Say what you will about dictatorships-human rights abuses, censorship and religious intolerance, for starters-they do make for truly fantastic tenants.
The unconventional wisdom is but one lesson real estate broker Gil Robinov has learned in a 40-year career that has put him in close proximity to monarchies and autocratic governments, from Egypt and Iran to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, just to name a few.
Indeed, since 1992, when he snagged his first foreign client, Mr. Robinov has represented 25 percent of the 192 member governments of the U.N. In total, the native New Yorker has leased an estimated 30 million square feet of office space to Fortune 500 companies, major institutions and, most notably, overseas governments.
“I’m probably the only broker in New York who really specializes in this area,” said Mr. Robinov, an executive managing director at NAI Global who has been nicknamed Mr. U.N. by his colleagues for the lengthy roster of governments he has helped to acquire office space for near the United Nations Plaza on Manhattan’s East Side.
Far from typical, Mr. Robinov’s unique focus has brought him in close contact with unpopular governments like North Korea, whose five-year lease the broker successfully renewed in 2006, despite a string of rejections from landlords who refused to take in the nuclear-weapons-testing dictatorship for fear other tenants would flee.
The controversial assignment was one of the few Mr. Robinov considered turning down, but he later decided to follow through on a philosophy he crafted earlier in his career while brokering a deal for the League of Arab States shortly after 9/11.
“I’ll never forget what the ambassador said to me,” said Mr. Robinov of the League of Arab States dignitary. “He said: ‘Nobody wants to take me.’ And you know? I felt a responsibility to him. Not that I liked him, or what he stood for, or what his interests were regarding Israel, but I felt that as a New Yorker, and as an American, that if we’re going to have the U.N. here and we’re going to take advantage of the benefits of having it here, these people are our guests and we have a responsibility to allow them to rent.”
Indeed, Mr. Robinov, who is Jewish and appears to be in his 70s, has represented many Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and Egypt, but he insists none of them have expressed anti-Semitic opinions.
“They’ve never said anything to me,” said Mr. Robinov, who in 2009 inked deals on behalf of the governments of Singapore and Fiji. “I became very friendly with the consulate general of Saudi Arabia-most of these guys were educated in the United States-and he would tell me that he had Jewish girlfriends and all this stuff. When you take them out of the office, they’re just people. They’re human beings.”