By Konrad Putzier
Entering the real estate industry from a different field is hardly unusual, but few start off as COOs.
When Scott Galin was tapped to head the storied Handler Organization in 2009, he had decades of experience running the clothing-store chain G&G, but had never worked for a real estate company. Still, he said the switch wasn’t too difficult.
“I found retail and real estate strikingly similar,” he said. “I look at tenants as customers — you have to make them happy. If the jeans don’t fit or the air conditioning doesn’t work, you have to fix it.”
It also helped that Galin had signed leases worth more than $2 billion during his nearly 30 years at G&G – albeit as a tenant.
If there was ever any doubt about Galin’s suitability, he has dispelled it during his first five years at Handler.
Galin has grown the company and set out to alter a business model that hasn’t changed that much in more than 50 years.
Traditionally, the Handler Organization has specialized in managing its own, class-B office buildings in the bustling Garment District. But under Galin, currently Handler’s CEO, the company has branched out into the third-party brokerage business.
One of its most notable deals was the signing of law firm Lewis Baach at the Chrysler Building in early 2013.
“Brokerage was very insignificant when I came,” Galin said. “But over the last five years, we have built a nice boutique brokerage.”
He hired ten licensed brokers, and recently added the former Thor Equities executive Richard Farley as first head of its brokerage division.
Galin said he isn’t trying to compete with big brokerages like CBRE or Cushman & Wakefield, but is instead looking to carve out a niche with smaller office leases ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 s/f.
Handler has plans to double the number of brokers from ten — including the most recent additions Jonathan Senker and Jesse de la Rama — to 20 in the next few years.
But despite the new focus on brokerage, the company is still looking to invest in buildings.
“We’re out there looking at properties. But it’s a tough time for a medium-sized player to compete with the guys with giant pocketbooks,”
Galin said. He added that the company is focusing on B-type office buildings between 50,000 and 100,000 s/f, but has become more “open-minded” about the types of properties it could buy.
Galin explained that Handler is looking at a medical building in Connecticut and a small residential development in Manhattan, venturing outside of its traditional Midtown office turf. He added that the company might even invest as far away as Boston.
After graduating from NYU with a B.S. in finance, the New York native chose to forego law school and joined his father’s retail business.
During his 30 years at the company, Galin rose to CEO and oversaw the company’s growth from around 30 to more than 600 stores.
One of the many leases he closed was for the company’s 40,000 s/f headquarters at 520 8th Avenue. The landlord was the Handler Organization — then led by Jerry Handler — and Galin soon became friends with Jerry’s son Scott.
The two Scotts are the same age, got married at the same time, and each had their three children more or less in sync. They live close to each other on Long Island’s north shore and their youngest sons, both 17, are currently in high school together.
During their time as friends in different industries, Scott Handler often joked that Galin should one day join his company. When Galin left the retail business in 2008, Scott Handler approached him with a concrete offer. “He said ‘Why don’t we do what we’ve been talking about for 20 years?’”, Galin recalled.
The two Scotts’ close relationship — Handler said Galin is “like a brother” to him — may explain why Galin fits in well with the family company.
“I don’t think that in six years we ever had a material disagreement or a shouting match,” Galin said. “It’s remarkable that our relationship is now even better than before.”