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The Dealby Adam Gittlin
Everything about Jonah Gray screams success -movie-star good looks, expensive clothes, a Park Avenue penthouse, and a seven-figure income. A cutthroat, rainmaking New York city commercial real estate broker, Jonah craves opulence and power. He beds models, romps the globe on the weekends and sees the world as his for the taking. Jonah Gray has it all. Or at least he… See more details below
Everything about Jonah Gray screams success -movie-star good looks, expensive clothes, a Park Avenue penthouse, and a seven-figure income. A cutthroat, rainmaking New York city commercial real estate broker, Jonah craves opulence and power. He beds models, romps the globe on the weekends and sees the world as his for the taking. Jonah Gray has it all. Or at least he had it all. When a friend presents Jonah with the deal of a lifetime, Jonah jumps at the chance. All Jonah has to do is act quickly, invest half a billion dollars in prime NY office buildings, and collect a huge payoff. But this golden opportunity is anything but. Within days of signing on, Jonah is mysteriously thrust into the epicenter of an international and personal scandal. Forced to explore a whole new territory where he can trust no one, and where danger, death and deception lurk at every corner, Jonah will learn some painfully hard lessons about the quest for easy money. Closing this deal could mean losing everything.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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By Adam Gittlin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2008 Adam Gittlin
All rights reserved.
I can't tell you where I am.
Not if I want to stay alive.
Right now the sun is smiling on me, a silky rainbow of marine life is swimming through the clearest water I have ever seen, and there is fine, soft sand between my toes. I have left behind everything and everyone I love. I have been forced to flee my luxurious, thriving existence because of a string of choices, some made by me, but most by others. And while I struggle to grasp the breadth of all that's just happened, I still can't deny the constant fire in my gut that makes me crawl once I can no longer walk. Some call it sheer determination. Others call it flat out greed. Me, I'm not sure what I make of it. I've never had a reason to question any of it until now.
I'm drinking again. I have a drink in my left hand right now. Sapphire and tonic, three olives. One for each of the weeks that has passed since it all happened, since my world started spinning so furiously that it reached tornado proportions. I believe so much more in my life, myself now. I understand so much more about my life and myself now. Or do I? I have gained a lot and I have lost perhaps even more. Now I'm simply waiting for the dust in my mind to settle so I can figure out how to go on. Like I said, I can't tell you where I am. But I could sure use the therapy of telling you how I got here.CHAPTER 2
Tuesday, June 7, 2004
It was a picture perfect early summer day. I left my Park Avenue penthouse at six A.M., as I had every morning for the previous four years, and headed for the elevator. As I exited the building, sunlight slammed me in the face. There were no clouds to conceal its strength.
I nodded good morning to Clarence, my cordial, top-shelf, yet somewhat nosy, white-gloved doorman.
"Enjoy your party, Mr. Gray?"
"I did Clarence," I replied. "I did."
"Yes, Doorman Parker believes there is probably the tape to prove it."
Clarence, a guy approaching forty who had been my doorman for the past four years, vicariously lived through my life. The party he referred to was my thirtieth birthday gathering a few nights earlier at Soho's classic French bistro, Balthazar. An intimate party I threw for myself for about sixty of my closest friends. One of the other two doormen, Damon, must have told him about the twenty-two-year-old Elite Modeling Agency '10' who ended up spending the night.
While others would have still been recovering from both the amount and combination of substances I had put in my body over that weekend, I was not. In fact, quite the contrary, I felt outstanding. My intense, highly charged industry, lifestyle, and upbringing had seasoned me for this type of living, if living is what you'd call it.
My cordovan leather briefcase, bulging with documents and architectural drawings, was in my left hand. As I walked my morning line, up Park Avenue then through a still groggy Grand Central Station, my mind happily revisited my birthday party — the perfect downtown space filled with the ideal combination of friends, players, women, and clients. The energy in the air that night was just right. There were many intense conversations going on. Some would lead to business, others would lead to sex. There were bellinis, martinis, three-tier platters of shellfish, and steak frites. Just the right undertones of illicit behavior surrounded me. It had been a full-throttle evening of want as opposed to need, a flawless night of covert moneymaking and scandalous overindulgence.
As I walked, I gave the same "Good Morning" to the same people I do each day. Looking back on it now, this was the last day I actually meant it. In one of my recent nightmares I have even walked my morning line, at six A.M. on Tuesday, June 7, 2004, only to find my jaw locked when I tried to speak. On sight of me some of the regulars fled, others laughed or gently turned away. Annie the croissant lady, terrified, began to sob. I still don't know which of the two of us she was afraid for. Like I said, the dust is just beginning to settle.
At 6:12 A.M., after showing my proper photo identification, I entered the Chrysler Center, home of Platinum Commercial Building and Land. PCBL is one of the most unique and important real estate companies in the world. Its only business is commercial real estate brokerage and the company deals only with property in New York City. PCBL represents women and men, old individuals, and the affairs of some of the great young business minds of today. All clients have one thing in common. They either own commercial real estate in Manhattan or they need some.
