Sonnenblick’s great-grandfather, Alexander Sonnenblick, founded Sonnenblick Goldman Corp. in New York in 1893. The company specialized in providing financing for real estate projects.
His grandfather, Nathan Sonnenblick, was the chairman of Sonnenblick Goldman, and was described by The New York Times as one of the nation’s foremost mortgage brokers.
His father, Jack Sonnenblick, succeeded his father as chairman of Sonnenblick Goldman, served as a trustee of the New York Bank for Savings, and founded North American Mortgage Investors.
His uncle, Arthur Sonnenblick, is the senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Equity, Debt & Structured Finance — formerly Cushman & Wakefield Sonnenblick Goldman. He sits on the board of trustees of Vornado.
Sonnenblick said growing up, his father never pushed him to go into real estate.
“He told me, ‘Go to business school and just learn about business,’” Sonnenblick told Bisnow. “He never forced me.”
It wasn’t until his senior year at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania when a real estate mogul gave a presentation in front of his class that his interest in commercial real estate arose.
“Donald Trump Sr. walked into our class and started telling us about all of these wild and crazy deals he was doing,” Sonnenblick said. “It really got me very interested in the real estate business. Once I graduated, my dad welcomed me into the business.”
In his 35-year career, Sonnenblick has completed more than $1.5B of commercial real estate transactions and has developed several big office and hotel projects on the East Coast, in Florida and in California.
When asked if his kids will eventually follow in his footsteps and keep the family legacy going, Sonnenblick leaves it up to them.
“My dad never forced me,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing with my kids as well. I think that’s the right way to do things.”
Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job?
Sonnenblick: My favorite part of my job, which is developing big office buildings, is taking a vacant piece of land and designing and master planning the entire project. It’s very creative. I sit down with the architects. I love the creative part of designing a beautiful new building from a vacant piece of dirt.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Sonnenblick: To be honest with you, this is the only job I’ve really ever had. But as a kid in high school, I used to clean swimming pools in Beverly Hills. It was horrible. The pools were large and the customers were very finicky and difficult to work with.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Sonneblick: A farmer. At my house in Los Angeles, I have about 150 fruit trees, all different kinds — oranges, lemons, blueberries, raspberries. When I get home from work, all weekend long, I spend most of time in my backyard. I get a lot of pleasure from it. So I would be a fruit tree farmer.
Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of?
Sonnenblick: Easy one for me. I own the LA headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a 500K SF office building in Norwalk. Of all the deals I’ve done in my career, that was clearly the most difficult. Yet in spite of all the obstacles, we got it done. It will forever be my favorite and proudest project in my entire career.