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  The Charlotte Business Journal
Week of October 2, 1989

 
 
Breaking the good ol’ boy mold

When real estate broker Greg Finnican moved to Charlotte he found there were certain rules – he didn’t play by them.

“It was like what was theirs was theirs and what was yours was supposed to be half theirs.”

By Steve Byers

Twelve years ago, Charlotte’s commercial real estate brokerage community was largely untouched by the outside world. It was a
small, close-knit network of good ol’ boys that had dominated the market for years. Three main players – Southern Real Estate,
Vinson Realty Co. Inc., Percival’s Inc., set the rules. Everybody played by them.

Then a new player came to town. In came Greg Finnican a brash, aggressive, New Yorker out to make money, not friends.

Charlotte’s brokerage community hasn’t been the same since.

“I started hearing stories about this carpetbagger who talked like a New York cab driver,” says Jim Teat, “what the problem was,
Greg was out shaking bushes and prospecting. He was a good, aggressive broker.”

“Basically, he was teaching the business we all take for granted now.”

As founder and president of Atlantic Properties Inc., a well-respected local commercial brokerage firm, Finnican supervises 11 brokers, occupies a corner office and speaks with the authority of an elder statesman these days.

It was different in 1977, when Finnican got his start here as an Industrial broker for Pervical’s. He soon discovered his hard-charging style made him unpopular in local real estate circles.

“They had their own little turf here,” Finnican, 42, says. “In Charlotte there were certain rules. It was like what was theirs was theirs and what was yours was supposed to be half theirs. That’s how they had the whole thing rigged.

“I had been in the business somewhere else, and I knew what was fair. I knew in my bones what was reasonable to ask for. I didn’t go
along with a lot of their ways of doing business. I was a clash.”

While stressing that his competitors did nothing illegal or unethical, Finnican says other brokers didn’t exactly go out of their way to help him.

There were countless roadblocks. If Finnican found a tenant for a building that another broker was listing, the broker might give him the wrong set of keys or might not show up for a scheduled meeting at the building.

If Finnican found a tenant for a building that another broker had listed years before, and the exclusive listing had long time since expired,
that broker was still entitled to half of Finnican’s commission, according to long-standing practice.

Finnican says he even heard rumors of competitors lying to or misleading his clients.

But he had an answer for every move; he relied on sympathetic “deep throats” at other brokerage houses to help him circumvent uncooperative brokers. He bypassed other brokers and dealt directly with landlords who were desperate to lease space.

“It’s like they were telling you to get on the back of the bus, and you weren’t going to get on the back of the bus,” Finnican says with a distinct New York accent.

Through it all, he maintained his sense of humor.

“There were a couple of old-timers in town who really got a kick out of all this, and they used to call me up and laugh and tell me, ‘You wouldn’t believe the latest one I’ve heard about you.’ I remember saying one time, ‘Oh no, what does this mean? I’ve got to look behind doors before I go in rooms?’ ”

The competition never turned ugly, but the backbiting and jealousy were enough that Finnican left Percival’s after seven months
to spare owner Bob Percival Sr. further grief.

Finnican struck out on his own. He started Atlantic Realty Co. in a small office he shared with a sales representative. He didn’t own the
desk, typewriter or phone he used. He recalls he barely had two nickels to rub together, but he never once took his foot off the pedal.

“I remember a broker from another firm coming in and showing me an Atlantic flyer,” says Tim Hose, senior vice-president of Synco Inc. and longtime friend of Finnican. “On the cover of this flyer were a dozen or so available industrial properties in Charlotte, some of which other brokers had the exclusive (listing) on.

“Now there was nothing wrong with that, it just hadn’t been done before. This broker was infuriated by the fact Greg had shown his
listing on an Atlantic flyer. But that was typical of Greg’s aggressive attitude and approach.”

One of the first brokers Finnican hired remembers Atlantic’s early reputation.

“They used to call us ‘gunslingers,’ and we like that term,” says Gary Stephens, who joined Atlantic in ’82 and is still a broker there. “The way we looked at it, if everybody likes you, you’re obviously not doing much business.”

“The only people who loved Greg Finnican were his clients, new industrial developers and his bankers,” Teat says. “He ruffled feathers
elsewhere, but he was smart.”

Eventually, the brains and pluck paid off for Finnican in handsome commissions.

One of his biggest coups took place in the summer of 1984 when he convinced International Business Machine Corp. to build a warehouse off W.T. Harris Boulevard. He brought in then- Trammell Crow Co. regional partner Fred Klein to develop the 388,000-square foot building.

Longtime friend Teat says Finnican once told him Klein had paid him a “life-style changing” commission on the deal.

