By Sarah Trefethen
It’s been many years since Joseph Swingle’s clients have expected him to cook up a side of scrambled eggs. But before the start of his decades-long career in New York real estate, Cassidy Turley’s managing principal owned and operated a diner in Springfield, New Jersey for 12 years.
“No matter how hard I work today — and I work pretty hard — it’s still a walk in the park compared to the restaurant business,” Swingle said. “We were open 24 hours a day. You can’t be there 24 hours a day, but it sure seemed like it.”
Swingle bought the struggling 35-employee diner through family connections, and within 10 months, he said, turned it around and was able to pay his father back the down payment within a year.
“When it’s your own money, you learn in a hurry how to run a business. You learn by the seat of your pants,” he said.
Swingle’s first real estate deal came, he says, when he realized the property the diner was on was worth more than the business. He took a year off and, when he returned to work, it was again in food service, but this time working for the property management arm of Oliver Realty.
From there, Swingle left food service behind. He came up through the property management ranks at Oliver Realty, which was later acquired by Grubb and Ellis. From managing distressed properties in receivership in the early 1980s, he went on to spend years between the corporate service and investor service sides of the company.
“The bosses kept stealing me back and forth for the next best assignment, so I ended up learning both ends of the business,” he said.
When describing the arc of his career, Swingle has an unusual way of noting the big opportunities. Before going to work for Oliver Realty, for example, he remembers saying, “I don’t want that job.”
Another job he says he didn’t want (but took anyway) was opening the New Jersey office of Grubb and Ellis — an operation he took from three to 200 people in just two years. “They’ve all turned out to be great experiences,” he said of the jobs he didn’t want.
For six years he was in charge of Grubb and Ellis’s corporate facilities management accounts, and traveled the country on behalf of clients like Microsoft, IBM and Aetna.
“Getting to meet the people and being able to build that practice, that was fulfilling,” he said. His next position at Grubb and Ellis was as head of the New York region, a job he held for less than two years before he made the jump to the newly-formed Cassidy Turley.
He knew people in the various firms that joined together to form Cassidy Turley, and formed a good partnership with Peter Hennessy, Cassidy’s president for the tri-state area.
“At that point in my career it was important to work with like-minded people who focus on customer service,” he recalled.
Today, the firm’s property management division is in charge of more than 455 million square feet, domestically and internationally.
Swingle still enjoys the diversity of his job. “I never have two days that are the same,” he said. “I never have two hours that are the same.”
After growing up as the middle child in a family of seven, he lives today in his hometown of Westfield, N.J. with his wife, Carrie, and three teenagers. His eldest son is a newly minted doctor who just started his residency in North Carolina.
“When I’m not at work, I’m at home with the family,” Swingle said, adding later, “My children ensure I don’t become selfish.”
In the workplace, Swingle enjoys informal mentoring relationships with employees across the firm’s departments and service lines.
“I manage by walking around, and I believe I’m very accessible,” he said. “It really is one of the big joys of my career.”
Crain’s New York Business has named Cassidy Turley one of New York’s best places to work two years in a row.
A commitment to customer service and hard work aren’t the only legacy of Swingle’s days in a roadside diner.
“I learned about profit and loss, I learned about teaming, I learned that it doesn’t matter how much it’s screwed up in the kitchen as long as they don’t know about it in the dining room,” he said with a laugh.
And every Christmas morning for the past 14 years, he’s been in charge of making breakfast for his extended family.
“French toast, bacon and eggs, ham — I enjoy cooking,” he said. “I don’t do it during the week, though.”