For 35 years—19 of them as president—Pamela Liebman has been at The Corcoran Group, one of the leading residential brokerage firms in New York City, pulling in more than $21B in sales annually. The firm has grown to 2,200 agents across 40 offices, serving Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hamptons, the North Fork of Long Island, and Shelter Island as well as Florida’s Delray Beach, Palm Beach, and West Palm Beach. The brokerage also operates New York rental firm Citi Habitats and Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, a full-service, new-development marketing and sales division whose portfolio includes 30 Park Place, Four Seasons Private Residences NY Downtown, 56 Leonard, 53 West 53, and through a partnership with Related Companies, Hudson Yards residential properties.
Liebman got her start in real estate shortly after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, joining Barbara Corcoran’s eponymous firm in 1984 when she was 22 years old. She quickly stepped into a management role and by 1990 was named partner. Liebman is credited with launching the firm’s new-development arm, then called Corcoran Marketing Group, which acquired The Sunshine Group in 2002 to create Corcoran Sunshine. She also led the negotiations behind Corcoran Group’s sale to NRT LLC, a subsidiary of Realogy Corp., for $66M in 2001.
How would you describe yourself as a kid growing up in Staten Island?
If you ask some of my teachers, they might say I was too smart for my own good. I was a bit of a troublemaker. I definitely found a lot of rules I liked to break. I was very outgoing, and I was fortunate enough to go to a very diverse high school. I was president of my high school and I beat the captain of the football team to win the presidency. I have two siblings, an older brother and younger sister, and my mom stayed home with us and went back to teaching special education when we were a bit older. My dad was a CPA so I think he gave me my talent with numbers.
Did you always know you wanted to be in real estate?
My mom would’ve said real estate because, when I was very young, 2 or 3 years old, we were walking around Miami and I pointed to a tall building and said, “What’s that?” She said it was a condominium and for the rest of the trip I kept going, “Look, condominium.” So they always had this running joke about me and condominiums. I always knew I didn’t want to be a nine-to-five kind of person. I wanted to do something where I got to negotiate. I wanted to be a sports agent or in real estate or I wanted to run a movie studio. In college, I did some internships working on Wall Street—did not like it—then right after school, I came to work at Corcoran and I’ve been here ever since. The funny story is when Barbara hired me we were very small, only 30 people, and she said I really want to hire you but you don’t seem like the type that’s going to stick around long, and here I am. I’ve actually spent more time at Corcoran than Barbara did, which is sort of crazy.
What are some of your career milestones?
Founding Corcoran Marketing Group then buying The Sunshine Group and merging them together was hugely impactful for my career and for the trajectory of Corcoran because we’re really the platinum standard for new-development marketing. I think being part of two of the most high-profile Manhattan new development projects in the history of the city, 220 Central Park South, which was the record-setting building, and working with Steve Roth and Ken Griffin, has been a highlight of my career along with working with Steve Ross and the team at Related Companies to market Hudson Yards, which is a game changer for New York. And of course, expanding the brand—buying companies in the Hamptons, South Florida, and Citi Habitats—and I’m very excited about going international with our franchise business.
Was there a time in the early years when you had second thoughts about what you were doing?
Never. Never. I’ve always loved it because it’s different every day and I really enjoy working with the agents. Starting out as an agent myself, I’ve never taken my agent hat off. I love to be with them on the street. I love to get involved in the deals and see the properties and be a part of the transaction where I can help. I love the action. I don’t get rattled by crisis. I can stay pretty cool and I think that’s developed more with the longevity of my career. I used to be a much more volatile person. Now I think I’m pretty chill. I know what’s really important and what’s not and it takes a lot to rile me up now.
What advice would you give a young person wanting to get into real estate?
I had lunch with Corcoran’s summer interns and one thing I was saying to them that’s never changed is you need to be smarter than your customer and being smart today is different than it was back then because back then we were the keeper of all the information. They had no means of verifying it. Today, everything is transparent so they have all the information. So, I’d say you need to be smarter than the clients, or more well informed. You need to have great market depth and you also need to be able to interact well with people and create great relationships. There’s a lot of deals that don’t get done because people don’t know how to talk to each other and they antagonize each other. Then there are deals that never should happen, but they do because of the way people work together. It’s a relationship business and you really need to be able to bring value.
How has success changed or evolved for you over the years?
Obviously, becoming the president and CEO of the company was amazing, but when Barbara made me a partner in 1990 that was pretty extraordinary. I knew this was the place that I wanted to stay and even though I’ve been offered many positions through the years I’ve never felt the urge to leave. I love the people here and I consider myself very fortunate and I’m given a lot of leeway by the parent company to do what I need to do to keep Corcoran on top.
What is your definition of success?
I think I tie my success to the success of the firm and my people. Are they happy? It’s not all about the money. What does the public say about us? What do our employees and agents say about us? When someone says to me, “You have the best people,” that makes me really proud, so my success is very much tied to how happy the people are here.
Was there ever a situation you wish you had handled differently?
There’s probably tons of them, but personally, that I didn’t buy at 15 Central Park West. I’m always so busy looking out for the company that I’ve made some mistakes not putting my money where my mouth is. I wish I probably invested more in the buildings that I thought were really going to take off. Believe me, I’ve invested in plenty of them, but I certainly missed some of the big ones.
What excites you about your career now?
I’m excited about going international with our franchise. I think that’s probably the thing I’m most excited about today and I’m always excited when I can do a deal on the golf course. That makes really happy.