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Communication is key to success.

How does one go from a 19-year old pet shop salesman to executive director of one of the largest full service real estate companies in New York?

To ask Mitti Liebersohn, the energetic 35-year old executive director/director of leasing for Galbreath Riverbank, the answer is as simple as perseverance, hard work and a natural ability to communicate with people, ascertain their needs and gain their trust.

The son of a Holocaust survivor, Mitti was born in Israel and lived in Australia before his family moved to Long Island, where he pursued a career in acting while majoring in communications at Hofstra University. He was working weekends at Puppy Palace on Long Island when a shabbily dressed gentleman strolled through the door an inquired about a Cairn Terrier pup in the window.

Despite doubts that the customer could afford the pure breed, Mitti put on his best sales pitch, even sweetening the deal with such enticements as free collars and food, but to no avail. The customer left and Mitti sold the dog a few hours later to someone else.

After lunch, the gentleman returned and inquired about the pup. Though disappointed that the dog was sold, Mitti's selling technique impressed the customer, who purchased another dog. After the sale was made, the customer inquired about the young salesman's commission, which amounted to about $30.

"You're out of your mind," said the customer, who turned out to be Barry Smith, president of Sutton & Towne Realty, a prominent Manhattan brokerage firm. "If you're going to be a salesman, you should be selling the product which will bring you the biggest commission."

With that, Smith plied into a waiting limo and took off. But the experience left a lasting impression on Mitti, who later read an article profiling Smith entitled "Success Before 30." He subsequently arranged to meet with Smith at his home and was impressed by his indoor swimming pool and lavish lifestyle.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mitti began working for Smith a month later, and his parents, believing commercial real estate held a more promising future for their son than a career in acting, agreed to support him for six months while he began pursuing this new goal.

Mitti made the most of those first few months, as he strove to become as well educated and savvy in all aspects of the business as possible. Besides educating himself on the commercial real estate market, Mitti also learned as much as he could about architecture, law, accounting and a wide variety of topics related to the field.

"You have to continually learn," he says. "To be truly effective in this business, you need to be proficient in all of these things. You have to understand the needs of the tenants and the owners, and then be able to communicate their objectives to each party to be an effective broker."

He closed "3 small deals" on Long Island during the first six months of his career, before moving to their Manhattan office. Eventually he left Sutton & Towne to work for Cross & Brown, where he soon gained a reputation as one of the real estate industry's most active and innovative brokers.

His first big break came in 1987, when he joined forces with Bruce Mosler, Paul Glickman and Mitchell Konsker to form Riverbank Realty. The four partners were soon joined by Gil Robinov, and Riverbank built a reputation as a hands-on company with a great work ethic in the highly competitive commercial property market.

It was here that Liebersohn honed his creative approach to problem solving and deal making. A self-confessed "media maniac," it was the television show "LA Law" which sparked a new approach to staff meetings by the young partner. Intrigued by the show's opening scene, where the partners start each episode by convening a morning meeting to share and review cases, Liebersohn sought to bring a similar approach to his daily meetings.

At first some brokers were reluctant, but the sharing of information and opening of communication led to more deals being made. The meetings proved beneficial for everyone. Mitti cites an example of two brokers with clients seeking space on Park Avenue. One broker had found a space his client liked, but it was too large for his needs. The owner didn't want to divide the space and the negotiations seemed at a standstill. During a morning meeting, the problem was explored, and the other broker inquired about the remaining space, showed it to his client and both deals were consummated.

"The key is communication, internally as well as between owners and tenants," explains Liebersohn. "You can't be just a space shower. The competition is incredibly fierce, but if you're out in the streets and you have your finger on the pulse, and you're intelligent and committed, you will get your fair share of business."

It was out of one of these morning meetings that Mitti's most rewarding and complex leasing transactions grew. It was late 1989 and during the tail end of a Tuesday meeting someone mentioned that a division of the Israeli Government had a lease expiring in 1994/95 and might be exploring its options.

