Michael Kleinberg: A leader by design

New York, NY Michael Kleinberg is president and managing partner at corporate space planning and interior design firm MKDA, where he has spent decades pushing the envelope to grow the firm his father founded in 1959 from $15 million to more than $200 million in project valuations.

During his tenure at the firm, he has led the firm’s march up the rankings at Interior Design magazine’s Top 100 Interior Design Giants, and won in recent years an Interior Design Best of the Year recognition for the design of an early TAMI sector workplace. Under his leadership, the firm has also been recognized as one of New York’s fastest growing mid-sized businesses, an honor earned through his continued commitment to steady growth into new markets and practice areas.

According to Kleinberg, who began to apprentice under his father (Milo Kleinberg) while in high school, he loved design from the start, and only ever wanted to practice architecture. After earning his Architecture degree from City College of New York (CUNY) and joining the firm, however, he immediately found his calling on the business side and began looking for new ways to grow the firm.

Noticing the opportunity to expand the firm from its 1960s and 1970s focus on fashion showrooms, his first attempt to grow the firm’s business was to target new industries that, at the time, offered more numerous and exciting opportunities. By securing top-notch clients in finance, entertainment and publishing, MKDA quickly became a respected player in the design of office space.

After earning his real estate license, he began to leverage his real estate knowledge to offer new service lines to commercial building owners and brokers across the city. In doing so, he helped lease vacant office space, and became a critical player in many notable lease transactions. The business move turned MKDA into one of the most recognizable interiors brands in New York, and with real estate at its foundation, MKDA offered perspective that most of the firm’s interior design competitors lacked.

“We set ourselves apart early on and became very well-known for our real estate know-how,” said Kleinberg. “The advantage of being well-known for a particular skillset is that we enjoy a strong reputation for the work we have performed. The challenge has been changing industry perspective as we have evolved to meet new demands within the workforce. Our recent work has become much smarter and much more interesting, and while we are still technically proficient, we are also quite inventive now, and we wish more of our real estate clients understood that.”

Two-story penthouse suite designed by MKDA for a global financial firm.

There’s no boxing the firm in with Kleinberg at the helm. Under his leadership, the firm in 2006 opened its first satellite studio in Stamford, CT and then in 2013 opened its second in Miami, FL. Both studios have been highly successful, but the opening of the Miami interior design and architecture studio is significant not only because it is in a completely different region and market—located in one of Miami’s most creative emerging neighborhoods, the Wynwood Arts District—but also because it has exploded into practice areas outside corporate interiors.

Kleinberg developed the Miami studio’s business on established and trusted relationships with New York commercial building owners, many of which were entering the Miami real estate market for the first time and wanted a familiar partner. The groundbreaking work the studio is doing for owners that include Brickman, the Gindi Family, RedSky and others includes ground-up and adaptive reuse architecture on mixed-use and hospitality assignments for the first time in the firm’s history.

The studio has launched into these new practice areas at breakneck speed, often using the latest 3D and virtual reality software. Current projects include one of Wynwood’s first boutique hotels and a flagship two-story retail project named Wynwood Park that features just under an acre of both adaptive re-use retail and open park space. The firm’s hospitality reach stretches beyond the shores of Miami to the Caribbean, where the firm is nearing completion on a $12.5 million, 120,000 s/f redevelopment called Spanish Court Hotel Resort.

Michael cites the opening of the Miami office as one of his most notable business decisions: “It was my brother Jeffrey who first mentioned Miami as a viable market for the firm, but it wasn’t until we witnessed our real estate friends dipping their toes in the market that I knew we had to get in early to do business with them. We also wanted to bring a New York-level of service and quality of design to a city rich with international business. We could not have anticipated how well the studio would perform, or how it would also inspire our other studios.”

“Michael has been integral to our growth,” said Amanda Hertzler, executive managing director and director of design at MKDA Miami. “Even as a very young studio, we had the opportunity to show our creative and technical aptitude to some of Miami’s biggest names in real estate because of their trust in Michael and his reputation. He is an expert at closing deals and developing business. Ours is a true partnership with the New York studio and Michael is involved at every step.”

Kleinberg, whose son is currently studying Architecture at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, is excited for the future of the Miami architecture studio, and enjoys the different business environment that Miami offers. In fact, he often trades his conservative business shoes in for a pair of royal blue Del Toro sneakers when in Miami and enjoys a return to what attracted him to the family business in the first place: art, fashion and design.

Rendering of Wynwood Park designed by MKDA’s Miami

architecture studio.

He’s confident about the future of the other MKDA studios, as well, and carries his design inspiration from Miami to New York (and Stamford), where he has been pushing the creative envelope in his design work on behalf of commercial owners like Vornado Realty Trust, Equity Office, Silverstein Properties, The Durst Organization and Rockrose Development Corp., and commercial brokerages such as CBRE, Savills Studley, Cushman & Wakefield, Newmark and JLL.

In addition, he has grown the firm’s TAMI sector clientele, securing projects that include SnapChat, SoundCloud, LearnVest, Publicis Group and Taboola, and as a result has found himself increasingly developing business in the outer boroughs, where many creative firms are located.

Most recently, he became a major player in Brooklyn’s massive innovation hub, Industry City, where the firm designed marketing suites for owner Jamestown, as well as some of the first tenant spaces, including 100,000 s/f for former tenant Makerbot, and an interactive design studio and office for a leader in arts conservation, EverGreene Architectural Arts. He also secured business to reposition a seven-story, 220,000 s/f former warehouse building in Long Island City, Queens, the Blanchard Building.

According to his brother, Jeffrey Kleinberg, he’s a very agile and creative leader. “The firm’s ability to successfully tackle new and exciting locations and practice areas is in large part due to Michael’s commitment to constant reassessment and then shifting and pivoting the firm’s approach and business model in response,” he said.

“After 58 years in business, the one thing I can tell you is that change is the only constant,” he said. “This is an exciting time in the world of architecture and workplace design and I look forward to what the future holds for MKDA as we continue to take on new challenges and locations, to push the creative envelope, and to offer clients a trustworthy partner who can deliver on both strategy and design.”

Source: New York Real Estate Journal