With five prime New York addresses, including the iconic Empire State Building, Virgo Business Centers’ CEO Joseph Scharf has the proof to back up his belief that the secret to longevity in this sector is securing space in Midtown Manhattan’s most prestigious buildings.
Longevity also happens to be how he defines success. “It doesn’t matter what business you are in. If you’re at it long enough, you will succeed,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
Like many of the best business ideas, Joseph came to create Virgo almost by chance. His family’s residential real estate development activities had ground to a halt in the wake of the financial crisis in 1987. Joseph, who had been heavily involved in the construction side of the business, found himself responsible for finding a new use for an Upper West Side townhouse that had once been the site of the family office.
A small advert in The New York Times generated an overwhelming response and suddenly the townhouse was full of local entrepreneurs, each working from their own furnished office. It didn’t take Joseph long to realize this business model warranted further exploration – and presented a better alternative to assisted living, the sector his family had gravitated towards.
Today, Virgo has more than 200,000 square feet of New York City real estate, dedicated to shared office space.
Shared workplace solutions are Virgo’s core business, providing fully furnished offices available to lease at flexible terms, as well as facilities such as conference centers. In addition to physical space, Virgo’s virtual office product enables companies to have a New York City address and telephone number without a physical presence in the City that Never Sleeps.
It’s taken many large transformations to get the business to the stage where it is today, Joseph explains. “When it all began, there was no infrastructure. I was the controller, the office manager, the marketing department, and even the IT guy; all while I was trying to sell office space.”
As the company grew and added locations to its portfolio, he explains, he hired managers who were similarly multi-tasking in their approach.
“While that might work in theory, it felt like the company was fragmented.” Fortunately, each of his team members possessed skills that covered different aspects of the business. “On the day we centralized our operations, I knew we had the ability to expand with complete confidence. There is no better feeling for any entrepreneur who is growing their business and no better moment in a company’s road to success,” he says.
Most of his team have been with Virgo since the beginning, and Joseph says this fidelity is one of his primary business motivations. “We live in an era where there is much mobility and little loyalty, yet my team has been with me through thick and thin. I feel like I owe them the motivation they expect from their leadership.”
Joseph is also driven by the desire to remain relevant among his peers in an industry he says is currently in a very fluid state. So what does the future hold? “While we play landlord to our tenants, Virgo is also a major tenant to our landlords. This is limiting for many reasons,” he says.
“Don’t get drunk on the froth of the market. You’ll never go wrong if you buy low and maintain your margins. Ultimately, Kool-Aid is nothing more than sugar and water.”
The next logical step, therefore, is to own the buildings it operates out of. “If we can remove the middleman, we can control our own destiny, and deliver the Virgo experience to our customers at the front door.” Until such time, Virgo will maintain the strategy of only expanding when the market is ripe.
In a busy market, Joseph explains that Virgo stands out for its quality product at an attractive price, delivered with professionalism and flexibility, thanks to its signature month-to-month leases. This, he believes, is the reason Virgo enjoys a strong reputation in the city and a respected clientele that represent a broad spectrum of industries.
It’s the entrepreneurs, start-ups and other businesses that Virgo has provided a springboard for that mean the most to Joseph in his career so far. “I believe that my greatest achievements are yet to come, but whenever I meet someone who tells me that they started their business at Virgo Business Centers, I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”