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Spring 2004



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Manhattan's Hottest Property
When it comes to real estate, Pam Liebman ’84 is on top of her game

-Jeanne Ricci

Pam Liebman
Pam Liebman ’84, president of the Corcoran Group, in New York City. (photo by Ben Barnhart)
THE CEILING BORDER RUNNING ALONG the top of the glass-enclosed reception area of The Corcoran Group, where Pam Liebman ’84 was named president in 2000, is inscribed with colorful quotes about New York. One, by John Adams, reads “They [New Yorkers] talk very loud, very fast and all together.” From O’Henry, in 1910: “It couldn’t have happened anywhere but little old New York.” After speaking with Liebman for just a few minutes, you get the feeling one must truly love and celebrate New York to work at the city’s leading residential real estate firm. “Selling real estate in Manhattan is so exciting. There are a lot of big, complicated deals—it’s very dynamic,” Liebman says enthusiastically.

Recently Liebman oversaw the sale of a $45 million penthouse in one of the twin 80-story skyscrapers that constitute the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. The sale of the penthouse, with 360-degree views of Central Park, three states, and the Atlantic Ocean, was purportedly the highest-priced residential apartment sale in Manhattan history.

“That was a good one,” admits Liebman. “One of our brokers, Robby Browne, knows a client who loves to own penthouses. Robby said if you want to own the most spectacular apartment in New York, this is the place to be.”

It was a tough negotiation. Browne and Liebman spent a long weekend on the phone with attorneys and developers. “I never thought going to work every day would be such a fun and exhilarating experience, and so much of that has to do with Pam’s leadership,” says Browne. “She inspires me to want to do better for myself and my team.”

Teamwork was necessary to wade through the complicated transaction, which involved putting apartments together and changing the appearance of the building. “If you’re going to agree to change the façade, you better make sure the guy is closing,” says Leibman. In the end, the duo brokered a deal that made everyone happy—and they closed in 30 days so the work of converting the space could begin right away.

“The press was going crazy,” she says. “Everyone was curious who bought it.” Most of Liebman’s high-profile deals come with confidentiality agreements to ensure a client’s privacy. The Time Warner deal was no exception. Still, the press eventually identified the new owner of the $45 million digs as British financier David Martinez.

“That kind of attention is awkward for us. We’ll have a newspaper call us up and say we heard ‘Joe Smith’ just bought 750 Park Avenue. We’ll say we have no comment, but often the papers will run it anyway. Everyone wants to know who’s buying, who’s selling. It is such a gossipy thing,” says Liebman. “Go to a dinner party in New York and the most popular topics are sex and real estate, and not necessarily in that order, depending on the party.”

The elegant ease with which Liebman navigates the Manhattan world of big money and fancy dinner parties would make you believe she has always been on top. When you dig deeper, you find out that this charismatic 41-year-old worked her way up the ladder after starting at Corcoran Group as an eager young broker in 1985.

Growing up on Staten Island, a borough of New York City, Liebman demonstrated leadership acumen as president of the student body, writer for her high school newspaper, and summer lifeguard. Even then, this petite blonde’s vibrant personality had a way of overtaking a room. When it came time to find a college, she looked for a university that could accommodate her many interests. “UMass Amherst seemed to have a wide appeal. I wanted to go to a big school with a strong communications department,” she says.

Early on Liebman had a head for business. “I regret not being a business major because I loved the School of Management. There were great professors there. I really enjoyed accounting and marketing. Of all the classes I ever took at UMass, those accounting classes are most applicable in my day-to-day life.” She was a natural leader outside of the classroom, too: By her sophomore year Liebman took on the responsibility of resident advisor at John Adams dormitory.

That’s not to say Liebman’s years in Amherst were all work and no play. “I wasn’t into sorority or fraternity life but there was still plenty of partying. I wasn’t an outstanding student—I was not studying every night, that’s for sure. I enjoyed the entire UMass lifestyle. I became more diligent as the years went on. By my junior year I was much more serious and went to the library all the time.”

After graduation, she moved back to New York. “When I got out of college, I thought I would work on Wall Street, but I always had this thing for real estate because I’m a deal junkie,” admits Liebman. “I get bored very easily—I’m impatient. I fidget in meetings. Real estate is always changing. You learn something new every day and that’s why I respond to it.”

