Cohen on climbing the ladder to success

After being appointed the chief sales officer of Besen Associates in 2016, Ron Cohen was already beginning work on one of the biggest transactions he’d ever work on.

Cohen, alongside his fellow broker Brian Belkin who sourced the deal, focused their attention on an exclusive sales transaction at a Lower East Side property. Besen initially found a buyer offering $34 million for the property at 167-171 Chrystie Street, or roughly $800 per square foot, but the sellers declined and changed gears by seeking a ground lease instead, Cohen said.

And in the time that took, the exclusive contract between Besen and the seller expired, leading them to find another brokerage to work with.

But six months later, the sellers would come back to Besen, asking if they could bring back the buyer that was on the table in 2016. Cohen was eventually able to close the deal on a 99-year ground lease valued at $175 million after nearly two years in the making.

“I would call it a hallmark achievement and a deal that I’m very proud of,” Cohen said. “I got to delve into the intricacies that come along with a ground lease structure and the art of patience and persistence paid off.”

Cohen’s persistence was also evident throughout his career, as he started at the lower rungs at Besen and worked his way up. Before starting at Besen, Cohen has spent 11 years in the advertising industry before deciding to take a shot at New York City real estate. The decision was based on being a native New Yorker, his love of architecture, and how much action the industry was seeing.

“I joined Besen because I believed that focusing on the middle market of investment sales really enables me to learn the real estate business firsthand,” Cohen said. “It’s much more hands-on and you engage with owners, investors, operators, developers and really dig in.”

He spent five years at Besen working on commission-based investments in the middle-market arena of transactions between $1 million and $100 million. But he was later recruited by Eastern Consolidated where he worked for a year. But his talents were sought again at Besen in 2008 where they offered him the newly-created position of chief marketing officer.

Cohen’s work entailed helping brokers secure exclusive assignments, strengthening client relationships, recruiting and training, but also working with the sales team. And in 2016, Cohen was appointed the chief sales officer to focus more on the sales side.

He’s now in charge of a team of 40, which includes investment brokers, marketing staff, and analysts. Cohen’s work has spanned Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan and his properties range from retail, multifamily and mixed use.

But with many Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods already in their prime, Cohen said there are inland areas of Brooklyn that are ripe for investment.

“Some of those areas in mid-Brooklyn happen to be beautiful neighborhoods that would surprise you if you ever walk down those streets,” Cohen said. “[There’s] clean buildings, good amenities in a very livable, affordable neighborhood.”

Cohen said transportation will always be a determining factor as areas like Kensington and Midwood are at least a 40-minute train ride from the city. He explained that there was currently a pricing disconnect based on the properties and the location that is beginning to close and more accurately represent the area. Cohen added they are in contract with a pair of properties at 241 and 245 Ocean Parkway in Kensington.

But as chief sales officer, it’s not just the deals he’s in charge of. Cohen is also responsible for taking care of his 40-member team and ensuring they remain ahead of their competition. In his executive role, Cohen said one of his most important duties is building a strong team, but also retaining those talented individuals.

“I think we’ve made some wonderful strides in the past three or four years in terms of improving our marketing, our platform, our systems, our knowledge, our talent, and I really want to see that continue,” Cohen said. “For me, the number one most critical factor is people and talent. People who are smart, who are client-focused and really know how to execute.
Whereas he was the one grinding his way up to the top early in his career, Cohen is now putting his energy behind his team so they achieve similar results.

“When I started I was really focused on me and now I’m really focused on our entire team,” Cohen said. “My leadership style is more of a bottom up approach, where I believe it’s my job to support everyone in their role to help them perform better and achieve results.”

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