Following a stint managing Mohr Partners’ New York office, George Grace has relaunched his commercial brokerage and consulting firm G.E. Grace & Co. Grace spoke with CPE about his decision to jump back into his own firm and how operations are different the second time around.
by IvyLee Rosario | Mar 22, 2018
In 2012, George Grace decided to take a hiatus from the commercial brokerage and consulting firm he had founded in 1995, G.E. Grace & Co., to transition into a new opportunity as managing partner of Mohr Partners’ New York office. Five years later, he’s relaunched his company. Grace shared with Commercial Property Executive the current market conditions that prompted the relaunch, the impact of self-branding and how his background in engineering has played a vital role throughout his 32-year career in commercial real estate.
CPE: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Grace: I started at Cross & Brown in 1986; joined Pattison Partners in 1989; became a partner in Clifford Real Estate Services, which managed a 2 million-square-foot office portfolio, in 1992; started G.E. Grace & Co. in 1995; and in 2012, I joined Mohr.
I started as a leasing agent for 63 Wall St. (in New York City), the Brown Brothers Harriman Building, which has since been converted to residential. It was at Pattison Partners where I really learned the tenant representation business. At the time, we represented Davis Polk & Wardwell in their lease at 450 Lexington Ave., the MTA in its lease in Downtown Brooklyn, and I led the team that represented the Health & Hospitals Corp. renewal of 190,000 square feet at 230 W. 41st St.
During the real estate recession of the early ’90s, I switched into the landlord agency business. My partners and I represented the lenders on a 2 million-square-foot portfolio of office product including Blue Hill Plaza in Rockland County; 15 Park Row; and 286, 290 and 292 Madison Ave. After we leased each of these buildings to over 90 percent, the buildings were sold and our job completed. That’s when I started G.E. Grace & Co.
CPE: What challenges led you to join Mohr Partners in 2012?
Grace: At the time, I felt that Mohr Partners offered a unique opportunity for me to join a larger organization with a national outlook. My company was in a very good position when I joined, so the merger was equitable.
CPE: What circumstances in today’s market made you decide this was the right time for a relaunch?
Grace: Two circumstances prompted my decision. One, Mohr Partners had a change in management, which opened the door for an exit. Two, my team wanted to represent owners as well as tenants. We felt there would be very little conflict representing both landlord and tenants because our intention in working with owners is to be very selective and only work in situations where we could add the most value. We also feel the real estate market will be getting much more competitive as the current economic cycle ages.
CPE: What strategies do you plan on implementing to keep your business growing?
Grace: We are becoming much savvier with social media and communicating our strengths. We thrive on our motto of assessment, analysis and action: the three As. Our strength is understanding a situation; analyzing the facts, the market and the party’s goals; then implementing our recommendations.
We are only hired when we can add value. We emphasize our professionalism, attention to detail and telling it like it is. I feel these are the ingredients for long-term success.
CPE: What are the main differences between when you first founded the company and the relaunch?
Grace: To start, I have a very strong team. During my tenure at Mohr Partners, we were able to attract several talented brokers and consultants. The entire team has joined G.E. Grace.
Also, our focus is zealous reputation of our clients, crafting favorable transactions and providing insightful analyses. Through our recent experience, we realize how valuable these attributes are when fully embraced. Our standards have not changed but our belief in them is that much stronger.
CPE: Is this similar to starting from the beginning or did you pick up where you left off?
Grace: In a way, it is like starting from the beginning because we had a clean break and a blank slate to fill. The market has changed. The WeWorks of the world have changed the dynamics of the market. If we are not going to be disintermediated by technology, the latest threat is office-sharing companies acquiring more and more space. This is a threat not only for real estate services but for ownership and financing, as well. We have not seen the full impact yet.
The business model when I first started G.E. Grace was tried, true and predictable. Now, we must find niches where we can add value. It requires much more creativity and imagination, which is healthy. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to applying our knowledge, experience and values to the betterment of our clients.
CPE: What effect has self-branding had on your company?
Grace: That is an interesting question and one I have thought much about. When I first started my company, I made a proposal to GE Capital. They saw our name “G.E. Grace” and commented amusingly about it. Thankfully, they didn’t sue me for trademark infringement. My name happens to combine the names of two Fortune 500 companies: GE and WR Grace. So my personal brand had some precedents.
I also wanted to have a personal name versus a generic name because we are in a people business and someone can call up and speak with G.E. Grace. My conclusion is based on the original intention for my company, which is to provide strong support for our clients with a personal touch. I think the name represents that.
CPE: How has your engineering background assisted in the success of your career?
Grace: In multiple ways, but most important, I learned in engineering school (at Cooper Union) the importance of asking questions and challenging assumptions. Ultimately, any analysis you perform is as good as the facts that it is based on. I like to question the facts and assumptions. When you ask, you often find alternatives that are not obvious. Our brains are designed to take short cuts; that’s what we need for survival. When we are analyzing a problem, we need to circumvent our predispositions. It is through the process of questioning that we uncover a whole host of assumptions that lead to optimal solutions. Ask questions!
CPE: What goals do you have for the company following this relaunch?
Grace: We want to be the “go to” guy when a landlord or tenant has a real estate problem that requires a thoughtful, considered approach. There are a host of situations that can leverage our talents, such as a nonperforming asset, a consolidation of offices, a rationalizing of space use, the need to monetize real estate assets, a highest-and-best use study, assessing development sites, or a lease renegotiation.