By Lauren Rothman
Managing buildings is in James Brennan’s blood. At 32 years old, he has spent nearly half his life working as superintendent of residential buildings in Manhattan. His expertise comes partly from his father, Mickey, who worked in the industry for 50 years and passed his knowledge to his sons and his nephews. Brennan’s two brothers, Brian and Al, are both building managers in the city, and so are 13 of their cousins. It’s a family affair.
Brennan has been the building manager at 936 Fifth Avenue for almost 10 years. A luxury co-op located across the street from Central Park, the building is home to residents whom Brennan calls “the overachievers of the world. These are people who simply don’t have an extra 15 minutes in their day. My ultimate goal as resident manager is to help them get done whatever their day calls for.” A wide variety of tasks fall to Jimmy: He serves as “everything from super to shrink to dog walker,” he said.
Rather than seeing his catchall job description as some kind of burden, Brennan views it as freeing. “I don’t have to sit in a cubicle nine to five,” he said. All day long, he gets to interact with people, and is constantly thrown into new situations and new challenges. “I truly do love almost every aspect of my job,” he said.
The job comes naturally to Brennan. He’s part of a legacy of superintendents that started in the 1920s when his grandparents immigrated to New York City from Northern Ireland. In a time of arranged marriages back home, Jack Brennan and Brigid Martin, young and in love, escaped first to Canada and then New York. As illegal immigrants in a time of strong anti-Irish sentiment in the U.S., their employment options were limited. Jack set to work using his hands, doing odd jobs in residential buildings all over Manhattan. And due to a lack of child labor laws, his sons were put to work from the age of 8. But the Brennan family worked hard to better circumstances for the new generation of superintendents.
Michaele McCarthy, currently senior account executive at Greenthal Management Corp., took a chance on Brennan when she hired him at the age of 21 as superintendent at 303 E. 43rd St. It was Brennan’s first super job, but he came highly recommended by family members in the industry. McCarthy’s roll of the dice paid off. “He was like a born super,” she said. “He ran the place like a clock. We cried when he left.” Brennan’s current boss is Neil Rappaport, managing director of Douglas Elliman Property Management. He’s also incredibly pleased with Brennan’s performance. “He’s a tremendous asset to the building,” Rappaport said. “I’m very happy he received the award.”
Brennan says the profession of superintendent is an evolving one. Contrary to the old image of the building super in a ratty T-shirt with a huge ring of keys, building managers now rely heavily on technology in the day-to-day operations of their buildings, which they are “no longer married to,” Brennan said. He said he runs 936 Fifth Avenue’s heating, cooling and camera systems from his smartphone. “The resident manager of today is a shirt and tie and slacks job,” he said.
Brennan is thrilled to be recognized as Building Manager of the Year by SEIU 32BJ, which is the largest union of property service workers in the U.S. Brennan sits on their board of directors and hopes to become even more involved with the union. “It’s an honor to be recognized as a leader among leaders,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to open doors, as so many doors were opened for me.”
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