In 1992, a bloody civil war broke out in what was then the nation of Yugoslavia. And in New York, a young financial consultant in her first year at Insignia/ESG decided to buy a house.
“People said: you’re 29, you’re single, why do you need a house?” says Snezana Anderson, now a senior vice president at CBRE. “But we didn’t know what was going to happen, and I wanted a place my family could go.”
Anderson became a broker in 1994, and to date she has negotiated leases totaling approximately 2.8 million square feet. Her clients include the French government and major data center operators, as well as a number of New York City property owners.
Earlier this year, she represented the liquor giant Pernod Ricard in a deal to lease 82,300 s/f at 250 Park Avenue. And she still owns that house — in North Bergen, NJ — along with several apartments in New York, Paris, Florida and Belgrade.
Growing up in Yugoslavia in the 60s and 70s, Anderson traveled regularly between her father’s home in Bosnia, and Serbia, where her mother had settled after their divorce.
Her father was a scientist, fluent in seven languages, who took his daughter with him when he traveled to conferences and on business around the world.
Her mother was an economist who took Anderson to live in Paris for two years when she was in elementary school and later, when her daughter was a teenager, built her own house outside of Belgrade.
“We’d be mixing concrete all night, and in the morning she would put on her heels and go out to work,” Anderson says.
She credits each of her parents with giving her the skills and experience that would later contribute to her professional success. Even growing up with divorce contributed to her abilities as a broker, she says — she learned to anticipate and pre-empt sticking points in family negotiations.
“You get all kinds of clients, and some are really demanding. But it’s nothing compared to what I’m used to,” she says.
After a brief experiment with medical school (“I fainted at any sight of blood”) Anderson earned a degree in English, French and Italian from the linguistics department of the University of Belgrade. Studying literature and languages, she says, “was pure pleasure.”
She later took a job with a tour operator in costal Montenegro and, from the age of 22 on, she did what she could to help support her family, as the value of the national currency continued on a downward slide. “When your country is falling apart around you, you can kind of feel it, and as a young person all you want to do is work and help your parents,” she says.
She returned to school to earn an MBA in international finance and marketing from the University of Hartford in Paris, and in 1988 she moved to the U.S.
When she interviewed with John Powers for her financial consulting position Insignia/ESG (which later became CBRE) in 1991, she remembers him saying, “You should really be a broker.”
But it wasn’t until 1994 that, at the encouragement of her mother, who was by then living with her in North Bergen, she took the plunge.
“I had no connections, but I thought, ‘I can run numbers, that’s something a lot of brokers can’t do’,” she said. She had also had the experience of working with such high level CBRE brokers as executive vice president Edward Goldman, vice chairman Lewis Miller, Tri-State New York Region CEO MaryAnn Tighe, and former president and CEO Mitch Rudin, now CEO at Brookfield Properties.
“Because I was running numbers for the brokers in the Consulting Team, I became really interested in brokerage,” she says, adding later: “I learned from the best.”
Her first call was to the French Treasury department, which then had an office in the World Trade Center.
That call led to her first deal, and for ten years she used her fluent French to develop a base of international clients.
But her “first big money” came from a completely different source. A telecommunications company was looking for a few thousand feet of space for equipment.
As the daughter of a scientist, Anderson was at home interacting with technicians and talking about power supplies and the cost of power. As the square footage of the deal steadily grew, she found the space, and closed the deal for the first of what was to be many data center tenants in 111 Eighth Avenue.
“Suddenly, accidentally, I was one of maybe five brokers in Manhattan who understood what a data center meant,” she says.
Soon, her team was doing 300,000 s/f deals in cities around the country. And for the first time in 10 years, she left the U.S., on a trip to Paris with her mother.
In the ten years that she had not left the U.S., her home country had a prominent place in the headline news. Her mother was with her here and her father had died in 1988, but her brother was in Serbia and her mother’s family in Croatia, and Yugoslavia was breaking apart.
]“When they were bombing Belgrade for 78 days, it was hard,” she says. “Innocent people in Croatia and Bosnia were being killed and I think everyone who comes from that part of the world is scarred.”
But in this case, at least, the scars don’t show. Cheerful and friendly, Anderson remains ready to make the most of every opportunity.
“A little tiny deal is never a little tiny deal. You never know what’s going to come out of it. It’s never the last. It’s always the first, if you do a good job,” she says.