Aparna Narayanan in Legal/Financial on February 27, 2014
This enterprising streak can perhaps be traced to the plastics business he ran for 28 years. "I'm just a compulsive individual," he says. "I enjoy detail. I've put together several plastics factories, and I know [a project] requires a great deal of dedication." As a certified public accountant, he is also naturally attuned to budgetary matters — the how, in his words, of picking out "those things that can be changed and modified" and the why of identifying those costs that need to be controlled or examined.
On a recent day, Silverzweig, now well into his 80s, walks slowly out of his co-op's elevator to noodle around the hulking cogeneration equipment. Despite the schlep to the basement and subbasement, he is a frequent visitor to the staff offices and machine rooms located there.
In fact, to hear building employees tell it, the chair of the infrastructure committee can be a bit of a taskmaster, the type who lets nothing slip by. "[At his age,] he shouldn't be down there, but he's down there making sure that everybody is doing what they need to do," says Robert Mellman, a management executive with Orsid Realty who supervises the firm's Brevoort East account. "He's a doer, and he forces us to be doers."
Such praise clearly makes Silverzweig uncomfortable, and he is quick to lob it back: The building is "blessed," he says, to have a cohesive core team including Mellman, superintendent Robert Miller and on-site property manager Elizabeth Baum. As for himself, he insists, "I am just a cooperator."
It's Miller Time
That causes a ripple effect. Satisfied with how the building is being run, residents tend to be happier with employees. Miller arrived at the co-op in 1981, intending to stay for a year and then move into the property management field. But within that first year, he had decided to stay on. What clinched that decision, he says, was how warmly he and his wife were welcomed into the building.
Whether the board agrees or not
is almost irrelevant as long as
shareholders have the opportunity
to voice their opinion.
Besides treating staff like one of their own, the board members understand that communication is key. Some years ago, a lobby redesign generated heated tempers, as projects involving personal taste often do. So they invited the designer to give a presentation, during which material samples were made available for residents to see and touch.
"It was not to give them an opportunity to vote on [the lobby project]; this was a decision that the board took very seriously and made after due diligence," says Orsid's Mellman, "but we kept the shareholders in the loop."
Not everyone was happy that they could witness the process but not actively participate in it, he admits. Two factors smoothed things over: first, the "calming approach" of the co-op leaders, who understood the importance of allowing dissenting views to be heard. "Whether the board agrees with the comments or not is almost irrelevant as long as [shareholders] have had the opportunity to voice their opinion," he says. "This board listens."
Form Follows Function
Secondly, the directors and management kept the focus on the efficiencies that the lobby project would bring about — a package room for better mail sorting and a refrigerator to store food deliveries, for example — rather than its aesthetics. "That's all functionality, and nobody can argue with functionality," explains Mellman. "So, at that point, that becomes the focus of the conversation as opposed to the color of the window treatments."
In his own role, supervising 16 properties for Orsid, Mellman offers best practices learned on the job to all buildings within his portfolio. Not all boards, he finds, are equally open to suggestion. "What the board at the Brevoort East has done better than most is that they take those recommendations [and adapt them to their own situation]," he says. "There is a lot of tweaking that goes into everything."
In that sentiment may lie the intangible secret of the Brevoort East's success: Those who live in and work at the building are cared for, and care back. This mutual concern has brought remarkable cohesion to the processes, the policies, and the politics of the building and, ultimately, to its people.
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