the administration are trying to do and give them feedback. We’re fortunate that Columbia is an incredible institution and the talent running the school is phenomenal. I think the Circle is one of the pieces enhanced by the feedback we have given them as alumni.
The Real Estate Circle is a great opportunity for alumni to get together, see projects that they wouldn’t get to see otherwise, and to listen to what’s going in different parts of the industry. For example, this morning I sat next to Leanne [Lachman] at a breakfast during which Tom DeRosa ’88, the CEO of Welltower spoke, and it was fascinating to hear what Welltower is thinking, what they’re seeing in the healthcare industry, and how it impacts senior housing.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I’m in that stage of life with two young kids, two girls: one is seven and one is eleven. My free time is happily spent with them going to soccer games, coaching basketball, going on trips; I enjoy all of that. I also love sports so will play anything competitive whenever I can.
I enjoy attending many of the events hosted by the not-for-profits and community organizations that GFP is involved with because they are great opportunities to see first-hand the incredible work these organizations do.
Thank you very much, Brian, for taking the time to answer these questions and for your continued involvement in the CBS real estate community.
Prior to Columbia Business School, Daniel Gutierrez was an Associate in NYC at Blackstone, an alternative asset management firm specializing in the management of private equity funds, real estate funds, hedge fund solutions, and credit-focused funds. Most recently, Daniel was on Blackstone’s Corporate Development Team identifying and evaluating platform M&A transactions and other firmwide strategic initiatives. Daniel is from Rockville, MD and graduated from Villanova University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Finance and minors in Economics and Management Information Systems. He spent the summer working at Olayan America on their Real Estate investments team.