The Boy Who Played With Firefighters

0007 smaller The Boy Who Played With Firefighters

When Edward S. Gordon tapped Patrick Murphy to manage the company’s New Jersey office in 1998, the firm was ranked a dismal fifth in the region and housed 37 employees. Still, at the recommendation of then–and later–colleague Stephen Siegel, Mr. Murphy shifted from the firm’s brokerage group in midtown Manhattan to Saddlebrook, N.J., where the operation was languishing under poor management.

In less than a year, however, the son of a state trooper-turned-cop-turned-fireman ably reversed the office’s low sales numbers, in part by reeducating his brokers and formulating a multi-disciplinary approach to chasing the top companies in north and central Jersey. By 1999, Mr. Murphy’s operation had snatched the top spot in terms of number of deals and the square feet within those deals.

“It was a relatively painless and quick process to ramp us up–one, because I knew how to sell and, two, because I knew how to execute,” Mr. Murphy said. “They had training, but probably not like I gave it to them. It was more like boot camp for those junior guys.”

Since then, the tight ship Mr. Murphy runs has been sailing closer to the sun, back into Manhattan, yes, but also the Midwest and the West Coast for big clients like the tax and advisory firm KPMG–not before first hitting the ruffled edge of New York’s tristate region. To be sure, only four years after his success in the Garden State, the skilled broker was hired by CB Richard Ellis to manage six offices in Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. By early 2006, each one had climbed to first place.

Now a CBRE vice chairman and back in midtown, Mr. Murphy’s expertise in the suburban markets has only served to fortify his practice, which long ago ballooned to include assignments for heavy hitters such as Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, IBM and Citigroup.

“I’ve only done commercial, my entire career,” said Mr. Murphy, 52, whose real estate roots date back to 1981. “Nobody should ever ask me anything about residential–I don’t know it.”

Most recently, Mr. Murphy–with help from colleague Ken Meyerson of the company’s consulting group–inked a major transaction on behalf of Société Générale, the financial services firm. Besides being the largest lease of 2010 in Manhattan, the transaction proved particularly tricky because the space leased at 245 Park Avenue wasn’t on the market.

Indeed, after whittling down from about 220 million feet of potential office space in midtown, Mr. Murphy and his colleagues honed in on space occupied by JPMorgan Chase, which was looking to dispose of other offices it currently leases across Manhattan–but not that particular space.

In an effort to expand its trading area, Société Générale was seeking large floor plates, high slab-to-slab heights and about 450,000 square feet–all amenities that few midtown building seemed to offer, the broker said. In the end, he discovered the Park Avenue space through old-school canvassing.

“When you think about a large tenant, there aren’t that many large blocks of space, and of 220 million feet of space in midtown, how many actual blocks of space over 500,000 feet are there?” said Mr. Murphy. “There are probably less than 500 spaces like that, so we literally contacted every large block of space to identify some opportunities.”

In December, meanwhile, Mr. Murphy finalized lease negotiations on behalf of the investment bank UBS, which renewed 720,000 square feet at two buildings in Weehawken, N.J., the broker’s old stomping grounds. After an extended search, UBS officials made the decision to renew in just two of the three Weehawken towers that the bank currently leases space in rather than undergo a costly relocation effort. “Financially, it was very compelling for them to stay put, and it worked for everybody involved,” Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Murphy was raised in Forest Hill, Queens, by a father who served first as a state trooper before joining the NYPD and, finally, the FDNY. Of those careers, it was the latter that Mr. Murphy remembers most fondly as a young child growing up in New York.

As a 10-year-old, in fact, Mr. Murphy spent endless hours at his late father’s ladder company on Great Jones Street, dropping by for Italian meals and, on occasion, rides on the fire trucks. Although he was persuaded to take exams offered by the NYPD and the FDNY, Mr. Murphy acknowledged that, while he did well on the written portions, he froze when faced with climbing steep, shaky ladders during a physical exam. “I remember getting up on that ladder a few times and saying, ‘Boy, this is not for me,’” laughed Mr. Murphy. “But none of the Murphy siblings did it.”

But all through Mr. Murphy’s swift ascendancy in the real estate world-from stints at the defunct American Realty Advisors to the office-leasing firm Friedland Associates–his deep respect for the FDNY has not wavered. So it was no surprise when, shortly after the terror attacks of 2001, Mr. Murphy and some colleagues made a deal with former World Trade Center tenant Hartford Insurance to donate a large amount of commission dollars from a 100,000-square-foot relocation bid to support the widows of firemen from his father’s old Great Jones firehouse. Together, the company and CBRE were able to help support the widows.

“I had the pleasure of showing some of the new guys, who had recently been assigned to this firehouse, some of the ins and outs of the firehouse,” said Mr. Murphy, who lives on Long Island with his wife and son. “So it was really a great ride down memory lane for me.”

jsederstrom@observer.com