Headquartered in Stamford, RHYS is a commercial real estate firm specializing in office, retail and investment sales throughout the Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island markets.CEO, President and founder Cory Gubner formed the company in 2009, his third such venture since forming Chase Commercial Real Estate in 1998, which he later merged into GVA Williams in 2002 and sold to Colliers International in 2008. He has more than 24 years of experience in serving commercial real estate clients and has overseen transactions with an aggregate value in excess of $3 billion.
From his office at 9 W. Broad St., Gubner discusses building a career in real estate, what he likes to do when he’s not measuring square footage, and provides a perhaps surprising explanation for his company’s name.
To start with the obvious question: What led you to real estate?
“Oh boy, that’s going way back. I was an urban studies major in college (at the University of Maryland), because cities in general intrigued me — why they are where they are, how they were built, how they evolved over time. For whatever reason that was particularly interesting to me. There was no family connection, nobody in real estate — it just appealed to me.”
Do you remember your first sale?
“Oh yeah. It was a boutique office building in Greenwich, a $2.2 million sale on the waterfront. The client was willing to take a chance on a 23-year-old kid, which really exceeded all my expectations.”
It was that easy?
“It took me a little while. I just got lucky, I guess. But what I got out of that experience, I used as a springboard to get other assignments. It grew from there.”
What’s the best part of being in real estate?
“Again, I’ve been very fortunate. I love what I do. That’s not to say that it’s not difficult at times, but if you like what you do for a living, that means a lot. I get up each day looking forward to doing it again. I’m nearing 25 years in the business now, and that hasn’t changed.
“Part of it is the physical nature of the job — seeing and getting to know the actual buildings and living conditions — as well as the selling and leasing, finding buyers and tenants for buildings. And vice-versa — identifying a new location that will work for them.
“I also like the personal part of it, the dealing with people, setting them up with physical assets. It’s a very interesting dynamic — why people buy and sell, aligning them together, is something I really enjoy.”
What would you say is your biggest challenge?
“Its cyclical nature. There are definite highs and lows. And knowing that there are outside forces that can drive perceptions in the business, rightly or wrongly. Sometimes people will hear certain things and overreact, even when the actual facts haven’t necessarily changed. That’s probably the most frustrating part for me, having to constantly explain where the market is.”
Can you identify someone who was a mentor to you in real estate?
“This is going to sound pat, but there are really too many to name. I’ve been super fortunate in that there are a lot of people in my life who had a dramatic impact on me — I literally could not name just one, because that wouldn’t be fair to all those others who helped me along the way.
“I know I keep saying it, but I’ve been extremely, extremely lucky. There are probably 10 to 12 people in my life right now who still guide me and mentor me. Hopefully I can help them as well at this point.”
All right then: How about a personal mentor?
“My wife, Jodi. We’ve been married for 23 years now. She’s not in the business, so I like to run things by her. She has a very keen sense of direction. When you have someone like that who’s not in the business, it helps in some regards. We can discuss a problem or conflict and she can give it to me straight. She usually has very to-the-point answers, which can help me to decide which way to go.”
I’d always thought RHYS was an acronym, given the all upper-case spelling, but that’s not the case, is it?
“No, it’s actually my middle name. It’s a Welsh name that means passion and enthusiasm. Neither of my parents were from Wales, so that part’s a little curious. But my partners thought it would be a cool name that could define us, as far as emphasizing the big difference between us and our competitors. We believe we take on every project with a lot of passion. Our approach is not market dependent.”
Is there a particular business book that you’ve found to be valuable?
“Again, too many to mention. I love reading about people — particularly successful people and how they got to be that successful. There’s always something I take from each particular book and it doesn’t have to be related to my industry. Just in general, how did these people deal with people and situations that arose, what were — or are — their goals and aspirations.”
Do you find time to read for pleasure?
“Next to my bed I have eight or nine books, nonfiction. I don’t read them like novels. I have a limited amount of time, so as I go through them I write on them, highlight stuff, put little yellow stickers in them. I’m reading one right now that I’m really enjoying about Dean Smith, the great college basketball coach from North Carolina.”
Given what you said about having a limited amount of time, do you have any spare time? And if so, what do you like to do?
“I make the time. I’m a weightlifting guy, so I spend as much time as I can in the gym. I’m also a big outdoor guy, so I spend as much time outside as possible. I like to play golf, although I don’t play as often as I’d like. Besides fitness and weightlifting, I like to build stuff, what I call ‘hard landscaping.’ Building stone walls, stuff like that — masonry stuff. It’s not that I’ve had formal training or anything like that, I just do it by eye and feel. I like the physicalness of it.”
That’s good to know. I have a patio that…
“Only on my house! Don’t ask me to help you out.”
Any must-see TV in the Gubner household?
“I’m a sports TV guy — I love the NFL and the NBA, and I watch a lot of Yankees games. It’s the Yankees, the Knicks and the Dallas Cowboys.”
The Cowboys would seem to be the outlier there.
“My mother spent a lot of her early years in Texas and that somehow must have influenced me. The helmets look cool or something, I don’t know.”
Why the Yankees and not the Mets?
“I actually grew up liking the Mets — and then I met my wife, who’s a diehard Yankees fan who grew up going to their games. She kind of coerced me, I guess, but I don’t know if it was that hard for me to switch over.”
If you were invited to address a high school or college graduating class, what’s the one thing you’d want to tell them?
“It’s funny you should ask — I just guest-lectured at a university recently. What I told them is that I don’t care what you do, do whatever you want. But make sure you’re passionate about it and are willing to outwork everyone else in the room. If you have something and are truly passionate about it, it won’t feel like work. And if you outwork everybody else there’s a 100 percent chance of being a big success.
“There were 20-some-odd kids in the class — some juniors, mostly seniors — and I went around the room and asked each one of them to tell me what they were passionate about. It was amazing that some of them just didn’t know. And I told them: ‘Well, you’d better find it!’ When you’re that age, it’s time to start finding that path that leads you to your career.”