Executive of the Month: As chief sales officer at The Besen Group, Ron Cohen plans to raise the bar on all fronts

Ron Cohen, newly appointed chief sales officer at The Besen Group, recently sat down with the New York Real Estate Journal for a question and answer session.

Q: You’ve been at Besen for quite some time, right? How has your role evolved?

A: I joined Besen & Associates as an investment sales associate in the spring of 2003. Given my business background, I was able to lend my experience to the firm in a leadership role as well. As a result, the role of chief marketing officer was created for me in 2008. As is the case in a smaller company, the title doesn’t always capture the roles and responsibilities of a given position. For example, I not only oversaw the marketing area, but also new business development, recruitment and sales training. Having the ability to marry the various roles enabled me to strategically strengthen our brand and streamline operating procedure while simultaneously attracting new talent and pitching/securing exclusive assignments. Most recently I made another shift to chief sales officer, which still reports to Michael Besen. In this new role my focus is on strengthening the team and setting/achieving revenue goals. It also allows me to stay close to my passion: client relationships and deal making.

Q: Real estate is a second career for you. How did you make the leap?

A: Prior to real estate I spent eleven years in the advertising industry, where I led various business and creative teams in the management of accounts for blue chip clients including Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, and Philips Electronics. I became known as somewhat of a turnaround specialist, the guy company management assigned to problematic accounts to stabilize the situation. While I loved many aspects of the business, I hit an inflection point where my growing interest in New York real estate far surpassed my interest in the marketing of packaged goods. I’m grateful for the client management experience that I had, as I tap into those skills on a daily basis. Occasionally someone will tell me I’m out of an episode of Mad Men and I’m cool with that, because the “ad guy” will always be part of my DNA. Real estate brokerage is such a different animal though… I always say that it’s sales in its purest form.

Q: What would you say The Besen Group is known for?

A: We are a middle-market investment sales brokerage firm, meaning we complete transactions in New York City anywhere from $1 to $500 million, with our sweet spot being in the $15 to $30 million range. The largest percentage of our business is multifamily/mixed use properties, though we sell all asset classes. We just sold an 84,000 s/f warehouse in the Mott Haven section of The Bronx, which is somewhat of an atypical deal. We’re in contract for an $80 million property on West 57th St., sold a $50 million site on Third Ave. and a $111 million assemblage on the Upper East Side last year. We’re known for strength in The Bronx and Manhattan submarkets, though our activity has expanded to Brooklyn and Queens. We have a rock solid group of talented brokers here who round out our sales team, including Amit Doshi, Greg Corbin, Shallini Mehra and Matt Slonim. Corbin has recently been elevated to a leadership role in the company, and he is helping me to implement many new initiatives.

Q: What’s next for The Besen Group?

A: I call it “Besen 3.0,” raising the bar on all fronts. We’re working on a number of initiatives to strengthen our exposure overall. We just launched our new website, which cohesively presents our full-service capabilities, and better showcases our deep track record of successes. To attract and retain quality talent is arguably everyone’s biggest priority, and we are taking tangible steps to walk the walk now. That means reenergized focus on recruitment, training and development strategies. We’ve developed the B.E.S.T. (Broker Excellence Standards Training) program, which covers 50+ brokerage and real estate knowledge topics, complete with ongoing seminars and a comprehensive manual. Consistency, collaboration and accountability are core values that we are preaching to foster greater success. Marketing support for the team and our brand has increased. We have some larger and interesting deals under contract that will continue to demonstrate our strength as they become public this year.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry?

A: Ian Schrager, for one. His design aesthetic and ability to know what’s next truly put him in the visionary category. I had the thrill of meeting him recently, and had to try hard to keep my cool. Larry Silverstein, of course. He is a beacon of light in our business and a New York treasure. His enthusiasm and tenacity are a gift for our city, and an inspiration to anyone who hears him speak. Last and certainly not least, Stephen Siegel. We originally met through Israel Bonds years ago, and more recently have also connected on social media. He was gracious enough to sit down with me recently to talk business, family and life in general. Even beyond the groundbreaking deals he’s accomplished, he’s a mensch, mentor and just a really cool guy.

Q: How has the brokerage business changed since you started in 2003?

A: It’s that old saying, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” New York real estate will forever be intriguing and exciting. As our skyline continues to evolve, so too must the way we do business. The competition has increased, as the number of firms has proliferated. There are spinoffs from many of the original shops, where hungry and aggressive brokers first cut their teeth. Besen has been an incubator for many, which is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Technology is a huge opportunity, with an immediate impact on commercial real estate, providing better tools and access to information. Prices and transaction sizes have ballooned, and Brooklyn became cooler than Manhattan. Fundamental keys to success in brokerage have not really changed though. It’s still about diligent prospecting, origination, building client relationships and hard work.

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