Lessons Learned and Earned, Part I

Right from the start of the firm, we knew what we wanted to do and how we wanted to be perceived by the marketplace. Early on, we came up with the first of our company mission statements:

“Massey Knakal Realty Services is a place of purpose, order and meaning. A place in which being human is a prerequisite but acting human is essential. A place where discipline and will are prized for what they are: the backbone of enterprise and action, of being what you are intentionally instead of accidentally. We are committed to building a tradition of exclusively representing sellers with integrity and respect, providing the highest level of professionalism and ethics to achieve maximum results.”

While our mission statement has changed over the years, the words above still guide our core values and principles.

So …

Lesson 6:

Know exactly what it is that you want to do (and how you want to be perceived by participants in the market).


The brokerage business requires the proper mind-set. After all, we are simply intermediaries representing the best interests of our clients. The need to produce today is today’s reality-and current financial obligations are dependent upon this-but the real mantra of success is sustainability and growth. This is true with respect to our attitudes toward our clients as well as all other market participants, particularly other brokers with whom we compete.

Regarding other brokers, you can either take the position that the pie of potential business is finite, and every piece that someone else gets is one fewer piece for you; or you can take the attitude that the market is very large and there is more than enough business to go around. The latter provides more comfort and allows one to keep things in better perspective and also provides a basis for forming mutually beneficial relationships with your competitors.

Paul and I have always had this perspective and we feel fortunate that we count among our good friends many of the top building sales brokers in New York. Many observers of the market may be surprised by that, but the friendships we have formed are long-lasting and are an integral part of the happiness we get out of our careers.

It has been said that this business is a marathon, not a sprint. Having this perspective allows you to do what is in the best interest of your client, not what is in the best interest of the transaction. This is a key to sustained success.

So …

Lesson 7:

Have a long-term perspective on your business.


When we started Massey Knakal, Paul was 28 years old and I was 26. We ran the business initially by trial and error and made more than our share mistakes. We had a secretary keeping our books who couldn’t balance her own checkbook, never realized that the letterhead stock we actually received was much thinner than the stock we ordered and paid for, and didn’t think to ask for our first report covers to be laminated after printing, leaving black ink all over the reader’s hands. These were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the mistakes we made.

Fortunately, we learned from our mistakes and applied what we learned. It is said that “To learn and not to do, is not to learn,” and “To know and not to do, is really not to know.” These words could not be more true.

Unfortunately, we did not take the time to seek out senior people who could serve as mentors for us back in those days. Today, we have an advisory board made up of some of the most respected professionals in our industry and we rely on their counsel constantly.

So …

Lessons 8 and 9:

Seek out and ask senior people for advice; and making mistakes is O.K.-just don’t make the same mistake twice.


Many people say that they’d rather be lucky than good. While I believe that luck plays a role in all of our lives, I believe that the harder you work the luckier you get.

Over the years we have seen it time and time again. The brokers who are in at 7 a.m. and leave after 7 p.m. (or any combination of the 12-hour day that is required) always seem to make more commission dollars than those who work less. These folks are also the ones who will be in the office on the weekends, getting prepared for the weeks ahead. I am often asked what it is that brokers do before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. that makes the difference and I really don’t exactly know. Perhaps it is more planning or getting paperwork done so they can spend more time on the phone during “traditional business hours.” Perhaps they read more or study comparable sales more closely.

I am not sure exactly what it is but the results are undeniable: those who work harder are generally the most successful.

So …

Lesson 10:

Hard work is essential.


More lessons to follow next week … Stay tuned.


Robert Knakal is the chairman and founding partner of Massey Knakal Realty services and in his career has brokered the sale of more than 1,150 properties totaling over $7.4 billion in value.


Lessons Learned and Earned, Part I