Robert Futterman Reflects on Career in Conversation with Real Estate Reality Check Podcast
Robert Futterman, a real estate giant in the NYC scene, shared his approach to business, and how he got started on the podcast Real Estate REality Check. If you don’t know Robert Futterman, here’s a little synopsis of his nearly 40-year career. He’s a retail real estate mastermind who has worked across Manhattan in some of the most desirable retail areas in the country from Soho to Times Square. He’s been involved in the World Trade Center redevelopment project, Grand Central Terminal, and the Manhattan Mall to name a few other major NYC projects as well.
Futterman cultivated an ability to read an area and know not only what consumers want, but how to get it to them. He has earned multiple awards from the Real Estate Board of New York for his deals across the city and was named in the Power 100 by the Commercial Observer as recently as 2016.
But how did he get started? In his younger days, Futterman moved around a bit, including a brief stint as an ice cream salesman in California, until he eventually found his way back to New York in 1983. He also began a career as a concert promoter while in college. He hooked big names like The B52s, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Devo, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, Rockpile, The Clash, the Ramones, and even The Grateful Dead. A lifelong music fan, Futterman loved the work, but ultimately MTV changed the in-person music landscape and he looked for opportunities elsewhere.
How do you go from concert promotion at your university to being on the International Council of Shopping Centers? Robert Futterman credited the beginning of his career to two things: his father’s honesty, integrity, and hard work, and his ability to hit the pavement and just go. “I walked the streets, I got listings, I called landlords, and I made it happen,” said Futterman about canvassing on the Real Estate REality Check podcast. He said that’s important at all levels of the business. “Always look for new ideas, new opportunities, new business, and do it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow.”
This is an important takeaway from Robert’s success. He was always pushing forward and never leaving things undone if he could finish them. “I live in the moment,” he said, “by sticking to that and being totally transparent, it kind of tells you who I am and what I’m about.” This sort of confidence and genuine openness has enabled him to not only be an efficient worker, but also the root of his ability to connect with people and make deals happen.
If you’re wondering how to find your own opening, Futterman provided advice there too. “Don’t forget what you do.” Futterman preached to stay focused when looking for new business or working on your portfolio. Home in on the things that you’re good at. If it’s retail real estate, don’t reach into hotels at the first opportunity, stay focused. Once you’ve established yourself and built roots you can branch out safely. This will help you stay diligent, on task, and sharp.
Of course, making money is never risk-free. Robert even mentioned he’d had some deals fall through. Every good businessman has, but those haven’t stopped him from taking new risks. He believes that having enough of a forward-looking attitude, confidence, and gall to try things others don’t understand has helped him have “more winners than clunkers.” Be bold. For Futterman, it was using his initials to start a massive industry staple in 1988 when his mentor thought he was crazy.
Many people are interested in the retail market. It’s a daunting but rich vein that Futterman mastered over his 40-year career, and he gave the podcast listeners a bit of advice on how to grab hold. “Internet retailers are only successful if they have bricks and mortar and bricks and mortar retailers are only successful if they have an internet platform.” Futterman acknowledged this makes for amazing creative opportunities. You’re not just selling a storefront; you’re selling a connection between the internet and the real world. The most important part is closing the deal though. All the theory in the world isn’t worth squat compared to following through and closing a deal.
Balance is the last big piece Futterman left listeners with in this podcast interview. “You got to make time in life to have fun.“ Futterman talks about getting home, seeing his kids, and turning off his phone. He loves sports and music; make time for those in your own life. Find out what makes you happy and don’t lose sight of those. Business is important, but what are you doing it for? Who are you doing it for? Your kids only grow up once.
At the end of the podcast, Futterman was asked if he had anything to share with young college students who might be looking for advice from a success story like himself. He answered as any good father would, with deep sincerity. “Follow your dreams. If you’re doing something that you enjoy doing and you’re pursuing your passion, that’s the best chance you have of your dreams coming true.”