SEASON 1, EPISODE 4

CEO of Silverstein Properties: Marty Burger on Growing a Family Oriented Business to the Top in Commercial Real Estate

Release Date: July 13, 2022

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Marty Burger is the chief executive officer of Silverstein Properties, one of New York City's largest landlords. Their portfolio includes over 13 million square feet of real estate and they have over $10 billion of current development projects. Marty leads the company's day-to-day activities and focuses on acquisition, development, financing and fund management in the United States and abroad.

In this episode of the Closing Table, Marty shares the lessons he has learned as CEO of Silertein Properties and what separates the good from the great.

What we discuss:

2:45 - Marty’s journey to CEO

4:00 - What contributed to Marty’s rise to CEO

5:30 - What’s contributed to Silverstein’s growth?

7:30 - What separates the good from the great?

10:15 - Silverstein’s priorities post-covid

Transcription:

Ian Group: 

You are listening to the Closing Table by ProDeal, the Commercial Real Estate Industry Insiders podcast. Closing deals is what separates the good from the great in this business. That's why we pick the brains of the world's best lawyers, lenders, developers and brokers. With a reputation for getting the deal closed, stay tuned for insider tips on how to succeed at the closing table to bring your business to the top. Now let's start closing some deals. Marty, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's back to you. 

Marty Burger: 

Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Ian Group: 

For those that don't know. Could you introduce yourself? 

Marty Burger: 

Sure. I'm Marty Burger. I'm CEO Silverstein Properties, based here in New York City. 

Ian Group: 

You've had a an incredible career in real estate, 30 plus years. You started out in acquisition. So I would love to know how you rose from being the deal guy to being a CEO. 

Marty Burger:

I actually didn't start in acquisitions. I started as a real estate consultant for Laventhol & Horwath back in 1987. Realized I didn't want to be in consultancy and a headhunter replaced me at the related companies as an associate in their development group. So I started working for two guys that worked for Steve Ross and fell in love with development my first day there. So I've been a developer since 1989, March of 89, and I left related in '93 to go to Goldman Sachs because there wasn't a development going on because we were in a recession in New York City and did acquisitions for both for the Whitehall Group in '93, '94. And then I went to Blackstone for their first year taking three development deals to committee to Blackstone. They want to do development. I was asked to come back to Related in '97 to start their mixed use development group with Ken Himmel, which is what I did. And then great trends with Blackstone in '97 with in 42 deals with them and they let me keep all my partnership interest. I left and went back to related. So I was there for five years and then went back for another ten years working on really fantastic projects like Time Warner Center and City Place in West Palm Beach and a lot of other really fun projects.

Ian Group: 

And so what do you attribute in terms of all that experience to your ultimate rise to the position where you're at now? Is it just experience or how did you get to run Silverstein Properties? 

Marty Burger:

Well, I had the fortune to have worked for really great people, and I got to do both acquisitions and development, as you said, and and I got to experience both the operational side on both residential and office. And when I got to the to thinking about Silverstein properties, their core competencies were both off and Larry was both an investor and a developer. And so my skillset sort of fit in perfectly with, with his sort of family business. And I came to the company without, you know, I don't have a big ego. And they liked that because I wasn't coming in to go clean, shop and start my own thing. I was taking over a family business and helping them expand it. And that's what's happened over the last 13 years of me at sourcing and with growing the business, we've added best in class and and added business lines. What we do just but again, building on our core competencies of acquisition, development operations, leasing management and and you know, still looking at office and residential as a core competencies.

Ian Group: 

There are obviously a ton of developers in New York City. I think Silverstein is one of the largest one of the five largest commercial owners in New York City. Right. Is that right? 

Marty Burger:

I don't know. I didn't do that one. The largest. Yes, I'm happy to say that. I mean, we work on very large. We work on very large projects and we own a lot of work very large. So I don't know if we're the largest, fifth, largest seventh. I have no idea what the numbers are at one of them. But we have a great number of buildings and we're very proud of. 

Ian Group: 

What what is one thing that you think Silverstein or the deal teams over there do better than others? What what sets you guys apart?

Marty Burger:

You know, look, first of all, we're a family run business and we treat our tenants and our our residents like that. And we really, truly mean that. And, you know, when I get involved in leasing, we get not just the CEOs, but the heads of facilities are selling on us so they can call me or Larry. They usually don't have to and very, very, very rarely do other than to give us a compliment, because our team is doing such a great job. But we try to treat our employees as well as our customers like family. And and you can do that when you're, you know, at our scale, we're not a 2000 person firm now. We've grown. When I got here, there were 108 people and now we're out. But, you know, we still try to we act institutional to our investors and to our lenders. But we are a family run business and we try to really bring that through in how we operate with our customers. 

Ian Group: 

I love that that that personal touch. I mean, I've been in the service industry for a long time. I started out as a real estate attorney. I work at a property on the customer success side, and even just something as simple as giving your cell phone number makes the world of difference to be accessible and really bring them into the fold. So well that you you've worked with a lot of people. I'm sure that everyone that that comes into the door works at Silverstein and a player would would really love to know what you think makes the difference between good versus great what details do they pay attention to? What are the great ones that your company that you've worked along with, worked with along the way? What what have they done differently?

