C&W’s John Cefaly on What Makes a Top Broker

Close to celebrating half a century at the 100-year-old firm, this leading New York broker has advice to share.
John Cefaly
John Cefaly

Real estate brokerage veteran John Cefaly has stayed on top of his game throughout his 46-year career with Cushman & Wakefield. He has closed some of the firm’s most notable deals, for clients such as Deloitte or Moody’s, and has been among its five top-producing brokers globally. With numerous awards under his belt, this Cushman executive vice chairman admits that it took a lot of work to grow in the business and that the greatest satisfaction doesn’t always come from the largest deals. John Cefaly is with the firm’s New York office.   

How has the real estate industry changed during your nearly half a century in the business?

Cefaly: In my 46 years at Cushman & Wakefield, the commercial real estate industry has changed tremendously. From my perspective, the industry has become much more specialized. When I started, you sold buildings, leased buildings, worked on retail deals and represented tenants and landlords holistically as one broker. Today, the organization of the commercial real estate industry is very different—there is much more specialization. Brokers tend to focus on a specific category, either tenant or landlord representation, or investment sales.

What is your favorite part about being a real estate broker?

Cefaly: I’ve always appreciated that commercial real estate brokerage is very much an entrepreneurial business. As a broker, you have to go out and create your own book of business. Your success is dependent on the effort you exert. You get out of it what you put into it, as they say.

You have consistently been among the top five producing brokers within Cushman & Wakefield worldwide. What makes a good real estate broker?

Cefaly: First and foremost, hard work and dedication. As I mentioned, success in brokerage comes from consistent effort and hard work. I also think you have to be imaginative and creative in your thinking to be a successful broker. You are presented with challenges that require strategic thinking to solve, and being able to solve them creatively makes for a great broker.

What is one particular experience in your career that you enjoy reflecting on?

Cefaly: I have had so many great experiences in my career, it is hard to choose just one episode. With that, I have had a number of disappointments, but I’ve tried to learn from each one, making all of my experiences valuable.

What project(s) are you most proud of?

Cefaly: I don’t think there is one single project I can point to and say I am most proud. It’s not necessarily the biggest deal that brings the most pride though. Sometimes, it’s a deal that had lots of moving parts and was difficult to achieve. Because of what it meant to lower Manhattan after 9/11, the Moody’s transaction for their new headquarters at 7 World Trade Center is one I am very proud of. I am proud to have been involved with the revitalization of the financial district.

What were the main challenges you had to overcome in your career so far?

Cefaly: I think the main challenge is trying to balance work and a personal life, which I still don’t do very well, but I think you have to overcome challenges every day. In many ways, when you are a broker, you are running your own business. You have to win the business, execute the business and service the business. In doing all of that, you are confronted with challenges every step of the way.

What would you advise a young professional that is just starting his/her career in the business?

Cefaly: Any young person starting out has to embrace the commercial real estate business and absorb as much as possible early on in their career. They have to really live and breathe the industry. They can’t view it as a typical 9-5 job, as you need to build relationships and you have to be patient to win business and complete transactions. The work you do today will pay dividends five to 10 years down the road.

Image courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield