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New leadership at old-line firm.

The guard is changing at one of New York's oldest real estate services firms.

Effective this month, 67-year-old Williams Real Estate will be led by a new management team, which includes Michael T. Cohen, as president and chief executive officer, Andrew Roos as executive vice president and Robert A. Sass as chief operating officer.

The move represents a number of milestones for the company. Cohen, 33, and Roos, 39, are the third generation of the firm's two founding family's. Cohen becomes one of the youngest chief executive officers of a real estate services firm. Meanwhile, Sass will be the first non-Roos or Cohen to oversee the firm's operations.

Most importantly, the change, according to the executives, is critical to Williams' evolution into a more aggressive, diverse and technologically-advanced services firm.

"This is the final step in the transition from a 'mom and pop' organization that we were 20 years ago to a family business run like a major corporation of the 90's," he said.

According to Cohen, the change will "free up" Jerry Cohen, who is handing down the office of president and chief executive officer to his son, and Ed Roos, Andrew Roos' father and predecessor, to concentrate more on their own property investments.

"It's tougher than ever to be a landlord," said Sass.

Founded in 1926, by Victor J. Cohen. and Sydney Roos, Williams is still

independently owned and today maintains a 20 million- square-foot leasing and management portfolio. Roughly 25 percent of that is comprised of buildings owned by the principals of Williams. But, Roos said, those properties are not in competing areas with the third-party assignments.

"If you're going to be an advocate, you have to be free of conflict," said Roos.

Among their management charges are: 655 Madison, 95 Wall Street, 1 Park Avenue, 304 East 45th Street, 395 Hudson Street, 111 West 57th Street, and 60 Hudson.

Williams represents both tenants and landlords, specializing in the mid-sized-25,000 to 100,000-square-foot -- lease deals, of which they completed roughly 40 in 1992. Some tenant rep deals in 1992 were: 45,000 square feet for USA Networks at Newport Financial Center; 43,000 square feet at CitiCorp Credit Services on Broad Street in New Jersey; 40,000 square feet for the law firm of Sullivan Liapakis at 120 Broad Street; 32,000 square feet for New York Telephone at 866 11th Avenue; and 25,000 square feet for Musicland/Sam Goody at 1211 Avenue of the Americas.

New Directions

Cohen, with the firm since 1981, and Roos, on board since 1975, will together undertake overall management of the firm. The two say they will, along with Sass, take Williams into new service areas and geographic markets while continuing to represent tenants and landlords in the acquisition and disposition of real estate.

The firm will be looking to procure more national and regional accounts. Five years ago, according to Roos and Cohen, the firm hardly did any business out of Manhattan and their repeat business occurred mostly in New York. Today they are exclusive representatives for Paine Webber, Aetna and Fred R. Harris. And they are used "selectively" by such companies as American Express, ITF Hartford, Associated Press, and CitiCorp Credit.

"And that type of business has expanded us overseas," said Sass.

Late last year, Williams formed an alliance with a real estate advisory firm in Mexico City and they recently consulted Bankers Trust on a relocation in Mexico City.

Williams has also been tapped by two French governmental agencies to exclusively market the 37,000-acre Marne-la-Vailee to major U.S. companies.

The firm will continue to pursue and funnel these opportunities through the International Commercial Realty Services (ICRS), a network of independently-owned real estate firms that controls some 75 million square feet of property nation-wide. Williams is a founding member of the network.

Using their perspective as an owner, Williams is acting as asset manager for a number of institutions, such as Bank of Tokyo, Manhattan Savings Bank, Cigna and Mass Mutual.

"The institutions are turning to us more and more to help develop the business plan," said Cohen.

Roos says he has been working on upgrading the firm's presentation. While the firm has a lot of "infrastructure"to offer, in the way of brokerage information systems and such, he said, Williams has always been better "servicers and sellers."

"The question is how to convey the message that we are better servicers," he said.

The firm's infrastructure, Roos said, is the reason they've been so successful in the moderate-sized transactions.

"We bring as much infrastructure to the execution of a 30,000-square-footdeal as to a 300,000-square-foot deal," he said.

According to Sass, the firm has also been active in the new science of lease recasting.

Evolving Firm

Williams has seen its share of changes in recent years. In the late 80's, a number of the senior members departed. Among them were Ed Riguardi, the firm's top property management executive who left to stag Koeppel Tener Riguardi, and leading broker David Levinson, who went over to Edward S. Gordon.

"This was a firm that five years ago' people left for dead," said Roos.

The exit of some veteran executives forced the firm to refocus and regroup and allowed the younger, middle-level people to move up. "It promoted change quickly," said Roos.

Ninety-nine percent of the people at Williams, Cohen said, are "homegrown" or made a switch to Williams at an early stage in their careers. It is not unusual, however, for people to leave to start their own firms, Roos said, noting both Sutton & Town and Lansco were both formed by former Williams people.

Like other brokerages, Williams also responded to the market slowdown by cutting its back office and brokerage crews by 15 percent across the board. Today they are beginning to hire more brokers.

"During the 80's, there was no reason to cut staff," he said. "In the 90's, you have to eat efficiently or you get indigestion."

Cohen said they have succeeded in turning the firm into more of a corporation where all decisions channel up to management. This is "contrary", he said, to the traditional brokerage where internal competition is intense. At Williams, he said, partners and senior brokers work on a greater number of deals for less a commission.

"We believe the way to make money in the 90's is volume," Roos said.

Though Williams has been around for some time, Cohen, Roos and Sass discuss the present and future of the firm with the enthusiasm of a new venture.

It's like "a brand-new 67-year-old company," said Roos.
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Title Annotation:Williams Real Estate Company Inc. takes on new management team
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 17, 1993
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