Marty Burger:

I think a lot of it has to do with communication and teamwork. There's no. Eyes here. We do things as a team even at the very tough. Larry doesn't like to make a decision unless our leadership team is together. And that's a six person group, including our vice chairman and our president, myself, our CEO. And so we make decisions large and small together as and when we get down to our development teams or our acquisition teams or our operations teams or our asset management teams, everything is done as a team and they report constantly to us and to our investors. And it seems seamless because it's always a constant thing that's happening. And and so there's a lot of communication and it's not forced communication where you have to have a meeting every hour. It's sort of, you know, things are happening. And so we regularly tell each other what's going on and it just happens. So obviously you have to be best in class person and and know your numbers and know your staff and whether you're an operations person or an asset manager or, you know, if you're not communicating and sort of fitting in with with the culture here, you're not going to have you're not going to rise here. 

Ian Group: 

I love that. I'm curious what your what you see kind of the preferred method of communication to be. Do you use any are you guys using text, email, face to face? What what do you see as the preferred method? 

Marty Burger:

Well, we prefer to be in person. We've been back since since Labor Day of since Memorial Day, actually, of 2020. So we brought everyone back June of 2020 pretty much on a mandatory basis and to show our tenants that it's a safe environment. And we've we've shown that over the last 2.0. So we've had really great success with it. But we have meetings all the time. And when we have a Zoom meeting, Larry looks at the people on Zoom and says, You know what, I'm 91 years old. Why are we on Zoom? I'll come to your office. If I can be in the office, you can be in the office. You know, I'm like, I've got asthma. I'm 91 years old. If I can be here, you can be here. I'll come to your office. You come here. Let's not do this on Zoom. And unless you're in California and we're in New York, we like to be in person. It just is so much more interaction that way. And you learn more about people. Is this a personal touch? Do you know, we don't we don't like to sit in a meeting and just, you know, talk about it. It's a personal touch. So we like to communicate person, but it's not always feasible. So we do, you know, do send a lot of emails back and forth with each. 

Ian Group: 

Yet found that as I've learned over the years, a lot of learning in real estate is kind of through osmosis. Being able to sit sit on a meeting, just just hearing others that are more experienced and what they say and how they approach deals or or even management. It's all part of the learning process. So I agree with you. Being in person is the best. Last question for you. Everyone is talking about adapting to new normal. I mean, you just said that you guys have been mandatory in office. I'm curious what you guys are focused on at Silverstein as you kind of lead into this new era. We'll call it the post-COVID era. Any anything new that you guys are focused on?

Marty Burger: 

Look, our priorities are our customers, our residents, our office tenants. We want to make sure that they're in a safe environment. We want to make sure when they transition back to the office that they're in great spaces, with great services. And we've done a lot to increase the hospitality and of our business. We have a whole group now called Inspire that is an app on your phone. But more importantly, there's a whole group that day in, day out programs, our buildings, both residential office for our our customers. So when you walk into seven World Trade Center and you take your iPhone and you swipe it in the turns, it says: “Oh, hi, and welcome back to seven World Trade Center and Silver's theme park. Today, there's a concert at 4:00. And if you order from these six restaurants by 11:00, by 10:00, the food will be at your desk by 11:30 or 12. And by the way, in the one block radius and seven World Trade Center, you can go to these 20 stores and get a 15% discount or go to the Oculus and get this. And there's a there's a yoga class on the 10th floor at 4:00 if you want to go.” So that that's sort of stuff that we're doing because we're no longer in the office and residential business for now and, you know, entertain our guests every day. And that's the type of thing you have to do now. And we were doing that pre-pandemic. It's just the pandemic sort of made that evolve quicker. 

I was the host of a tequila tasting last night at 529 Fifth Avenue, which is one of our midtown built because we opened something called The Willows, which is our ninth floor amenity, took an entire floor. And it's a it's a tenant of amenity for everyone. And those tenants can use that floor or they can go to any of our buildings around the country, whether it's in Philadelphia or L.A., and use our tenant amenities floors there as well. And so we opened the Willows yesterday. We have the Bankers Club at 120 Broadway. We have the 10th floor on on the seven World Trade Center. And so all of our buildings now and different features that just sort of give back to the the users of the building, which is great. And then, you know, we're designing new buildings with these things already in it. So we're hopefully going to be on a section next year and five. Senator. We've got something we're working on in Astoria. We are working on getting to vote and then we've got a lot of other stuff we're doing. We have a huge lending platform called Servicing Capital Partners, which has almost $5 billion under management. So we've been we've been really working on on building that up. We have an opportunity zone fund with eight projects in its first 5 minutes closed and that we've got three projects in the next one. And now we've been working on converting older buildings to newer buildings. So we did that with or we watched someone in the city do. That was 116 John Street. We bought that in in December. And now with that, that entity, we are converting another building in New York City from 4000 square foot office building to 571 residential units. What's great about that from a environmental perspective is you're not creating new concrete, not creating new steel. So, yeah, increasing the carbon footprint. So that's great for the forum for ESG investors. And so I think you're going to see a lot more of that.

Ian Group: 

So you guys are only slightly busy right now.

Marty Burger: 

Just a little bit.

Ian Group: 

All right. Well, Marty, I don't want to take up any more of your time. Really appreciate you being on here. Next, tequila tasting. I would like an invite. Thanks. 

Ian Group: 

Again, thanks to you. All right. 

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