Published on: January 27, 2020
Damien has just stepped into a new role as Senior Project Manager at the global disputes and investigations law firm Kobre & Kim. He is responsible for overseeing the firm’s real estate portfolio and construction projects across the globe. Prior to the New Year, he was Real Estate and Transformation Leader for North America at Unilever, where he successfully cut occupancy spend by 13%.
He was the lead strategist on the approximately 700,000 s/f property for Ernst & Young at One Manhattan West Prior to joining EY, Damien was Director of Global Real Estate for NBCUniversal. He has also held roles as a Transaction Manager on the Marsh & McLennan account and broker at Jones Lang LaSalle. He has been involved in closing nearly 20 million s/f in real estate deals, both in the U.S. and internationally. Damien is also a Junior Board Member of Catholic Charities in New York City and coaches his son’s sports teams.
“Damien is a trendsetter in the real estate industry. Damien continues to be one of the more persistent, data-driven individuals who have a professional, forward-thinking view on the workplace. As someone who has seen him from both sides of the table, Damien excels at formulating a global strategy for each project. He continues to push for innovation and change, while maintaining a work/life balance like few I have seen. He has not only been a colleague and a client but also a friend.” – Steven Rotter, Vice-Chairman, JLL
What is one thing that no one knows about you?
“I thought teaching was my future – yes, I was going to be a teacher. I graduated from Providence College with a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education with a minor in Business Management. After retiring from the NYPD after 20 years, my father taught in a Catholic school for another 20 years. I believed I would end up teaching and coaching lacrosse after school, following similar footsteps. God had other plans for me. My studies in education trained me to communicate ideas and concepts effectively; these skills continue to assist me in my real estate career today. While I had no idea I’d end up in real estate during college, I appreciate the indirect journey that led me to the position that I’m in today.”
How did you get into the Facilities/Real Estate field?
“I think there were a couple of factors – even decisions – which ultimately led me to the Facilities field. First, unlike many of my peers, I couldn’t return home following graduation from college. My parents had retired and relocated out of the area. I needed to find a job fast to support myself; there was no turning back, no safety net. Luckily, I was introduced to David Arena and John McGinley, who were senior members of Grubb Ellis at the time. Their company had recently been awarded the Moody’s facilities management account, and they asked if I would like to join the team, giving a young, ambitious kid a shot in the real estate industry. I was shocked and incredibly thankful. On my first day on the job, Stacey Ingle, AVP of Facilities, asked me to bring something to 7 World Trade Center.
At the time, Moody’s still owned and occupied 99 Church Street, which is now currently the Four Seasons. I remember walking out of the building and asking a police officer, who was near the WTC Memorial construction, if he knew where 7WTC was. I’ll never forget his reaction; he smirked slightly, laughed, then said, “yeah, the big shiny one right there.” His reaction revealed just how much I needed to learn about this city and the real estate industry at the time.
This was such a pivotal career moment for me. It marked the beginning of a professional journey, one I couldn’t have ever embarked on without the help of David, John and Stacey. I found my professional calling through them. They gave me a chance, believed in me, and mentored me. This experience further instilled how important relationships and professional guidance from mentors like them can be in this industry. And because they invested in my professional development, I will always attribute a large part of my success to them. They gave me an incredible opportunity that changed the direction of my career and my life. I still try to sit with David and John on a quarterly basis just to discuss everything from real estate to career path to life in general. I am truly blessed to have such great mentors.”
Tell us about a favorite project highlight.
“I have really been fortunate and worked on some amazing projects during my time at NBC. These projects included the purchase of 30 Rock; the restructuring of the Today show lease at 10 Rock; relocating Squawk Box into 1271 Avenue of the Americas; and the restructure of NBC Sports HQ, the home of Sunday Night Football broadcasts. I was also the lead on the strategy and relocation of EY’s North American HQ to 1 Manhattan West and Hoboken. However, if I had to pick one project that had the biggest impact on me personally, it would have been a factory sale while at Unilever.
As a real estate professional, we are always crunching the numbers to make sure we are able to get the greatest value of any deal in which we are involved. In July of 2019 it was announced that we would be closing the factory in September of 2019, leaving us only three months before shutting down the site and having to let 270 loyal employees go. It was decided early on that the welfare of those employees was our first objective. Unilever held a job fair onsite, and we even began to negotiate with a potential buyer that would preserve these employees’ jobs. We completed one of the fastest transactions in Unilever history, taking less than two months from initial conversation through closing. Due to that hard work and the ethics that Unilever holds, we were able to save 252 of the 270 jobs. It was a tremendous success, and I truly felt Unilever looked at their employees, not just the bottom line.”
What is your greatest success story?
“I began playing lacrosse in the seventh grade and into my time at Don Bosco Prep. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be the biggest player on the field, I worked hard to improve my lacrosse skills so that I could add my own value to the team. I played summer and fall ball. I would play winter league indoors nearly two hours from my home. And because of this hard work, I was faster than most on the field, and my stick skills were amongst the best in the state. But still was told I would never play Division I lacrosse. Yet, I never left the house without a stick and ball because I wasn’t going to accept that as being predetermined. I became a three-time All State and two-time All-American player in high school. I was determined to turn the discouragement into my motivation and, through practice, cultivate my strengths. This tenacity was rewarded; I received a full scholarship for lacrosse to Providence College.
I hope to share this story with my children because I want them to understand that, through hard work and perseverance, you can accomplish things in life for which you might ‘fit’ the ideal mold. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work. You must distinguish yourself from the rest of the world by identifying your own unique strengths, gifts and talents. The same can be applied to my real estate career. I wasn’t the traditional mold based on my education background, but I wanted to be successful so badly; and whatever I didn’t know I was going to make it a point to learn.”
Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate/Facilities world.
“I love my wife and children, and I also love working in real estate. Achieving a work/life balance has been really tough. I know most working parents would agree with me. It requires a lot of coordination, sacrifice and diligence to effectively meet all of the demands of my professional role while also maintaining a strong marriage and the duties that come with being a father of a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and 2-year-old child.
In the real estate industry, I also believe we are on the forefront of a dynamic change. The way we view space is evolving to meet the needs of the current world in which we live. For example, the disruption of some new workstyle innovations have challenged the classic, commercial real estate, architecture and space use. As a relatively young person in this industry, I feel the need to push the boundaries a little more in order to accommodate the changes and promote the ideas that will help my organization evolve. Although this task can be uncomfortable and stressful at times, I find that this discomfort is the true indicator of growth.”
What learning experience would you pass onto future FMs?
“1) Build a strong network of supportive industry professionals and find experienced mentors who are willing to share their insights and discernments. This will enhance their ability to navigate themselves within the Real Estate/Facilities industry more efficiently. I truly value all of the people in my professional network and credit much of my success to the work I’ve put into cultivating and maintaining the solid relationships I have in this industry today.
2) Stand up for what you believe in. There are difficult conversations to be had sometimes, but if you believe in something, speak up. By the same token, be open minded to other perspectives as well.
3) Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk.
4) Be inquisitive and seek knowledge. I’m constantly educating myself by researching historical trends, reading industry-related articles to remain informed on current events, as well as developing creative ideas for potential deal structures and proposals. Just remember, there is always someone outworking you somewhere.”
Interviewed by Sonya Verny of IA Interior Architects, IFMA NYC Secretary