Succeeding in the world of modern New York real estate requires determination and the mindset of a pioneer.
So it’s little surprise that Bob Friedland, an iconic real estate figure in Westchester and the Bronx, has enjoyed such immense success.
Describing a career that has led to a six-company empire, including a car dealership and a financing entity for automobile purchases, Friedland labels a life in real estate as “something that just happened by mistake.”
“I studied physics in undergraduate school and I went on for an MBA. I was working for a research company while I was getting my MBA and thought that at that point, the only way to really get ahead was to get a masters in physics,” Friedland told Real Estate Weekly.
Eventually, life went in another direction for Friedland, who met his wife while pursuing the graduate degree.
He decided it was time to enter the workforce and took a job in the sales division of Fafnir Bearing Company.
After moving with his wife to Westchester, a now sales-seasoned Friedland needed a new job.
“I figured with my background, sales is typically the way to make money,” said Friedland. “I applied for a job that said industrial RE sales. I didn’t know what the ‘RE ‘stood for. It was real estate.”
The job was with a company called RB Miller.
“When I came home and told my wife that I took a job, she said ‘Great, how much does it pay?’” said Friedland with a laugh while recalling a conversation that many real estate professionals have likely experienced their own version of during the early days of their careers.
Friedland explained to her the stakes. His first job in real estate would provide him no guaranteed salary and no benefits to start. They would be living on a razor thin budget.
But that didn’t rattle Friedland.
“I always worked very hard, I knew I would make it,” he said.
After about three months, Friedland began receiving commission checks and the success continued for over a year.
“Someone lured me away from RB Miller,” Friedland said. “Two of their ex brokers lured me away. I went in with them and realized I had made a mistake. And that’s when I decided to open up my own company.”
It was now 1970 and a man with less than two years of real estate experience was looking to launch his own company.
“Well, we had about $800 in the bank, so we were flush with money,” he joked, admitting that it wasn’t necessarily a professional move that he was completely prepared for.
Still, Friedland didn’t flinch.
“My first office was in the basement of a house in Yonkers,” Friedland said before joking that some mornings he would find rat droppings in his coffee mug. After a year, Friedland’s first venture, Friedland Realty Inc. was in the black.
“Today we’re a company that has 22 brokers and three distinct divisions. Industrial, Retail, and Office,” he said.
“The first area that I went into was industrial. When that became strong enough, I opened up other areas, retail and office,” said Friedland, who has laid down strong roots in the tertiary north areas of Manhattan proper.
“It wasn’t until maybe 30 years later that I started buying real estate. We own about 25 buildings, totaling about 1.2 million square feet.”
The growth allowed Friedland to provide substantial career opportunities for his sons in the business, a perk that he is extremely grateful for.
“They both have shown that family is the most important thing,” said Friedland, whose son Jason took a substantial initial paycut after leaving Wall Street to join his father. “Money is only a means to enjoying yourself.”
Friedland’s other son Michael is also a partner at his company, Westrock Development.
Now Friedland believes that he can help provide opportunities for more than just his family.
“The office leasing market in Manhattan is exceptionally strong. The office leasing market in Westchester has a fairly high vacancy rate, so we’re dealing in completely different markets.”
Friedland believes that companies that are beginning to find the prices in Manhattan or Brooklyn too steep and have begun to look to the north.
“We have Pepsi Co. here. IBM here. Some of the major companies are here for many different reasons. There’s no personal New York City income tax, there’s no New York City tax. Although Westchester has a high nut, it’s lower than living in Manhattan,” said Friedland.
“The standard of living is much better here. The quality of life is much better here. Companies that really don’t need to be in Manhattan and pay $150 to $200 a foot should be in Westchester.”
Friedland said that tech companies that want to be near Silicon Alley, or an accounting or advertising company who don’t require immediate access to Park Avenue, could be prime candidates to migrate North.
“It makes no sense to be in Manhattan unless you need to be for some reason,” said Friedland.
Friedland, who laughs at the idea of retirement despite dedicating nearly 50 years to the real estate industry, currently is a managing partner at Kia of Old Saybrook and a chairman at Sensible Auto Lending, the financing arms of the dealership.
He is the chairman of what is now known as NAI Friedland Realty Inc., the largest privately held commercial real estate firm in the Bronx and Westchester County.
He is also chairman of the board for Schleppers Moving & Storage, which serves the New York area, and he is also chairman of Westrock Development.
Westrock, which owns over one million s/f of commercial real estate in the Bronx, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut, is a venture that was co-founded with his son Jason.