A few years ago, Michael J. Greenwald, amateur actor and a principal at Friedman LLP, auditioned for a small part in an independent film about the Enron crisis.
He might have thought he was a good fit for the role, but the casting team didn’t agree.
“They told me I wasn’t believable as an accountant,” he said.
This might come as a surprise to Greenwald’s many clients in the real estate industry — he’s been reviewing their taxes and advising on transactions for over 30 years.
“I train my clients: if you’re starting to think about a deal, talk to me early,” he said.
As an undergraduate at Yale, Greenwald majored in “Study of the City,” an interdisciplinary look at urbanism. When he returned to graduate school, he at first thought he would pursue a career in investment banking, he said. But he and his wife had already started a family, and he decided the life of a rookie banker might not be for him.
Instead, he took the advice of a mentor who said that taxation experts are always in demand, went into accounting, paired it with his earlier interest in real estate and has never looked back. Greenwald worked for a time at the Starrett Corporation, famous for development projects from the Empire State Building to Stuyvesant Town. In 1988, he worked on the first major deal involving the fledgling Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
“No one knew how to price it… we ended up using an equipment leasing model,” he said. After three years at Starrett, he went into business for himself as a private consultant (“I outsourced my own job,” he said) and two years ago, he joined Freidman.
With 30 years of perspective on New York real estate, Greenwald is used to the ups and downs of the market cycle. Right now, he said, he sees a lot of interest in 80-20 deals and developments that mix hotel and residential use. Air rights transactions are also on the rise, he said. “They’re not making more land,” he said. “Everybody’s looking for ways to re-purpose. I’m a huge fan of the re-purposing buildings.”
Outside of work, Greenwald is vice-chairman of the Yale Association of Alumni. He met the playwright Thornton Wilder while at Yale through Wilder’s nephew, who was resident faculty at the university, and today Greenwald is treasurer of the Thornton Wilder Society, an organization he helped found.
He has also been involved in acting throughout his life, including an occasional foray into improvisational theater.
“It’s a lot like working on a deal,” he said. “You’re out there; you’re working with another person; you don’t know what they’re going to say, but your job is to keep it going. You never say ‘no’ in improv, because ‘no’ ends the scene.”
Greenwald grew up in Syosset and lives in Great Neck. He has three grown children and one granddaughter. One of his sons reports traffic news for News 12 and is the radio voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team, the other is headed for law school, and his daughter writes young adult novels.
“And my granddaughter is going to be president of the United State,” he said.
Greenwald recently celebrated his 60th birthday, but he’s not planning to retire any time soon.
“As long as people are willing to rely on my advice, I’ll keep giving it to them,” he said. “I always wanted to be the grey-haired eminent in the corner who the younger accountants come to and say, ‘Tell us what it was like in the old days.’ “