My name is Jonah Gray. I am the youngest member of the most successful team at PCBL. I graduated from NYU's Stern School of Business in 1998, two years immediately following the completion of my undergraduate business work at Penn. I am an only child. My mother died when I was five from breast cancer. My father Stan, on the other hand, has been the driving force in my life since the time of my earliest memories and my reason for getting into real estate. He owns five office buildings in the Park Avenue South submarket of the city, totaling around 1.6 million square feet, to go along with various other business interests both domestic and overseas. The five properties, today worth around one hundred million dollars each, were left to him by my grandfather, the type of man who also left him some Swiss bank accounts.
Grandpa was the beginning of my family's real estate, as well as societal lineage. Pop carried on that tradition, only in what one might call a slightly more intense fashion. Some over the years have referred to him as brilliant, others have peppered their descriptions with words such as "tyrant" and "rogue." I've heard him called both famous and infamous, both cowardly and brave. One thing is definitely for sure. To sit down with my father and hammer out a deal meant you were in for the ride of your life. To understand my father, envision someone in a bear suit scaring the shit out of you at night in the woods. Now imagine that individual taking off the suit, only to reveal that he truly is, in fact, the black bear you had feared all along. A black bear that is foaming at the mouth.
From an early age my father, Pop as I always referred to him, made it clear that we live in a tough world, and an even tougher city. A place where you need to bend the rules at times, even skirt them, in order stay on top. From the time I started school, my father told me never to cheat, unless I was absolutely sure that the teacher wasn't looking. When I would ask about the other kids seeing me, he would tell me that was the easy part. He'd say, "You find the 'problem' at recess and you punch him square in the nose, as hard as you can, to make him keep his mouth shut. If the teacher sees you and punishes you, that's even better. You've let the little rat know that you'll do whatever it takes to keep him quiet. And you've also most likely found yourself a grunt, someone willing to fall into place behind you. What's important is that you look out for yourself and get what you need. Always. At all costs."
I have been around the business of buildings my whole life. I grew up listening to my father as he explained how deals got made and as he gasped for air when deals were lost. I always knew real estate would be my game, I just never knew in what capacity. Until, that is, my sophomore year in Philly. That was when I discovered publications like the Wall Street Journal and Fortune and it all started to come together in my mind. The largest organizations in the world need ridiculously large blocks of office space. And many of these companies are headquartered in New York City, my stomping ground.
Let me tell you how the business of buildings works.
Call it Commercial Real Estate 101.
Commercial real estate in New York City is angry, wise, green with both cash and envy, and arrogant. It is lawyers, accountants, architects, and interior designers. It is tricky, direct, relentless, and powerful. It is CEOs, families, partners, and analysts.
Commercial real estate in New York City is elusive, misleading, empowering, and humbling. It is pretenders, artists, women, and men. It is creative, tangible, sheltering, and versatile. It is players, gamblers, winners, and losers.
Commercial real estate in New York City is invigorating, lavish, challenging, and cold. It is engineers, moguls, insiders, and outsiders. It is honor, reflexes, hunches, and facts. It is conspirators, visionaries, monsters, and saints.
Usually a company's largest expense, commercial real estate is per square foot. There is a base rental number, which is a certain dollar amount per square foot of the said leased space per year, to be paid from tenant to landlord. Before we go any further, if you don't know the difference between "Landlord" and "Tenant" you might want to go ask someone. Above that, there are other expenses to be paid per square foot on top of the base rental. These expenses include, but are not limited to, electricity, the tenant's proportionate share of the property taxes, and monies for the buildings' operating expenses and staff, for example, engineers and porters — those individuals manning the actual, physical property each day and night. As a landlord, this aggregate number is your rent. As a tenant, this aggregate number is also your rent.
I am a commercial real estate broker, broker defined in the dictionary as "One who acts as an agent for others, as in negotiating contracts, purchases, or sales in return for a fee or commission." As a broker, do I care what the final rental terms are of the negotiated lease? Yes, but no. Yes if I'm representing the landlord, I want it to be high. And yes if I'm representing the tenant, I want it to be low. High and low against what? The market conditions, which tend to follow the general economy. But no, I don't care two years down the road because either way I get paid. Nicely.
A wise man once explained to me what "benchmarking" is. Not the generic, bullshit definition that anyone can regurgitate of setting a standard or raising the bar, but the real definition, to know your competition in excruciating detail. This is what leads to the ultimate ability for decision making. In the New York City commercial real estate world, all it takes is the drop of a dime to go from chasing your competition to leading it, and vice versa. Knowledge — understanding the business as well as the people — is the undeniable edge.
