Growing up in the New York borough of Queens, Broadway Partners founder and chief executive officer Scott Lawlor was more interested in football than real estate.
“Sometime during college, I decided for some reason that I wanted to set up a real estate company and buy or build buildings,” says Lawlor, “as soon as I gave up on quarterbacking the New York Jets.”
Lawlor may not have led the Jets to victory on the gridiron, but he did name his firm after them. “It's what people called me in college,” he says of the name Broadway. His days following the Jets and, presumably, the team's rock star quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath, began during his childhood in Bayside, when the Jets played at nearby Shea Stadium.
Like his support for the Jets, Lawlor's interest in real estate goes back quite a few years. “I was always working toward setting up an entrepreneurial shop,” he says. “If you asked me in 1986, it would have been as a developer. That was sort of the sexy real estate thing then; there was no such thing as an opportunity fund.”
After studying at Bucknell University and attending Columbia Business School for an MBA and MS in real estate development, Lawlor began doing asset management work with insurance company Mutual of New York in 1993, largely fixing, selling and leasing equity property on which the insurer had foreclosed. He also worked on bankruptcies and restructurings.
Later, Lawlor moved to Fortress Investment Group, then known as Blackrock, and headed up the group's real estate operation, where he was responsible for underwriting and managing the distressed loan pools purchased by the New York-based private investment firm.
Lawlor's extensive background in distressed investing instilled in him a discipline that he has carried over to Broadway, the firm he founded in 1999. For example, Broadway looked at 210 transactions, or more than $23.6 billion of property, in 2003, eventually bidding on 43 of them and acquiring only two for $280.5 million. Through this discipline, the firms offers investors an IRR of 13 percent, with the compounded return from capital events in 2004 leading to overall returns ranging from 17 percent to 36 percent.
That discipline extends to Broadway's strict focus on office properties, which partially reflects Lawlor's experience in the sector, as well as the pricing opportunities he saw in certain Class B office markets approximately five years ago.
He also says that, other than regional malls or luxury hotels, only the office sector had the scalability he was looking for. “If you're trying to build a business … it's very difficult to invest $5 million [at a time],” he says. “It's much easier to invest $100 million at a time.”
To further build his business, Lawlor recently moved the firm's 25-person-strong corporate headquarters from the leafy suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut to bustling Manhattan, as well as established a West Coast presence with an LA office. The firm has also created Broadway Real Estate Services, a wholly owned property management subsidiary with more than 100 employees.
Looking back, Lawlor says that starting up an entrepreneurial shop was more difficult than he had anticipated. He points out that he'd always been working for a firm that had capital to place, so fundraising was a new and challenging exercise.
With his experience on both sides of the desk, Lawlor also noticed the way people behave towards an independent entrepreneur, as opposed to a professional at a large firm. “When you work at the place that has the dough, you're treated a certain way during the dealings,” he explains. “When you show up as an entrepreneur leasing a desk in an executive suite, you're treated differently. You get a little spoiled having resources at your disposal.”
The early days at Broadway also fostered an appreciation of his old support staff. “I quarterbacked a decent size team at my prior job and in the beginning [of Broadway] I was filling out Fed Ex labels and making plane reservations,” he explains. “It's not a big deal, but until you're dealing with that, as well as trying to transact, you don't appreciate with a pain in the neck it is.”
Still, the hard work seems to be paying off. Charles Millard, who joined the firm as president in 2004 after stints in the administration of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and at investment bank LehmanBrothers, says Lawlor's philosophy and ethics permeate all aspects of the firm and its dealings, particularly when it comes to taking care of investors.
Millard adds that, before starting with Broadway, he spoke with a number of people about Lawlor's work in the field. “Consistently, one of the first things mentioned was ‘integrity,’” he says.
That is an important quality for any leader to have – on or off the field.