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From the Editor: The Ethnic Guild that Helped an Incompetent Super Get a Job

Tom Soter in Board Operations on June 26, 2012

Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City

June 26, 2012

Pete was talking about a colleague we'll call Patrick, who seems to reflect the old idea of failing upward. Patrick was working in his second property as a porter when he got a job — Pete doesn't know how — at an Upper West Side co-op near Columbia University. One of his first actions was to cut a loose wire in the basement, plunging the building into darkness.

Then there was the purported leak, which he thought was a problem with the pipes, but that, on further inspection by a plumber, turned out to be a caulking problem in a shower.

Over-His-Head Case

Patrick was in over his head — and he knew it. Whenever he had a major systems problem, he asked for help from his old friend Pete, who goodnaturedly lent a hand until Patrick got his "sea legs."

Then, he moved on … up. Being promoted in inverse relation to how much he knew, Patrick was appointed super at a tony East Side building. Not only did his wardrobe improve — he was told to wear a suit and tie because he was now a resident manager — but so did his pay. According to Pete, Patrick's salary had doubled to $100,000 per year (plus $400 a month for a garage and $10,000 for a Christmas bonus).

Pete says Patrick got the job because of lobbying by the Emerald Guild Society. That's not some offshoot of The Wizard of Oz's Emerald City, but instead a collection of Irish-American supers / resident managers who look out for one another.

As the society's website puts it: "The Emerald Guild Society, founded in 1992, is an association of Irish and Irish-American Building Managers brought together by our common heritage and our employment in the property management field. While there had been an informal network of Irish Superintendents for many years in New York City, it was decided by the Guild's founders to organize into a club for the mutual benefit of all and especially to help with opportunities and advancement in our industry. Our members range from recently arrived immigrants working in starter buildings to experienced building managers running some of New York's largest apartment complexes and most prestigious addresses. Our goals are to support our colleagues in the apartment building industry, to provide the best possible service with integrity and professionalism, to foster a sense of community and a spirit of cooperation among our members."

That cooperation, complains Pete, put an ill-equipped super into a cushy position.

"Let me tell you, it's just not fair. Here's this guy who doesn't know anything about being a super, and he gets that job."

Board and Manager Did Bad Jobs, Too

But that leaves out other factors, says Don Levy, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, the management firm that employs both Pete and Patrick. "Sure, we take recommendations from the Emerald Guild," he says. "And there's a reason for that: They usually recommend good people. But a recommendation from the guild is not enough to get them the job. We vet them and the board interviews them. They go through a rigorous process.

"Not that it couldn't happen," he adds quickly, when asked about Patrick's promotion. "If it did in this case, then shame on the board for not asking the right questions, and shame on the manager for not vetting them properly."

For most co-op / condo boards, this is a cautionary tale. When hiring, due diligence is a must. The board that hired Patrick may have called the references the super provided — but both of them were to his jobs as a porter. If board members had checked with the president at his last place of employment — the Upper West Side building — they would have gotten a scathing report from the president. "But," says Pete, "she told me they never called her."

Don't forsake your responsibilities. And that's no blarney.

 

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