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Real estate ‘maestro’ calls tune : Executive famed for putting huge deals together

Times Staff Writer

“The Maestro of Real Estate” isn’t personally orchestrating so many big deals anymore, but he is conducting 13 real estate offices with more than 500 salespeople, five marketing employees and 26 managers.

His name: Jerry Asher. His job: senior vice president and Southern California regional manager of commercial brokerage operations for Coldwell Banker.

His region is one of the busiest for Coldwell Banker, the biggest real estate company in the country in terms of revenue.

Last year, the Los Angeles-based firm--with commercial and residential real estate offices in 28 states and the District of Columbia, London, Toronto and Vancouver, Canada--generated $825 million in gross revenues. The Southern California commercial region was responsible for what Asher describes as “a major portion” of this.

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Six years ago, Asher was instrumental in putting together some real estate transactions that helped put Century City on the map and earned him “the maestro” nickname. The transactions included the 1980 sales of the 1900 and 1901 Avenue of the Stars buildings, which went for a total of $138 million, and the Century City Shopping Center, which amounted to about $65 million. Later, he was also involved in the sale of the ABC Entertainment Center, which brought the tally for all four complexes to more than $238 million.

“My role was to orchestrate, bring people together, create an environment in which the buyers wanted to buy and the sellers wanted to sell,” he said.

He moved toward the podium, so to speak, before he joined Coldwell Banker in 1969. Fresh out of the Army two years after graduating from USC in 1956, he went to work full time for a modest-sized real estate brokerage house where he had worked while still an undergraduate. It was then that he read about New York real estate entrepreneur Bill Zeckendorf buying the 20th-Century Fox studio.

“I read about the sale and Bill Zeckendorf’s plans to develop the studio into a multi-billion-dollar commercial project called Century City, and I decided that that this was something I’d like to be associated with,” he said.

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How he became associated with Century City and got his job in the Los Angeles regional office of Milton Meyer, the San Francisco-based firm that handled the studio sale in 1960, still makes him smile.

“I could write a book about it if I could write,” he remarked with characteristic humor.

Asher didn’t know Zeckendorf. “I had no introductions,” he admitted, “but I placed about 10 phone calls to this magic name in New York.”

Asher didn’t get through, but he didn’t give up. He went to a library and read a magazine article about Zeckendorf’s life style. “And I found that he got to work early and left late. So I thought, with those work habits, I might get lucky if I call him at his office at 6:30 a.m.”

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Asher set his alarm at 3:30 a.m. every day for a week so he could call Zeckendorf at 6:30 a.m., New York time. “For five solid days, I let the phone ring and ring. Finally, somebody answered; it was Zeckendorf,” Asher smiled.

Asher’s persistence and research paid off. Zeckendorf was impressed enough to set up an appointment with Asher two weeks after the phone call. And the result? Asher became part of the Milton Meyer team that Zeckendorf had retained to lease his new properties.

“This is what winners in our business do,” Asher said, thinking back about what he did. “They anticipate, investigate and instigate. They create.”

He described Zeckendorf, who died in 1971, as “the most entrepreneurial, successful, creative man in real estate I ever saw.” Yet, Asher has no idols. He had no mentor.

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He was a real estate major in college and--except for his Army stint--always worked in real estate, primarily in the commercial sales field, which he says he loves.

He must. He gets to work in downtown Los Angeles by 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t get home (in Brentwood) until 7:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. when he is lucky. He attends three or four work-related events a week, sometimes two on the same evening. He goes to dinner with customers on a regular basis and has breakfast meetings all the time.

“Yes, I’m married,” he answered, “but my kids don’t believe it.” He laughed.

His pride in being dedicated to his work is almost matched with his pride in being devoted to his family, but even his wife, Sharlee, alerts him about potential real estate opportunities, he said. They have been married since he was 34. He is 51 now.

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Of his goals, “expanding and enjoying a flourishing family life,” rates high. Unlike many people with teen-agers, he says of his 15-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, “I have a lot of good things to say about my children.”

Even during one of the most hectic of times in his business career--when he traveled across the country more than 50% of his time--he only missed one of his son’s basketball games in a year, he said.

He seems to nurture his children as he does his staff, and one of his goals is “to continue to influence--not to control but nurture--people.”

He has a long way to go before he retires, but when he does, he would like to be remembered as someone who “made things happen.”

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Strangely enough, he does not think he will be remembered particularly for his big Century City transactions, though he is still taking bows for them. “Sometimes you are remembered for a lesser significant deal,” he said.

That reminded him of the time a member of his staff was involved in a sale to close escrow before a certain Dec. 31 or not close escrow at all. At the last minute, there was a problem with the transfer of funds. “It looked as if the deal was in jeopardy, but because of my relationship with a key individual at the financial institution involved, we were able to accomplish in 45 minutes what everybody else said would take two days,” he recalled.

He takes pride in making things besides real estate transactions happen. As co-chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Committee of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, he is helping develop a program for industry to provide so-called “affordable housing.”

“Competitive areas of the country have used the cost of housing in California as a hammer against us,” he said, “and we think that industry as well as the public sector has a social responsibility to help increase the affordable housing base.” Details of the program have not yet been worked out.

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Asher is also a past director and treasurer of the Century City Rotary Club, and he is on the Commercial Tribunal for the American Arbitration Assn.

It’s hard to come up with an encore to his Century City transactions, he admits, but “the Maestro of Real Estate” is still trying to keep his job and home life fine tuned. He does this by trying to have fun whether at work or play.

“You must have fun to be successful at whatever you do,” he said.

Thinking about the twins associated with his astrological sign, he laughed. “I’m a Gemini,” he said. “So I’m not only a maestro, I’m a juggler too.”

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