With the help of that huge payday, Finnican quit day-to-day brokering and began to focus on his firm.

Sitting in his modest office in Morehead Corporate Plaza, dressed in a striped shirt and burgundy tie over dark slacks, he seems
to have made the transition from broker to manager smoothly. He says he’s no longer interested in money for himself but instead
wants to help his brokers accumulate property and wealth.

He talks animatedly of a 300 acre industrial tract in Cabarrus County he’s trying to develop but says it’s too premature to discuss details.

Friends and business associates say Finnican really hasn’t mellowed that much over the years; it’s just that he no longer stands out in the Charlotte brokerage community. Those close to him say Finnican isn’t a socializer– when he’s not at work, he’s probably thinking shop in a Saturday morning foursome.

“By nature, I’m not a joiner,” he admits. “If you make friends and business acquaintances along the way, great, but I’m not going out of
my way to rub elbows to catch favors down the road. That’s just me.”

Finnican overcame a number of built-in obstacles to succeed in Charlotte, and, indeed, still seems a bit out of place.
Which makes his journey from New York to Charlotte 13 years ago that much more implausible.

He was an Industrial broker in Long Island, N.Y., during the lean years of 1973-1975. Things were so tough that Finnican drove a cab
in Manhattan on weekends to make ends meet– “ That was miserable, the worst job I’ve ever had.”

He eventually became a stockbroker in New York, but by now commercial real estate brokering was in his blood.

So he began an investigation of three Sunbelt cities and read so much as he could get his hands on about each. He subscribed to the
Sunday papers in Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte. Finally, during the summer of ’76, on a shoestring budget. Finnican embarked on whirl-wind tours of the cities.

First, a two-day stop in Houston, then a brief layover in Atlanta, From Atlanta, an all-night bus ride to Charlotte.

“I got off at the bus station on Trade Street at about 4:30 on morning,” Finnican can remember.“ I couldn’t rent a car because I found out all the car-rental places were at the airport. My first impression was this black cab driver who drove me out to the airport about 5 in the morning.

“Turns out he had moved down from New York, and he thought Charlotte was great. He did a good sales job.”

Finnican spent three days driving all over the area. He didn’t talk with anyone because he didn’t know anyone. When he left, he knew he was going back for a transfer to Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner& Smith Inc’s. Charlotte office.

“It was clean. There was just a gut feeling. No statistics. Just good vibrations. Charlotte just rubbed me the right way.”

Has he ever wondered what would’ve happened had he chosen Houston or Atlanta?

“Well, we know what would’ve happened if I’d gone to Houston. I’d be driving a cab again.

Bait for the big fish

Greg Finnican had been an industrial broker in Charlotte less than six months and he knew what the market was missing.

A big-time industrial developer.

“The market was extremely dry,” Finnican, president of Atlantic Properties Inc., recalls. “ There was only 44,000 square feet of (speculative) industrial space in all of Mecklenburg County I could find in 1977. You literally could not find space to lease here,”

Finnican got busy. He knew Trammell Crow and Frank Carter had developed a bulk warehouse on Hovis Road that was half leased. He quickly found a tenant for the building and called Trammell Crow Co. partner Don Childress in Atlanta.

Childress had already been to Charlotte and liked what he saw, but when he flew back to close the deal with Finnican, the aggressive
broker made another strong sales pitch for Charlotte.

“Greg was an interesting fellow, particularly in that time,” says Childress, now the Atlanta partner of Childress Klein Properties Inc. Childress and Crow’s former Charlotte partner, Fred Klein, opened Childress Klein in May 1988.

“(Finnican) was a fairly hard-charging Yankee, but I could relate to that very easily, having just spent three years in New Jersey.”

Finnican showed the developer a number of industrial sites in southwest Charlotte, hoping Childress would decide to build a speculative warehouse here.

Childress eventually purchased a tract from Finnican at Wilmar and Nevada streets, of Westinghouse Boulevard, and built a 100,000- square-foot bulk warehouse there.

Not long after, with constant prodding from Finnican, Childress convinced Klein to open a Charlotte office. The rest, as they say, is history.

“It was a golden opportunity,” Finnican says. “ I told Don and Fred they couldn’t miss. There was no product here. Once they started, they made a fortune. They virtually had the field to themselves.”

“Believe me, back then there was no empirical data to suggest Charlotte would turn out to be what it is now,” Childress says. “We felt the
fundamentals and underpinnings were there for future growth, but we would’ve liked to have had another developer there to go to school on.

“Fortunately, our instincts, and Greg’s, proved very good.”

– Steve Byers