A phone call to the Economic Minister set up a meeting, and soon after Mitti, along with his associate Gil Robinov, were appointed the exclusive brokers for the deal. From there, "the cards began to fall into place," and what started as a simple lease of a few thousand square-feet turned into a consolidation of all divisions of the Israeli Government into 130,000 square-feet at 800 Second Avenue.

It turns out that the Israelis were contemplating moving all of their operations under one roof for over 20 years, but for one reason or another the idea just never panned out. This time, the result was a $100 million transaction which eliminated duplicated services, improved efficiency and saved more than $11 million in rent over the course of the 18-year lease.

The negotiations were often long and tense, but after all of the various government agencies worked out their differences, the deal was signed on New Year's Eve after months of hard work. The deal was one of the largest and most complicated of the year, and was a finalist in the Most Ingenious Deal of the Year awards ceremony.

Mitti was also part of the team which put together this year's sale of 10 East 53rd Street, a 350,000 square-foot first class tower, one of the largest purchases by a foreign pension fund in Manhattan.

Along the way, Riverbank Realty was growing into one of the city's leading brokerage firms, attracting such big name clients as New York Life Insurance Co., Franco Steel Corporation and Petersen Publishing Co. In 1992, Riverbank merged with the Galbreath Company to form Galbreath Riverbank, bringing together Galbreath's 72 year tradition as one of the nation's finest real estate management and development companies with Riverbank's growing reputation as one of New York's most aggressive and successful tenant rep firms.

According to Mitti, the principals of both companies met at a real estate function and a dialogue began which developed into the merger late in 1992. There was some trepidation at first, as Mitti said he wasn't sure if the cultures of both companies would mesh. Galbreath was a very highly regarded national company which primarily represented owners and managed their own portfolio of properties, while Riverbank was a promotional tenant representative. Luckily, the pieces have fit together perfectly.

"The synergy of the combined companies has been incredible," says Mitti. "We've retained some major institutional business which 1 believe each company alone may have had difficulty attaining."

But the road to the top was not without its sacrifices and low points. "Working on a commission only basis entails a wild lifestyle, and I've been doing this right out of college," Mitti recalls. "It's not a 9 to 5 job. You're in by 7 and work till whenever. You don't know what can happen from year to year."

The hard work and dedication does pay off though, even in a down commercial market. "The market has been difficult since 1987-88, but those have been my most successful years," says Liebersohn.

They were also successful years on the homefront, as Mitti and his wife Dawn started a family at their Mount Kisco home. The children, Remy and Taylor, are now 3 and 1, and Mitti tries to mesh a career in the fast lane with family life. "It's tough, but the weekends are important. I try to spend every moment I can with them, and make sure it is quality time," he says.

As for the future, Mitti continues to strive to be "one of the best brokers in the industry." He teaches commercial leasing at New York University; is membership chairman of the Young Men and Women's Real Estate Association; and is involved in numerous charitable organizations, including the Make a Wish Foundation and State of Israel Bonds. Liebersohn sees Galbreath Riverbank becoming more and more a factor in analyzing institutional portfolios and retaining a greater share of building agencies and larger tenant relocation assignments. On an industry-wide level, Mittisenses that owners, especially those of prime properties, may be becoming less accommodating in terms of concessions, such as free rent and other incentives.

"The vacancy rate hasn't decreased dramatically, but I sense the market for prime properties is strengthening," says Liebersohn, who continues to make things happen in a big way. Recently he worked with Paul N. Glickman, executive director of Galbreath Riverbank, to represent Playboy Enterprises Inc. in a relocation to 50,000 square-feet in the Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue.

He is currently developing various broker incentive program to further motivate the more than 50 brokers working at Galbreath Riverbank. "I believe our brokers should have recognition and rewards as well as the money," explains Mitti. "We want people to be recognized."

People surely will have no trouble recognizing Mitti Liebersohn, whose charismatic approach to commercial leasing has made him one of the industry's brightest young stars.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:profile on executive director of leasing for Galbreath Riverbank, Mitti Liebersohn
Author:Gerard, Eric R.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Biography
Date:Oct 20, 1993
Previous Article:Fewer real estate loans are foreclosed or restructured.
Next Article:Carlton to auction Downtown Brooklyn residences.

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