CFD 569 – Francis Greenburger on Risk, Real Estate, and Business

francis greenburger

Francis Greenburger is the legendary real estate developer who is Chairman & CEO of Time Equities and owner of the literary agency Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, which has represented noted authors such as Dan Brown, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, and Nelson DeMille. Francis Greenburger is the founder & chairman of Art Omi (previously Omi International Arts Center) and The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, and the bestselling author of Risk Game: Self-Portrait of an Entrepreneur. 

Podcast Highlights

  • Who is Francis Greenburger? 

Francis Greenburger grew up in New York City where his parents were upper class but his father as a solopreneur never really made a significant amount of money. The first thing that Francis was blessed with was the confidence of his parents in his ability to achieve his goals. That went together with his natural knack for business. He started working for his father after school when he was 12 years old. His innate qualities gave him the early characteristics and motivations to be an entrepreneur.

One of the things that Francis has said is that if you don’t like risk, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. For Francis, risk is just part of the gig.

  • Do you see any parallels between cell phones and digital communication and the advent of television?

The evolution of digital communication has changed the nature of communication. It’s also made it more personal with social media and email, there is a lot of interpersonal communication happening now. Humans have a basic need to communicate and now there are more ways than ever.

  • Parental Confidence

There are certainly people who have parents who are not encouraging or present. Francis recalls a comment made during a tennis match, where two different players of equal skill are compared, and the observation was that the deciding factor will be self confidence. Having parents that believe in you alongside his mentors empowered Francis and gave him the confidence to face the challenges that all entrepreneurs have to face.

The buy in that someone gets from mentors they respect can be very empowering and confidence building, even when parents haven’t provided that.

  • What do you consider risky?

Francis uses the term “intelligent risk” to describe the process of evaluating risks. Intelligent risk is not a gamble, it’s a calculated and measured action with research and analysis behind it. Francis has a theory that if you’re going into a generic marketplace where you are just offering more of the same, it’s very hard as an entrepreneur to compete on price and that’s all you’re really left with. Look for markets that aren’t being addressed and try to find solutions to meet those unmet needs.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you weren’t afraid to fail.

  • What would you say are unaddressed needs in the real estate space?

Under occupied office buildings are one such issue. Sometimes an office maybe be under occupied because of a reputation problem from the past but it may have the features that allow you to lower your cost basis, which means you can also rent out the space for less. These can be the ingredients that allow you to be competitive in the market.

  • Why did you go into real estate?

Francis has a memory of walking down 5th Avenue in New York City and realized that he had an innate sense of architecture. He got into the real estate as a byproduct of his book business. Francis had rented an office that was too big for him and managed to sublet half of it at double the rent he was paying. 

Francis was involved in his father’s literary business at the same time as he was building his real estate business. For about 10 years Francis split his time between the two ventures. Francis typically works 12 to 13 hours a day which is his natural mode so that probably gave him an edge in business. For Francis, hard work is part of the formula for success.

  • Do individuals starting out in real estate have it easier today or harder?

Francis’s sense is that the business has become more complicated over time. You need to have a lot more expertise to make real estate work which is why it’s really a team sport. To do you it professionally you need to be part of a group that has that expertise.

If you’re young and you go to work for a real estate company that can help you out because in a way you inherit some of their credibility.

  • Is there something people should do differently if they are just starting out in their career?

If you really want to advance your career you have to spend time in a sophisticated real estate environment in order to learn the expertise that gets deployed on the complex problems in the business. Once you have that knowledge you’re much better equipped to go out on your own.

Francis’s company tries to be a platform for talented entrepreneurs to set up their own business.

  • How difficult was it to put all of your knowledge into Risk Game?

Initially Francis believed that he would have to write four different books. Lucky for him he met a talented writer that put everything together into a cohesive narrative and a solid book.

Enlisting talented help is a common thread in Francis’s businesses. Bringing in people with expertise and experience enrich the business because in combination we are stronger than on our own.

  • Have you ever had a partnership that failed and how did you deal with it?

When undertaking business ventures you’re always going to encounter a certain amount of failure but you can’t be discouraged by it. There are people and business partners who will disappoint you. In Francis’s case, he has benefited much more than he has been upset by such failures.

If you’re not failing in 10% to 20% of your ventures, you’re not taking enough risk. You have to be able to tolerate risk and accept failure, learn from it, and move on.

Reference: Risk Game: Self-Portrait of an Entrepreneur, Francis Greenburger

  • Francis’s Takeaway

Most people who are entrepreneurs have dreams of one sort or another. Think about your best idea and try to put it into action. When obstacles have to be overcome, devise strategies to overcome them. In real estate, look at a number of properties not just one. Buy it right, it’s the only chance you’ll get. There are always challenges but for every roadblock there is a strategy for success to get past it.

Links:

Risk Game: Self-Portrait of an Entrepreneur on Amazon

timeequities.com

Omi International Arts Center

Greenburger Center for Criminal Justice

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