Bill Morris in Building Operations on October 25, 2018
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
Here’s a working definition of “tough sell.” Walk out on Broadway and try to convince one of the guys selling trinkets in a mom-and-pop booth that what he really needs to do is rent space and show off his wares at the upcoming International Gift Fair trade show at the Javits Center.
“Now that was a tough sell,” recalls Giovanni Puerta, a big, gregarious guy who made that very pitch to street vendors decades ago while working for Miller Freeman, a company that mounted trade and industry expositions. “But that job taught me sales skills. I also learned how to take no for an answer and keep pushing.”
Puerta, 41, was born in Bogota, Colombia, where his father was a civil engineer and his mother worked in accounting. After his family moved to Westchester County when he was an infant, Puerta learned Spanish as a first language, played high school sports, and went on to earn a communications degree with a minor in business from SUNY-Albany. There he met a psychology student from Yonkers, Laura Milio. A romance bloomed.
After graduation, the couple moved to New York, where Laura attended grad school while Puerta embarked on a winding career path. Selling space at trade shows, as mentioned, taught Puerta how to take no for an answer and keep pushing. Working as an insurance appraiser for Chubb carried more concrete lessons. “We had to arrive at the replacement cost for a home if it was a total loss,” Puerta says. “That taught me a lot about construction – materials, costs, timing – and it still helps me today.” Buying TV advertising time for Mattel toy company’s $250 million ad budget was a fiercer school. “It was very stressful, but a tremendous learning experience,” Puerta says. “I was learning the advertising world – algorithms for ‘impressions’ ads made on various demographic groups. I was also learning how to steward the client, how to manage expectations, the highs and the lows.” He also worked for the A&E Networks and the History Channel, as well as Univision.
Puerta’s circuitous path arrived at its unlikely destination in early 2006, when he agreed to go to work for his fiance, Laura, and her brother, Carmelo, at family-owned Milio Realty Corp., which was begun by their parents.
“I knew nothing,” Puerta says with a laugh. “I learned on the street, literally. I learned about the importance of a building’s curb appeal, oil deliveries, lease renewals, making sure payments came in on time. There was a lot of on-the-job training on massive capital jobs. I wore many hats.”
Puerta and Laura Milio were married in late 2006 and they now have three sons, aged 4, 7, and 9. Over the years Puerta’s job evolved from managing rental properties to overseeing three managers of 20 co-ops and condos, and the company’s name changed to Trion Real Estate Management. Though his previous jobs had nothing to do with real estate, they were a curiously effective boot camp for a property manager.
“The communication and sales aspects of my previous background were extremely helpful,” Puerta says. “There was a lot of negotiating, customer relations, dealing with vendors. A property manager has to relate to the co-op or condo board and stay ahead of the game. New York City has a plethora of statutes – Local Law 11 facade inspections, energy benchmarking – so we have to be able to deal with engineers, architects, energy-conservation firms. We have to navigate the ever-changing New York guidelines. My job today is to make sure our managers maintain the communication level with boards that we promised when we took on the building.”
In the end, property management isn’t so different from dealing with those trinket vendors on Broadway. “For me,” says Puerta, “it was just another learning curve.”
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