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The Jack of Many Trades Who Became a Property Manager
by Bill Morris in HABITAT
Building Operations on September 13, 2018
This article is part of our occasional series, “The Previous Lives of Property Managers.”
Josh Koppel has always worked. Growing up in Cedarhurst, Long Island, with jets from JFK Airport screaming overhead, he mowed lawns, washed cars, delivered newspapers. After graduating from Lawrence High School, he sold costume jewelry on the street, sold men’s clothing at a mall in New Jersey, sold stocks via cold calls on Wall Street.
That last job, he recalls, was brutal: “If you called 500 people, you might get 20 to talk to you. Maybe a couple of them were serious investors. We were not allowed to hang up the phone – unless the investor hung up first. It was all about learning to never take no for an answer.”
Along the way, Koppel, now 47, picked up a book called Rhinoceros Success that became his bible. “That book taught me that a rhinoceros is a 6,000-pound animal with a thick skin,” he says, “As it runs through the jungle, sticks poke its thick skin. That, to me, is like the daily digs everyone faces. Every once in a while the rhinoceros runs into a tree and falls down. It gets right back up and keeps charging.”
That’s how Josh Koppel rolls. He met his future wife, Traci Cohen, on a vacation flight to Jamaica, and while they were on their honeymoon in Australia in 1996, Koppel learned that his Wall Street employer had gone out of business. Newlywed and unemployed, Koppel got right back up and kept charging.
Only this time he decided to charge in a different direction. Traci’s father, Howard Cohen, had started H.S.C. Management back in the 1977, and now Koppel decided to let his father-in-law school him in the intricacies of property management. Cohen had grown up poor in Brooklyn – he plugged holes in his shoes with newspapers in wintertime – and Koppel saw just how tough his father-in-law could be when they went on rent-collection runs on weekends.
“He was tough but he had a big heart,” Koppel says. “He taught me by throwing me in there, without knowing anything. I shadowed him, asked stupid questions, and eventually it clicked.” Soon Koppel was managing two co-ops, one in Brooklyn, the other in Harlem, where the board president taught him about the workings of a board – and how to multitask and always follow through. He was on his way.
But the rhino was about to get knocked down again. In 2006, Howard Cohen passed away. Several managers promptly left to start their own companies, and after the H.S.C. controller spent a year failing at his duties, Koppel persuaded his mother-in-law to let him take the reins.
“I tried to emulate my father-in-law,” says Koppel, who has spent the past dozen years rebuilding the company while raising two sons, now 17 and 20. Today the company has a staff of 32 that manages more than 100 properties, a mix of co-ops, condos, rentals, and commercial buildings. In July the company moved into a 1930s factory building in Mount Vernon that Koppel bought and renovated.
Like many people who have worked hard all their lives, Koppel has the frazzled air of someone who’s forever racing to keep up with the next challenge. He wouldn’t have it any other way. “This business is nonstop action,” he says. “It’s fun. Over the years I’ve learned to listen and be patient – because even the crazy person on the board might have a good idea.”
The work ethic Koppel gained mowing lawns and selling stocks and picking himself up has served him well. He’s now a certified property manager and president of the company. But there’s something else in play here. “I couldn’t have the passion I have for my work,” Koppel says, “if I didn’t love what I’m doing.”