My expertise, as well as the rest of my team's expertise, is in the brokerage of large blocks of office space for lease. Not the brokerage of property sales. But that's not to say we haven't had a hand in the sale of some large properties, because we have. It's just not what we have become known for. Yet representing a buyer as opposed to a seller is the same thing as representing a tenant to a landlord. The simple fact is that taking all of the necessary elements of the deal right in front of you, everything from the tenant roster and lease lengths to the market conditions to the amount of usable versus nonusable space in the property, what's known as the "Loss Factor," to the building's occupancy level, is how you generate the purchase price for a building. Like everything else, on a per square foot basis. Of course it's a bit more complicated, but not really. If you stick to the basics, you'll never lose your way. Like if you were to find yourself on a deserted island with no gym. Push-ups and sit-ups would keep you in terrific shape. It's not brain surgery. What separates the men from the boys is those with a creative genius, those who always stay a brush stroke ahead in painting the big picture. That's something my father told me once, just another piece of his advice that pops from my memory like an ice cube from a tray.CHAPTER 3
This world, so I thought, was all I wanted. Not love, knowledge, or peace but power and money. Lots of it. "Hate a nickel," my father once said to me, "because it isn't a dime." He also said, as I got older, there would be no better education for me than going out on my own for a while before just waltzing into Gray Properties, the family business. So when I graduated number one in my class from Stern, armed with an MBA in international business, I immediately met with Tommy Wingate.
Tommy was the guy who handled all of the leasing in my father's properties, meaning he negotiated deals with all incoming tenants on my father's behalf, and he had done so for twenty years. Tommy was sharp, rational, and mild mannered. He was the perfect complement for my father. They made a killer "good cop, bad cop" tandem in a conference room. I had known Tommy for most of my life. Therefore I knew he was one of the hotshots at PCBL in a killer "dual-agency" situation, meaning he knew all sides of the business so well that he didn't just represent owners, he represented outside tenants shopping New York City for large blocks of office space as well. When it came to independent, triple-A tenants, Tommy represented the biggest and the best. He was responsible for closing at least two of the ten largest real estate deals in the city every year. Everyone in the business wanted a spot on Tommy's team. At the time we met he was forty-three with two young soldiers working for him. And he was looking for a third.
We met one day for lunch at Nello, a chic Madison Avenue Northern Italian haunt that serves up fifty-dollar plates of pasta and serious people watching. By the time I left, I had been offered the position, either because I was a longtime client's son or because I just showed that much promise. I like to think it was a little of both, but I'll never know for sure. Either way, it didn't take long for me to understand what it meant to be in my new universe.
For the first month all I was allowed to do was walk around New York City with a pad and a pen. I wasn't to speak on the phone or mention anything regarding real estate to any of Tommy's clients. Both were grounds for dismissal. My job for thirty days was to walk through commercial properties from dawn to dusk and get to know each one as though it was a person, each address simply a name. Since it was pre-9/11, it was a lot easier to freely roam buildings back then. So I was to take notes on everything from the current state of the lobby to the functionality of the elevators, the carpeting in all of the shared hallways, as well as the cleanliness of the shared-floor restrooms. I was to take notes on each particular property's tenant roster, climate control, security situation, loading dock capacity. I was to get to know everything about each building's personality, its tendencies and quirks. I wasn't allowed, for that month, to mention or even think about deals or money. I was to spend every waking second for those thirty days learning about my product. Most important, I was told to be diligent about my notes. Tommy took a copy of them each night to scour.
I made quick work of winning Tommy over. He loved the records I kept. He said they indicated to him that I inherently knew exactly what to be looking for, which made sense since I had grown up around the profession's complexities and jargon. My father had taught me well. Tommy would test me. He'd give me the building, and I'd tell him everything from the property's nickname, if it had one, to the year it was built. I would comment on renovations that were happening along with whom the owner was and who handled the leasing. Each night, between my lavish partying and a couple hours of sleep, I would study my notes until I knew each fact cold. Tommy seldom stumped me. I was determined, and he knew it.
Soon I was referred to as a full-fledged member of the team, and I was out drumming up business. Tommy had two younger associates, Jake Donald and Perry York. Each was three years my senior and had been with Tommy since they graduated from college, which if you took into account business school, made them both about five years ahead of me in terms of seniority. The original plan among the three was to never bring anyone else on board. Fortunately for me, their client roster and customers' demands became too great, and they were left with no choice. I was in the right place at the right time. Depending, that is, on how you look at it.
Excerpted from The Deal by Adam Gittlin. Copyright © 2008 Adam Gittlin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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Meet the Author
Adam Gittlin is a private investment executive in New York City with extensive experience in commercial real estate. He received a BA in Psychology as well as an MBA in International Business, both from Syracuse University. His previous novels include The Men Downstairs and the first two novels in the Jonah Gray series: The Deal, and The Deal: About Face. He is currently at work on the next Jonah Gray installment, and lives in New York City with his son and long-haired Chihuahua.
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