Self-Made: The Career of Robert Futterman

Robert K. Futterman has been a force to be reckoned with in the retail real estate industry in New York for quite some time. He didn’t come from a real estate dynasty but has made a name for himself nonetheless. Born to Louis, a manufacturer and a businessman, and Rosalie Futterman, a painter, Robert was raised on Long Island, New York, and attended the University of Maryland. Over his career, he has been associated with some of the biggest brands and has worked with billionaire property giants to revitalize some of Manhattan’s most famous neighborhoods. This includes the Meatpacking District, 34th Street, Soho, Plaza District, and Times Square. 

Futterman has excelled as a retail real estate agent because he has not been confined to tenants or landlords but has successfully worked with both parties. He emphasizes building long-term relationships that are built on a personal level. As such, he has longstanding partnerships with notable developers, such as Millennium Partners, Forest City Ratner, Lefrak Organisation, Credit Suisse, Vornado Realty Trust, and Cohen Brothers, to name a few. 

Some of the big brands that he has worked with include J. Crew, Anthropologie, Polo Ralph Lauren, Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Virgin Megastores, Apple Computer, Starbucks, Club Monaco, Montblanc, L’Oreal, Ann Taylor, Allen-Edmonds, and Gap. 

More than just single leases, Futterman has revitalized entire districts in New York. This goes to show how well he understands the market and consumer behaviors. The meatpacking district is a great example that showcases Futterman’s talents. When the development started on West 14th Street and West 15th Street, the project managers approached Futterman to market the space to retailers. The district was going through a massive overhaul as property owners sold their land to developers. The marketplace also transitioned away from exclusive brands to more accessible ones, attracting scores of shoppers. 

Long before he became a real estate giant, he wanted to have a start in the music industry. The inspiration for this came during his college years when he had worked as a promotor for live concerts. He was good at what he did and even regularly represented the university’s student body during concert negotiations. The music industry was changing, rapidly. Record companies were laying off employees because the advent of MTV had changed the landscape. People were busy imagining a future without concerts. At such an uncertain, it did not make much sense for Futterman to continue what he was doing. Disillusioned, he moved to California, where he sold ice cream on Zuma Beach for a while. “I just felt like getting away from the East Coast. My parents weren’t happy about it,” Futterman told the New York Sun. 

His parents did not have to be worried for their son for long, as he soon returned to New York. He wanted to capitalize on his sales skills and thus decided to join Garrick-Aug as a Canvasser in 1983. That is how he had got his start in the retail real estate industry. His job was to canvass New York City. He would cold call landlords to see if they would be interested in leasing their places to retailers. This is a practice that he continues to do today

Futterman recollects how he was unafraid to make calls to the biggest names when he had just started. He is a man that cannot be easily intimidated. His talents at Garrick-Aug did not go underappreciated. Futterman went from one promotion to another, earning him the nickname of ‘the machine’. When he left Garrick-Aug he was one of its Managing Directors. 

For his expertise and knowledge of the business, he has held many important advisory roles. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey appointed him as an advisor for the World Trade Centre redevelopment. He has also served as a member of the Real Estate Board of New York and the International Council of Shopping Centers. 

Futterman has earned much recognition for his work after being involved in closing some of the biggest deals in New York’s retail industry. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has awarded Futterman the Retail Deal of the Year four times. 

In 2001, Futterman won the Retail Deal of the Year award for being instrumental in Ethan Allen’s flagship store’s 20,000 square foot lease at 101 West End Avenue. Futterman enjoys shopping and that is something else that has helped him to succeed professionally. He understands the viewpoint of a consumer and uses that to secure better deals for both landlords and tenants. It was no surprise then that, in 2005, he won the Most Creative Retail Deal of the Year by facilitating a 22,500 square foot retail lease for Apple Inc.’s flagship store in the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue. In 2009, he yet again won the Creative Deal award. This time, he had leased 254,376 square feet of retail space and created an entertainment destination at the Times Square Building, which attracted tenants such as Bowlmor Lanes and Discovery TSX. Then, in 2010, Futterman’s efforts led to the first grocery stores opening up on the Upper East Side after almost 30 years when he secured a 45,238 square foot space for Fairway Market, at 240 East 86th Street. 

These deals are only the ones that have earned Futterman awards. Over the span of his 39-year career, he has closed many more. His closed transactions have reached $10 billion, which is remarkable, to say the least.