Mr. Crowley noted that Sam Zell’s rise started unconventionally, too; in his case, investing in distressed assets.
Does Mr. Crowley want to be the next Sam Zell?
“I wouldn’t mind owning a baseball team,” he said. “I like the Cubs.”
RAMON MAISLEN arrived a few minutes early to a meeting on the second floor of a Flatiron coffee shop. He sat down at a window-side table, his healthy biceps rising beneath a black muscle shirt, the late morning sun streaking down into the 20th Street canyon, through the window, and across the right side of his face.
Mr. Maislen is the president of his 95-person master’s program in development at Columbia University’s architecture school, and an intern at Fulcrum. He and the others in his program have the misfortune of graduating into one of the worst job markets in decades.
“I think it’s pretty bad,” Mr. Maislen said. “I think it’s really bad.”
So, apparently, does every developer that’s spoken at his school this year. “I think people [in my class] are almost immune to it at this point, because basically every single speaker that’s come in has told us this is basically the worst economic situation they’ve ever experienced, and they’re over 60. So it’s basically just a joke amongst us at this point. We realize how bad it is and there is, nothing we can do but laugh.”
Mr. Maislen, who has the Hebrew words for “understanding” and “wisdom” tattooed on the inside of his upper arms, said he, for one, is not frightened.
“I’m an eternal optimist; that’s why I want to be a developer,” he said. “I’m not nervous. I don’t know why I’m not nervous. I’m just not. I think that it’s going to be O.K.”
Mr. Maislen graduates in May and is applying to a job at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. He’s also thinking about starting some sort of firm with a couple of his classmates.
“It’s like a hamster’s wheel,” he said. “And you just jump in. At whatever moment, you just jump in. It’s not that I lost tons of money in the downturn, because I didn’t have tons of money to begin with. So I can only go up from here.”
ON A THURSDAY in mid-February, Mr. McCann met me for a drink at the Trump Bar, on the ground floor of Donald Trump’s midtown skyscraper. It was the same location where, in December 2005 and November 2007, Mr. McCann hosted industry parties for more than 1,000 people a pop.
As Harsh Toprani, the managing director of another real estate start-up, Corbel Capital, put it, “Among some people, Mr. McCann is more famous than Donald Trump.”
He was exaggerating, of course. Nevertheless, Mr. McCann gets around.
At the 2007 party at Trump Bar, the Donald himself stopped by, striding over to Mr. McCann and asking, “So you’re the one who put this together?” Mr. McCann said yes. He asked Mr. Trump to pose for a photo with him. Mr. Trump obliged.
Fifteen months later, sipping a Manhattan cocktail, light on the sweet vermouth, Mr. McCann talked about his recent layoff, his unlikely foray into the makeup business and the real estate market in general. Mr. McCann, who lives in Williamsburg, wore jeans with a gaping hole in the left knee, a stylish hoodie and spiky hair.
His voice was low-pitched, his eyelids languid, his overall air a touch laconic. “I’m a Type B extrovert,” he explained. “Most extroverts are Type A.”
Mr. McCann comes from Omaha, son of an absentee steelworker and a former nun. He has 35 first cousins. He says he’s loved real estate ever since he was a babe.
“Buildings and people are my two favorite things in the world, which made [coming to] New York a no-brainer.”
He moved here about eight years ago, ultimately getting a gig as an analyst at a real estate capital advisory firm in 2005. He got laid off in the second quarter of 2008.
So he started looking for opportunities elsewhere. The makeup artist friend of his, Mike Potter, suggested they start a company. And so was borne Knock Out Cosmetics, which specializes in matte nail polish and opened its first counter in February, at Henri Bendel no less. DailyCandy called the polish “powerful, elegant, iconic,” and InStyle magazine named it an editor’s pick this March.
“You have to do whatever it takes to survive,” said Mr. McCann, who is also holding down two bartending jobs, one at Heathers, the other at Local 138.
“I’m also continuing to host my real estate events, because I feel they’re important in times like these.”
Which brings us back to the party Mr. McCann hosted at Stone Rose on Jan. 28. The room and the mood harked back to a pre-Lehman era. Through the glass curtain wall, the bar overlooked the gray facade of the Museum of Arts and Design. Lights from neighboring apartment houses twinkled like relics of a happier season.
Francis Greenburger, the industry veteran, encouraged his young audience not to give up on real estate just yet. “Our job, today and frankly always, is to find exceptions to the rule,” Mr. Greenburger said. “If it was easy, everybody would be successful.
“We also know the times are ripe with opportunity for those who can see beyond the doom and gloom.”
The talk wrapped up.
The hundreds of young professionals in the room saluted Mr. Greenburger with whistles and cheers.