Real estate was never supposed to be a career for Gerard Schumm.
The executive vice president of RFR Realty always wanted to be a musician, a drummer to be exact. But while going to St. Francis College, he asked his father, who worked in the real estate game, to help him find a day job until the record companies came banging at his door.
“I said, ‘Hey, Pop, can you get me something to tide me over?’” Mr. Schumm told The Commercial Observer during an interview last week.
In his paternal wisdom, Mr. Schumm’s father told him to him to pay attention: real estate might have something to offer.
“I’d like to believe that I would have made it as a professional musician,” he said. “But after almost 40 years in this great business I can honestly say that I’m not sure that a successful career in the music business would have been as rewarding as the time I have spent in the real estate industry. Maybe a little more fun, and probably a lot more trouble, but at this point in my life I really treasure the experiences and the friendships this industry has afforded me.”
It may not be a Grammy, but the Real Estate Board of New York’s “George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year” award, bestowed on Mr. Schumm this year, should offer further validation that he made the right choice.
Last year, Mr. Schumm, while serving on REBNY’s management board of directors, helped tame a caustic labor dispute with the janitors union, 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which was threatening a strike that would affect 1,500 office buildings throughout the city—including 30 Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the TimeWarner Center.
Mr. Schumm credited REBNY with finding a workable solution for everyone involved.
“They came up with a very reasonable and very fair settlement,” he said.
The self-effacing Mr. Schumm is reluctant to brag about his role in the resolution—or anything else.
“Those in the real estate industry who know me also know that I am not the type of person who looks to claim significant accomplishments for myself,” he said. “Everything we have achieved at RFR in the past year has been through a concerted team effort, whether it’s the extremely successful leasing program—425,000 square feet of leasing this year—the successful completion of major capital improvements and building renovations, or the restructuring of the leasing and management team, it’s all been via a team effort achieved under the direction of our COO, Gregg Popkin, and the tremendous support of our owners, Aby Rosen and Michael Fuchs.”
He did, however, tout 26 happily married years to his wife, Dinah, as one of his proudest accomplishments.
“But even then I’ve got to give her 50 percent of the credit,” he said.
Mr. Schumm, who goes by Jerry, has spent the past 40 years with some of the top real estate players in the industry. He launched his career in 1972 at the Uris Organization, where he worked until Olympia and York acquired the company. He also served at the Galbreath Organization, Axion/Grubb & Ellis, Trizec Office Properties and Equity Office Properties, which he eventually left in order to shift careers and try his hand as an energy consultant.
He was out of the real estate game, working at Energy Spectrum until 2009, when he was pulled back into the business by RFR Realty after the company dangled an offer for its executive vice president position, a title that would put him in charge of property management, construction and leasing.
“It’s just a phenomenal industry,” he said. “You can do whatever you want in this business. There are just so many opportunities. It’s something new every day, and that’s what I love about it.”
Mr. Schumm said he’s hoping that the industry’s flexibility will sustain it through the changes that will inevitably come with new technology.
“As it has throughout history, advancements in technology will continue to impact the real estate industry,” he said. “As technology advances, the ability of a company to conduct its business improves. As the business environment improves, the economy should also improve.
“Typically, as the economy improves, the need for space changes and that ultimately impacts the real estate industry,” Mr. Schumm continued.
“The big unknown is whether or not advancements in technology will increase or decrease the need for space. I’m betting on the real estate markets and an increased demand for space as a result of technological advancements.”
But in the immediate future, the economy has caused the market to slow, Mr. Schumm said, and, as such, he forecasted that real estate would continue to follow the rest of the business world.
“The biggest issue facing the real estate industry today is the same issue that’s facing just about every other industry—the condition and the continued uncertainty of the economy,” he said. “While people want to be optimistic and believe that there are signs the economy is improving, I believe there is still an underlying level of nervousness that is impairing the growth of the real estate markets. Until the nervousness dissipates, the real estate industry will continue to move forward—slowly, at best.”