Updated: Jul 20
"If I’m proud of one thing, I’m proud of my relationships,” says Hall Willkie, President of Brown Harris Stevens New York City. A longtime leader in New York real estate and an icon in the industry, Hall oversees more than 1,300 agents who conduct billions of dollars in sales each year.
Hall sat down with BHS CEO Bess Freedman for a candid conversation about his storied career, as well as some personal details ranging from his familial ties to a presidential candidate to his summers spent cooking for Julia Child. You can watch the full conversation and read on for highlights from the interview.
A Family of Presidential Proportions
Though Hall credits his professional success to an array of mentors throughout his career, his uncompromising ethics and drive might just be genetic. Hall’s uncle, Wendell Willkie, was a political activist who ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. Following the election, Wendell established himself as a major figure in FDR’s administration, even embarking on several foreign missions under the direction of the president.
While Hall did not have the chance to meet Wendell personally, he is nevertheless inspired by his uncle’s legacy. “He influenced the world,” Hall reflects. “We [as real estate brokers] influence the world with the people we interact with … we have a responsibility to share what we know, help people, and have an effect.”
Showing Up and Dressing the Part
For brokers, Hall believes that staying on top of the market comes down to one crucial requirement: showing up for work.
“As independent contractors, no one requires you to be here every day,” he says. “I see a lot of agents saying, ‘I’ve been at home because I didn’t have any appointments today’—what do you mean? You need to show up in order to be able to build your base of customers and clients.”
In addition to physically putting yourself out there, Hall also stresses the importance of “dressing the part,” even as dress codes become more relaxed. “It’s not that you have to wear a certain thing,” Hall explains. “When someone looks at you, they should say ‘they look like they’re here to do business with me’ … you can’t look like you’re on the way to the gym.”
Most importantly, Hall underscores the invaluable nature of forming and maintaining relationships—personally and professionally. This is crucial, he feels, to one’s success in both career and life.
While Hall does not claim to be a foodie, residing in New York City—his favorite place in the world–presents a wealth of culinary options for a man who served a short stint as Julia Child’s personal chef.
In his 20s, Hall spent two winters in Santa Barbara cooking Sunday supper for Child, who would visit the family home where he was staying. “She was fabulous,” Hall says about the famed chef. “It was a great privilege just to know her … she was bigger than life.”
Today, you might find Hall picking up lunch from a street cart, though he shares that his favorite restaurant in the city is August on the Upper East Side. An intimate European restaurant with a diverse menu, August serves the best ahi tuna you will ever try.
Striking a Fine Balance
Hall’s personal life and career are deeply rooted in New York City, but many might be surprised to learn he is also a farmer who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He has owned a farm in upstate New York for over 32 years, personally tending to it weekly.
“I’m dealing with dirt, crops, horses, and cows ... I’m not a ‘gentleman farmer.’ It’s great; they [New York City and the farm] balance each other. The minute I hit the George Washington Bridge and see the New York skyline, I’m thrilled to be back... everyone needs to know what balance they require.”