Daniel J. Wollman, chief executive officer and managing director of Gumley-Haft Real Estate, is not the executive one would expect to see as head of one of Manhattan’s premier residential real estate management firms. Casually dressed and sitting in front of a wall of framed Sports Illustrated covers and surrounded by photos of his four children, Wollman’s hands quickly move on a computer while he talks on a telephone headset. Words like "litigation," "keeps excellent records" and "as soon as I’m off, I’ll fax that to you" punctuate the conversation that Wollman is obviously having with a board president.
Clearly, Wollman is a "hands-on" type of guy. In fact, before the interview begins, Wollman gets off the phone, leaves his office and makes good on his promise to fax the information. When he returns, he mentions that despite his top position at Gumley-Haft, he continues to directly manage a number of the firm’s buildings. "Truth is," he admits, "it keeps me fresh."
"I wouldn’t ask anyone in this group to do something I wouldn’t do myself," Wollman says of his faxing chore. "I don’t think I should get special treatment because of my position. I want everyone who works here to be dealt with equally." Wollman’s hardworking attitude and attention to detail especially extends to the management of the firms’ portfolio of 70 properties. "Whenever we have a tough problem," confides Max Moss, board president of the 98-unit co-op at 510 East 86th, "Gumley-Haft goes overboard to help us."
Reaps Loyal Clients
Gumley-Haft’s highest priority, Wollman says, is "to provide high quality management. If we’re going to manage a building, we want to manage it correctly. Most of our managers have ten to 20 years of experience and have been with us for years. We want to evaluate our buildings’ policies, be able to make recommendations and aid in every decision process."
East 67 Tenants Corp., a 56 unit co-op located at 130 East 67th Street, has been a client of Gumley-Haft for years. Rita Chu, board president since 1986, says that once their building’s managing agent and Irwin Gumley left Douglas Elliman’s former management division for Gumley-Haft, the building switched firms as well. "These guys had worked with us for years. They were veterans and really knew their stuff."
A number of Gumley’s other East Side properties also switched to this new firm that he and Sandy Abelson, former owner of real estate operating company, J.G. Haft, started in 1990. By 1991, Wollman, then a certified public accountant with years of experience with another property management firm, joined the team, along with Kenneth Abelson, Sandy’s son. Wollman says, "My background was entirely different. I had managed all different types of buildings all over the city, which gave me a huge amount of knowledge. Once I came here, we were able to expand the portfolio of the firm without losing any of our older clients."
By 1996, when Irwin Gumley retired, Wollman became a 50 percent partner in the firm with the Abelsons. Wollman’s presence and book of business added a fuller range of properties to Gumley-Haft, which initially had a "Park Avenue" reputation. Wollman wants to make it clear that his company extends past the Fifth and Park Avenue boundaries. "Gumley-Haft has changed its philosophy by expanding the clientele of the firm," he says, "but we haven’t changed our philosophy of how we run the buildings."
Gumley-Haft’s clients speak of the personal attention they get from the firm. "I don’t know what I’d do without them," muses Moss. "We had a difficult situation with a superintendent and Dan Wollman and our managing agent Marianne Gian Grande worked very closely with us. We were able to achieve what we had to in replacing him."
Moss also credits the management company’s back office with providing all sorts of information to understand the monthly cash flow of the building. "I turn to Gumley-Haft constantly. Our building takes in a million and a half dollars in maintenance a year–that’s a big business. As a building president, I can’t pretend to understand everything about how a co-op works, but Gumley Haft understands. We take advantage of all of their experience."
Chu agrees completely. "A lot of my important relationships are with the back office support people in their office. They’re always available and I don’t hesitate calling when I have a question. I’ve gotten help on flip taxes, bids from contractors, refinancing and countless other issues. When I’m doing a budget, I go in and see one of the women who crunches numbers and she helps me. That kind of access and support is invaluable."
Every week, the firm’s 14 managers meet, as Wollman states, to "go over industry things and office things. People ask each other questions and act as a sounding board for the others."
The company has the facilities to hold board meetings in the offices on 48th Street and Madison Avenue, but most meetings are held at the properties. "We encourage early morning or late afternoon meetings, as they tend to be more business-like than ones held in the evenings." Weekly meetings are also held at the individual buildings. "Every Friday," says Chu, "the management executive comes to the building to meet with me and the super. We hash out little things that aggravate the shareholders in the building. As a board president, I tend to worry about policy and budget, but the people in the building worry about noise or the placement of a menorah during Hanukah. They call the managing agent and she brings these issues to my attention. This close attention really smooths things out with the shareholders since they get an immediate response."
Gumley-Haft also sponsors seminars, usually held at the Harmonie Club, where board members, along with building professionals, are invited to sit on panels. This level of commitment is indicative of Wollman’s dedication to running Gumley-Haft and its’ property management. "I have no business interests outside of this firm. I read every piece of building correspondence that reaches my desk." Gumley-Haft’s office administrator, Sandy Gladstein, confirms the intensity and the fun that goes within the company. "We work hard and we play hard. Dan always says that if he didn’t own the firm, he’d still want to work here." As a testament to this commitment, Wollman will be honored by the New York Building Managers this month for his work in the industry.
While Gumley-Haft is accessible by e-mail and is building its own website, Wollman thinks that "no matter how technologically oriented a management company is, people in our buildings want to personally speak to their managing agents when there is a problem." He continues, "People want to speak to people, not computers. Our clients don’t want to wait for a return e-mail. In this business, that need for human contact will never change."