She initially worked for a smaller real estate company but the owner could see Liebman had bigger fish to fry. She introduced her to Barbara Corcoran, who founded The Corcoran Group in 1973. “When Pam first came to the Corcoran Group, she was a natural salesman,” says Corcoran. “As a sales manager, she was a phenomenal recruiter. Today, as president, she has the political savvy to bridge the gap between a successful privately held company and a successful publicly owned company.” Manhattan in the mid-1980s was a dynamic place for a young broker, and Liebman didn’t let a single opportunity pass her by. Even so, the road to success had its potholes.

“During my second year as a broker I was negotiating a deal with a really difficult, nasty guy,” recounts Liebman. “I was drafting a memo to him and I said to my assistant, ‘This is the memo I would really like to send him.’ It read, ‘You are the most difficult person I have ever dealt with. I hope I never work with you again.’” The “joke” memo was inadvertently sent to her client, Liebman recalls, laughing. Luckily, her client’s sympathetic secretary destroyed it before he could read it.

Not long after the memo incident Liebman closed the first-ever million-dollar sale for The Corcoran Group’s downtown office. The deal combined three apartments in a Soho building to create a spacious loft.

Although Liebman was proud to pass the million-dollar milestone, she says the highlight of her career was selling The Corcoran Group to Cendant, the world’s largest real estate franchiser, in 2001.

“I pretty much negotiated the whole deal,” she says. “My accounting skills definitely came in handy. It was a learning experience along the way but we all did well—we got a very high price for the company, and since then we’ve acquired a couple of other companies, in the Hamptons and Palm Beach.” When Cendant bought Corcoran, it amassed $2.2 billion in sales annually. “Last year we did $5.4 billion. So Cendant definitely got their money’s worth,” Liebman says.

Liebman is the kind of New Yorker you hope shows up at your dinner party: influential, yet quick to laugh, brimming with stories and jokes, and always impeccably dressed.

Although she’s one of New York’s most powerful women, she quickly makes you feel at ease in her presence. You want to dislike her because she seems to have it all; instead she wins you over with her disarming charm.

The media quickly picked up on Liebman’s combination of authority and approachability—she is often called upon to comment on market trends. In New York, hipsters are obsessed with the next up-and-coming neighborhood.

“The neighborhood I think everyone is really talking about now is Hudson Square, the area between Tribeca and Soho. I think you’ll see the west side of Manhattan, up (like Morningside Heights) and down, get developed. Who ever thought that buildings on the West Side Highway would sell for over $1,000 a square foot? It’s amazing.”
At the top of the real estate game and a media darling, Liebman has shattered the glass ceiling. But she is far from sitting back and enjoying the view from above.

“I don’t want to be sitting in a glass tower—that’s so not me,” she says. “I spend my time talking to the brokers and just being a part of what’s out there. I don’t get involved in every pitch but I’m happy to help. I don’t micromanage but I want people to know I’m in the loop and they can come to me with anything.”

Liebman’s office demonstrates this point. Yes, there’s that killer view of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but she shares her space with her assistant, Bill Begerg.

“You can see the whole philosophy [of Corcoran] the way these open offices were designed with lots of glass. That’s the kind of environment we have. The most important thing here is that our brokers are feeling good and set up so they can maximize their earning potential, which is why we have free sodas, a massage therapist who comes in twice a week, and yoga classes. We’re a very forward-thinking company. My motto is: We have the power and the strength of the big, but the heart of the small.”

When Liebman began working at The Corcoran Group, it employed 30 people. Now, with 1,250 employees, it requires a greater effort to keep the firm feeling like a family. “What makes this company special is the culture, and when you get bigger it’s easy to lose that,” she says. “We started a softball team, a bridge team. We do hiking, we do golf.”

When this “junkie” isn’t closing deals, coaching brokers, or shuttling between Corcoran offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Palm Beach, and the Hamptons (with a few trips to the Cendant headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, thrown in), you might find her serving on the executive committee of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Board of Governors, or the Young Presidents’ Organization. This schedule might push most people to the brink of exhaustion, but Liebman still finds energy to devote to the pediatric leukemia research institution, Wipe Out Leukemia Forever, and to raising her two daughters.

Being a real estate heavyweight is taxing on family life, Liebman admits. “When I’m home I try to be with my daughters. I really do. My daughter Dylan, who’s nine, will say, ‘You’re with us, shut off the cell phone.’ We always do something with the kids on Friday night. In the winter my daughter plays indoor soccer so we’ll go to the game and then dinner. We take them on vacation a lot. I used to spend one night a week in Manhattan, but I stopped that because the kids really didn’t like that. It’s tough. But as time goes on, I’m getting better at it.”

For more on The Corcoran Group visit:

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