Bill Morris in Building Operations on March 1, 2018
This article is part of our occasional series, "The Previous Lives of Property Managers."
It was a cold day of reckoning. Peter von Simson woke up one winter morning in 2002 with a wife, infant twins, a New York City co-op apartment – and no job. For the preceding dozen years, von Simson had worked as a floor clerk at the American Stock Exchange, then as a trader for several trading houses, beginning back when trades were still scribbled on slips of paper. Then came the tidal wave of the internet, the rise of NASDAQ, and the dot-com bubble. Fortunes were made and lost every day. When the bubble burst, von Simson and a lot of other people were washed out of a job.
“It was time to figure out what to do next,” von Simson recalls. “Go back to school? Leave the city?”
Instead, von Simson talked with a fellow statistic from his last job, Thomas Thibodeaux, who had an accounting background and, like von Simson, an unslakable appetite for hard work. They banded together to manage rental properties and several small condos in the city – work that came naturally to von Simson, who’d helped maintain his stepfather’s rental properties near the family home in Rhode Island. The fledgling management firm flourished. “People in smaller buildings were happy to have us take over their headaches,” von Simson says. “My biggest motivation was having a wife and two kids at home. Not succeeding was not an option. Tom and I decided to outwork everybody else.”
That they did, sometimes logging 70, 80 hours a week. Their shared work ethic – responding to emergencies in the dead of night, poring over stacks of invoices – paid dividends. “It goes back to our willingness to do whatever it takes to get something to work,” von Simson says. “Sometimes that meant getting the elevator company to come in at 11 o’clock at night. That’s the essence of property management – being willing to be on call, to respond to your clients, to address needs whenever they happen.”
In 2006, the partners decided to take their game to the next level. They bought out New Bedford Management, which had a solid client base, computer software, and the experience of company founder Ron Godel, who stayed on to teach von Simson and Thibodeaux the nuances of dealing with co-op and condo boards – very different animals from landlords of rental properties.
New Bedford had eight employees when von Simson and Thibodeaux bought the company. Today they employ 50 people and manage more than 100 co-ops, condos and rental properties in the five boroughs. Though 80-hour work weeks are a thing of the past, other things have not changed. “Our early years in the business taught us a lesson,” von Simson says. “You have to make sure you have the right protocols in place, the right vendors – and you have to be responsive.”
Though he claims his only hobby is “whatever my teenage kids want to do,” von Simson has responded to a push from his wife, Dr. Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, a pediatrician, and become serious enough about running to compete in the New York City Marathon. Last year they ran the race together and finished in the very respectable time of under five hours – good enough to make the list of finishers printed in the New York Times. They were side-by-side when they crossed the finish line in Central Park.
Von Simson, now 50, doesn’t have plans to finish his career anytime soon. “My father’s still working at 80,” he says, “and he always said that when you retire, you die. My plan is to follow in his footsteps.”
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