Mack the Knife

Sometimes you get to meet people in this business that really surprise you. Being on the inquisitive end of research, I’m always observational instead participative, so I notice details many would consider non-important (Probably one of my most irritating qualities). That’s why I wanted to tell you about Mack the Knife, the Chicago Chop House and how you get professional basketball players to lease from you.

Picture it: Chicago, land of governors and gangsters, where a well-placed bribe is a lot like a bet, you never quite know how it’s going to turn out. Chicago in winter is unlike any other place on the planet (people from Siberia visit Chicago to learn how to survive). Where else can you count the number of rope assisted walks from your apartment to work or to the Fox & Obel. And one wind blown day, after a round of apartment reviews and asset visits I met Mack the Knife. Fashion found a friend in

Mack, and his Bruno Magli shoes and Christian Dior suits were perfectly cut to his medium frame. Mack had a way with renters, and his closing ration was an astonishing 90 percent. I found I liked Mack and immediately set out to learn what he seemed to know but was so uncomfortable teaching others. After the snow let up a bit, and the night sky illuminated with thousands of twinkling lights, the reflections from cars on Michigan Avenue, we headed over towards West Ontario near Dearborn Street, destined for the legendary Chicago Chop House, probably the finest restaurant in the city. Working for a REIT in those days made the cost of the meal easy to expense, explaining it away as everything I had spent the entire week I was there in one meal. Mack was anxious to tell me about his latest lease deal, that he had personally toured and then signed a professional basketball player from the Chicago Bulls to the penthouse apartment, at a cool $10,000 per month. He laughed when he told the story because this millionaire kid, one of the game’s best, had no credit and needed a co-signer despite his astronomical salary. The player laughed it off and his hard working mom, a nurse in the local hospital co-signed the lease. Mack taught me something about human nature and the way that this business works. It isn’t about the paint color, the fancy furniture in the theater or the clubhouse, fitness center or guest kitchen. It isn’t even about having the perfect location, something Mack knew from the ferry noise near the property and the constant traffic outside the north and east facing windows. It’s about Mack, or more appropriately how Mack became their best friend and adviser when he met them. Between being dressed impeccably every day, and Mack had more suits, ties and brightly polished shoes than anyone I know, to the easy smile, Mack exuded the kind of trust that made you love the guy. If he were a professional athlete people would probably have lined up to cheer for him.

I realized that when Mack was first showing me the building, we never stopped talking, and I never saw his back. He was always just ahead, leading down the corridors but attentively listening or asking something, leaning sideways to being sure I was looking at him when he spoke. He was, just like Mackey in the song, looking for the right moment. His sense of timing, his grasp of people skills and his youthful exuberance (at 25 years of age) were all impressive. What I didn’t learn until much later was that he was also finishing a Master’s degree full time while also working full time, juggling both commitments.

Consumer research tells us that to make the sale, to in essence get the lease signed, you have to deliver a price advantage, a value proposition and a positive close. What Mack showed was that we lease to people who like to be treated with respect, who develop a sense of trust and belonging and are proud of their decisions. Not something that comes across in a lot of brochures and advertising or poorly conceived branding statements (are they all really luxury apartments?).

It has been many years since I last saw Mack, although we did keep in touch for a while and he would regularly send me almost James Bond-like market reports. Earlier this year I went back to the building, once owned by a REIT, and now a local powerhouse and asked about Mack.

Without hesitation, and with apologies to the Godfather movie franchise, they said Mackey sleeps with the fishes. It turns out he became a submariner and is an oceanographer in the Navy. I’m sure somehow, even undersea, he’s charming them too.

Jack Kern is our Accidental Economist and publishes dispatches from the front, blogs and occasionally factual articles in Mult-housing News and Commercial Property Executive magazines. You may know him as the voice of Flip the Bird, in a short lived career in animated features, or as a singer-songwriter with a world record for clearing a room. Either way, he’d love to hear from you, except from the publisher of Mack the Knife, copyright Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Mack’s, we mean Jack’s at or 301-601-1900.