A lawyer’s midway plan changed when he met a man in development.

In 1999, Erwin L. Greenberg invited Brian Gibbons to step away from a successful law career and into what would soon become Greenberg Gibbons Commercial — the powerhouse company behind the Hunt Valley Town Centre, Foundry Row of Owings Mills and The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, to name a few. Greenberg, now 91, has since retired and left the reins in his partner’s hands. Jmore talked with Gibbons, 57, about his road from law school to leveling commercial real estate sites.

Where were you before joining Greenberg at GG Commercial?

After law school at the University of Maryland, I practiced law at Venable in D.C. I was there for six years, then I went to Fedder and Garten, a boutique law firm in Baltimore, for six years.

What kind of law did you focus on?

I liked real estate law. I liked how tangible it was — you could see it, touch it, feel it. I hated not knowing things, so I got a certificate degree at Hopkins, which has now become the master’s in real estate and infrastructure program. How could I be a good lawyer if I didn’t understand the business? Then I got really intrigued.

How did Erwin enter the scene?

I represented him in a big transaction. I was representing his partner, Joel Fedder. They were doing a joint venture. Erwin just started talking to me, saying, “I want to bring some youth into the executive suite. … Get some more development projects going.” They had not been active in the development business for about 15 years. They hadn’t built anything since 1984. We talked for about eight months to a year.

So you took a leap of faith.

I was 38 years old, I had five kids and my wife was pregnant. I thought it was worth the risk. The only real security you have is your own abilities and your own intelligence, and that wouldn’t go away. If I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it.

What were you getting yourself into?

They had a lot of skill that was kind of untapped. There was a lot of brainpower, but there wasn’t a lot of energy — other than Erwin. The phrase we used was, “It’s time to execute.” Let’s decide on a plan and then execute that plan.

How did Erwin’s energy vibe with yours?

There’s mutual respect. We have a significant age difference — I was 38 and he was 72. It was more a father-son type of thing as opposed to direct partners. He was really the guiding hand, having me come up with the strategic plan and execute it. I certainly couldn’t have done it on my own and he couldn’t have done it without me. I was brought in to take action.

Does he have any quirks?

Erwin is an encyclopedia of jokes. He has a joke for any occasion. It’s unbelievable. I’ve heard them all at this point. He says to stop him if I’ve heard it, so I say, “Stop, stop!”

Any advice for our Jmore entrepreneurial hopefuls?

I didn’t have this master plan. A lot of people come out and are so focused on trying to impress that they’re not necessarily focused on the task at hand. Do the best you can. Always have an eye to the future, but do the best you can. If you do that, people will notice.

To learn more, visit ggcommercial.com. 

Liz McMahon is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.