Philips International Co-President Seth Pilevsky on Math in Real Estate
Seth Pilevsky, Co-President of Philips International, has turned this rule on its ear. He’s turned two negative experiences into two positive results. At the very beginning of his real estate career, Pilevsky was managing an extensive renovation project on a multi-family building. Upgrades were being made throughout the building, non-paying tenants were being evicted, subcontractors were into all the systems, and, according to Pilevsky, it was beyond chaotic.
“It was a great way, a really great way, to learn many different aspects of the business all at once,” he said. “I was dealing with everything. The contractors. The municipality. The tenants. And I got a lot of negative feedback from the tenants because I was always on the job. I was always there. My natural tendency was to push back.”
Pilevsky realized that some of the tenants’ concerns and complaints were legitimate. The construction process was noisy and disruptive.
“Look, they had a right to be upset,” Pilevsky said. “Sure, we were making improvements and the end product was going to be a better building, but the process was intrusive.” He looked for a positive way to respond rather than arguing with unhappy tenants. He landed on a solution after conferring with his father, Philip Pilevsky.
“Apologize,’” he told me. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re right or wrong. They want to be heard. When you apologize to them, you are acknowledging that their concerns are legitimate.”
“It was a great lesson for me. The tenants didn’t want to hear why they shouldn’t be upset. They wanted me to accept that they had a right to be upset.”
Pilevsky learned that sometimes, you need to keep your cool and roll with the punches.
A few years later, in 2007, Pilevsky had a similar experience. He had a large retail space, secured by a sizable mortgage, that was about to become vacant. A potential retailer, a Fortune 500 company, expressed interest in the space and a conference call was arranged. “The real estate market was terrible at this point,” Pilevsky said. “The retailer wouldn’t give on anything. He was adamant to the point of being unreasonable and abusive. Lots of four-letter words. There was no negotiation at all. I was almost like, ‘What was the point of this?’”
Pilevsky’s initial internal response to the retailer was to give it right back to him. Then he remembered the lesson learned many years earlier on that multi-family project: don’t be reactive when there is nothing to be gained by it. He balanced his desire for a particular lease rate versus no income and a looming mortgage. He accepted the take-it-or-leave deal and signed a lucrative lease with a nationwide company.
“When someone is taking a hard line, your natural instinct is to respond the same way,” Pilevsky said. “Oftentimes that is the right position to take to get to a compromise position. Sometimes, though, it’s not the right way to go. When you have a lot to lose or nothing to gain, you’re better off swallowing your pride. As Kenny Rogers says in his song, The Gambler, you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.”