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DON’T CALL HIM A MICROMANAGER
By Tom Soter
Call him a “take charge” kind of guy, but don’t call Michael Herzog a micromanager. Although he admits to being a “detail-oriented” person, he says that, unlike an actual micromanager, he knows when to pull back and when to engage. As the president of the 68-unit co-op at 257-291 Cedarhurst Avenue in Cedarhurst, Herzog has been actively involved in the affairs of the garden apartment house for over three decades. An accountant for many years, he arrived there in 1961, raised his family at the property, and represented the tenants in negotiations with the sponsor during the property’s conversion to a cooperative in the 1980s. He has served as the board president from 1988 to the present, admitting he has even more time for the co-op since he retired. Herzog, at 77, hasn’t slowed down, spending at least 28 hours a week on co-op business. He sat down with us recently to discuss the benefits (and perils) of “take charge-ism.” (Is he a micromanager? Well, he did call Habitat three times after the initial interview to clarify and add to what he had said. But that just could be an attention to detail...yes?)
How would you describe your role on the board?
I see both the big picture and the small picture. It's not only a co-op, which is a business, but it's my home, and I want to make sure it is the best place for my family and everybody else to live.
How often do you touch base with your managing agent, Steve Greenbaum, the director of management at Mark Greenberg Real Estate?
I e-mail our manager every day. We are in touch all the time. Any course of action I want to take that is other than routine, we check with each other before we do it. I am probably a pain in the ass to him because I am e-mailing him or calling him and his staff all the time.
How much time do you spend every week on board matters?
Maybe the average is four hours a day. But you’re on the job all the time. I was walking the grounds the other night, and I noticed that one of the lights was out, which the porter wouldn’t have seen because he isn’t here at night. So I called the porter at home at 9 o’clock that night and told him to replace it.
And that’s easier than calling the manager?
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t call the manager for something like that because if I call him and he calls them it's going to take an extra two days. I live here; it's not a burden to me. That’s my nature, yeah. I am not walking around the property all the time. I just happened to be there; I saw the light was out. We don’t want to bother the management company with little stuff like that because when the big thing happens, they are not going to jump to it as much if I have wasted their time with a lot of small stuff. Four or five years ago, our boiler went out in the middle of the winter. I needed Steve – who knows how to deal with it – to deal with it immediately, which he did. So he and the management company can really concentrate on the important big issues, and I am not going to waste their time with light bulb has to be changed.
But should you get so involved in everything?
Accountants tend to be detail-oriented, and as an accountant, I am a detail person. I’ll give you another example. I happen to like landscaping. We have a beautifully landscaped building. Every year, in the spring, I go around with the gardener and we spend let’s say $4,000 a year on landscaping. That’s not the gardening because the gardening itself runs us about $13,500. So I go around with the gardener, and I say, ‘I want trees here,’ and I tell him what kind of shrubbery I want planted, what kind of trees I want planted and everybody is satisfied with the results. I enjoy doing it. Now the manager is not going to go around deciding the landscape, and I don’t want to necessarily leave it up to the gardener himself; I want to be involved.
So you think that someone in your position should have such attention to detail? Is it that important to get down into the nitty-gritty?
I believe in attention to detail, yes, okay, but the attention to detail can be different. Such attention to detail works in a small building like ours wouldn’t work as well in a larger property. In a large building like North Shore Towers where, first of all, it would be mentally and physically impossible for one person to do there what I am doing here, you have to obviously delegate everything, and there you are strictly going to be a macro-manager; you couldn’t do anything else.
I get involved in everything here, whether it is making sure that when I get the monthly report on expenditures and maintenance, if somebody is in arrears, I immediately discuss that with the bookkeeper about what action we should take. Because I have been involved so long, and thereby having had a lot of experience, mistakes that I might have had made in 1988 I won’t duplicate now.
So what drives you?
I just want to see the building run well. It's my home. It's the investment for a lot of people. I want to see it done right. I think if somebody is not respectful of other people, it's not going to work. I think if you are not open to hearing people’s complaints. I will give you an example. A resident called me, said she had some surgery and there was no hand-railing on the two steps going up to the entrance door. She said that, because of the surgery, she needed a hand-railing to get in and out. That same day, I called Steve. I said, “Steve, we need about a ten-foot wrought-iron railing. Do you have somebody who could do it?” He called somebody; in two days we had somebody here and we put in a wrought-iron railing, okay. So if you are not going to be responsive to individuals’ needs that are legitimate, you get a lot of complaints that you can't deal with.
Do you ever feel you take on too much?
For me? No. I mean, again, that’s my nature; I always take on a lot.
Do you know your limitations?
It's very important to know your limitations. I always start with an idea. I will kick it around with the board members, but we always go to Steve, our manager, because he is the professional; obviously I want professional advice on things I know nothing about. You have to know your limitations, otherwise you are going to get into difficulty.
One of our board members is a New York City police officer, and he took the lead – this probably goes back six years ago or so – with [getting security cameras for the property]. He had knowledge about that, he was good, and he and I went together to look at other buildings that had security cameras. But I certainly let him be the lead on that because he knew more about it than I did.
I am very interested in things about co-ops, and I read a lot about it particularly in your magazine, the Cooperator and the New York Times. I always look at things that other buildings are doing that I am not aware of, and ask myself, “Do they apply? Would this be good for this building? Not good for this building?” And a year or two ago, there was an article in your magazine about what is the responsibility of boards and management companies for people having guns in the building?
So I read that, and I said, “How does that apply here?” What I do all the time is get input from the rest of the board. First of all, I forwarded the article to all the board members and to Steve, even though they get the magazines, to make sure that we focus on this, and I asked for input: “Do you think this is a good idea to have it?” Now, it's very interesting because I was leaning towards it might be a good idea to know if people had guns or not. But the board member who is a New York City police officer was very much against it. He said, “Look, we know there are two people in the building that have guns.” One was the police officer, and other is a court officer.” He said he doesn’t want people to particularly be aware that he is a police officer and he said he doesn’t want people knowing that he has a gun in the apartment because it becomes a target; people are going to want to break in and steal that gun. So that gave me a totally different perspective, and we didn’t pursue it. You have to get input from other people.
If you had to sum up what the role of the board president, would you say it is someone who takes on extra duties because he has to or because he wants to?
I would certainly not say it's because he has to. Circumstances to a certain extent determine the role that the president and the board are going to take. So in this case – because of what I have described, because of what the management company’s role is, because of what the other board members’ role is – I work within that environment to do my own personal style. In the end, it depends on the shareholders and how much involvement other shareholders want. I would certainly think that if there were a lot of shareholders who wanted an active role, okay, I would do less.
Let me put it like this, I could be a good Indian or I can be a good chief. If there was somebody that had a lot of expertise in something and wanted to do it, that’s fine. As long as it's being done well.
BECOMING A “HANDS-ON” PRESIDENT
A FIVE-STEP PROCESS
Board president Michael Herzog offers advice for small- to mid-sized buildings on steps a president can take to be “hands-on,”
(1) Respond quickly and communicate regularly with the residents.
(2) Know your limitations. Don’t feel you have to know everything.
(3) Don’t keep re-inventing the wheel. Keep abreast of developments at other properties. Read real estate publications to find out what others are doing.
(4) Discuss matters with the board.
(5) Be sure the board is comfortable with the number of tasks you are taking on; don’t hesitate to delegate.
January 14, 2015