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Gabe Leibowitz, president and CEO of Skygroup Realty, New York City

| 05.13.2013 |

New York City's boisterous real estate market is not lacking for dynamic personalities. But even in this environment of colorful business leaders, Gabe Leibowitz stands out for the intelligence and the vibrancy that he brings to his work. As the president and CEO of Skygroup Realty, Leibowitz is a high-profile and highly respected figure in this extremely competitive arena.


How did this all come about? Well, let’s find out!


Q: What was the inspiration for Skygroup Realty? And was this the first time you created your own organization?


Gabe Leibowitz: I've always been entrepreneurial in spirit, more inclined to work on my own and lead than to work in a corporate structure. My background is in English and film criticism, but I decided to look for something more financially lucrative in early 2005. After a month with a large real estate brokerage, I started my company – then called Aboveground Realty – in March 2005 with my uncle. The circumstances were right to take the chance: low living expenses, a supportive partner, and an instant passion for the field.


I loved working with people and the dynamic, ever-changing environment of residential real estate, and I loved finding people their home. Though I'd always worked on my own – for the most part, anyway – this was the first time I really built an organization.


We started in an office of about 90 square feet: me, my uncle, and one of my closest friends. I ran day-to-day operations from the very beginning, and took over the company in full in 2007. Now, we're in over 2,300 square feet near Wall Street, and rapidly expanding, in both size and scope.


Q: How long did it take to create Skygroup Realty?


Gabe Leibowitz: It actually took almost no time to start the company. Since my uncle had a brokerage license he wasn't using, we were able to file the paperwork in a few days and get things moving. In that regard, I was very fortunate: having someone able to establish the LLC and hit the ground running was enormously advantageous. I was able to learn on the job at an exceptionally fast pace, both in terms of leading and running a company, and in terms of New York City real estate as a whole.


Q: What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining your company? And conversely, what have been some of the high points of this endeavor?


Gabe Leibowitz: Early on, there were challenges as I experimented with marketing strategies and learned the hard way that this is not a field for the weak of stomach. You can spend weeks on a deal, only to see it collapse when a client backs out or the co-op board rejects them. Money that you think is unearned revenue is really not money at all – at at least not in your pocket!


Similarly, I've become very specific with who I hire, as I’ve seen many agents who simply don't have the proper skill-set to really succeed in this industry. It's crucial to make sure all new hires and members of the company fit the culture, which for me is ethics, customer service, and patience.


Early on, I simply had no comprehension of what it took, and hired somewhat aimlessly, hoping that more quantity would generate more revenue. Suffice to say, it didn't work out that way! Now, I really go into each interview with a potential hire knowing what I want to see and hear in their approach to business, life, and people, and the impression they give off.


As for high points, there have been many, as I truly love what I do. But the reward of working exceptionally hard through a difficult deal and seeing it through to a successful close ranks right up there with the best. Right now, there are also lots of big things going on within Skygroup Realty that I'm really excited about. We're working with a very high number of buyers and sellers who are responding to our approach, and we also went into contract on an $11,000,000 sale in a new construction downtown, which is the sort of transaction we’re aiming to make a common occurrence. I have very high goals for my company these days.


Q: How have you been able to promote your message? And what kind of a feedback have you received, to date?


Gabe Leibowitz: I've mostly promoted my message by being myself. It sounds silly, but really, this is a field with a very negative reputation, full of sharks and people just looking for a quick buck. I'm simply not wired that way, and in that sense, I think my background has been very helpful.


I've just spoken to clients the way that I speak to people; honestly, openly, and without ulterior motive. To me, the commissions and livelihood will come naturally if I act this way, and it’s worked out that way so far. I treat everyone equally, whether they’re looking for a $1,500 per month rental or a multi-million dollar condo. Everyone deserves respect, and by treating people that way, you expand your network of potential clients who think highly of you and would be apt to recommend you to their friends.


To this day, I make sure everyone who contacts me is taken care of as best as possible, and that's something that will never change, no matter how big we become. Emails do not get ignored. Calls do not go unreturned. And I make sure everyone who works for me has the same approach.


This is a people business, and I make sure we never forget it. To this point, this approach has worked very well. We get a very high number of referrals and repeat business, the two key hallmarks of a successful model. A Google search for our company comes up squeaky clean.


Obviously, you can't please everyone, and I'm sure that at some point, we'll encounter some hiccups like every single company in the world. But I'm very pleased with the results my managing approach has led to.


Q: What professional advice would you give to someone who is interested in following your example and launching their own endeavor?


Gabe Leibowitz: Take the risk if it's what you love, though you should be sure you won't be jeopardizing others or stressing yourself out to the point of misery when you do. As mentioned above, I was fortunate to have a strong support group and good circumstances behind me when I plunged in. Not everyone will be as fortunate, but many people will have the opportunity to ease slowly into something like it, or begin planning while waiting for the right moment (or financial backing, if that's what you need).


Most importantly, have fun with it. Don't be afraid of failure. I've made more mistakes than I can count. I make them every day. But I like to think I'm very good at recognizing, and learning from, these mistakes, and that's the key to reaching goals. You can't beat yourself up over errors in judgment or blunders – they happen to everyone, and if you let them get you down, you’ll wind up losing sight of what's important, and lose the positive, calm attitude that’s imperative to both running a business and to leading. It's so important to stay in control and keep your emotions out of decisions and client interactions.


If you go for it and stay in command, you'll have a very high chance to succeed at doing what you love. What's better than that?


Skygroup Realty is online at www.skygrouprealty.com.