Syracuse University Magazine


James D. Kuhn '70, G'72

Pointed Dedication

A member of the Board of Trustees since 2007, James D. Kuhn has been going all out for SU since he captained the fencing team, won the 1968 North Atlantic Collegiate Foil Championship, and went on to finish among the “Elite 16” in the national tournament. “In addition to loving fencing, I gained two things from the sport: discipline and competitiveness,” says Kuhn, principal and president of Newmark Knight Frank (NKF), one of the five largest real estate brokerage firms in the world. “Both are qualities you’ve got to have in the business world.” Kuhn, who chairs the board’s facilities committee and is a member of the executive committee, takes on added responsibilities at SU this June as head of the Advisory Council of the Whitman School of Management, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and an M.B.A. degree, focusing on real estate.

Kuhn first learned to fence at Stuyvesant High School in his native Manhattan. He was attracted to SU by a dual major program in engineering and math, but his interests gravitated toward real estate, his father’s line of work. “My father wanted me to be an aerospace engineer, but he told me I could do anything I wanted in life—except real estate,” Kuhn says. “Five years after I finished school, I became a partner in the Mendik Company [later sold to Vornado Realty Trust] and was able to hire my father, so he forgave me.” Now in his 20th year at NKF, he has overseen some $5 billion in transactions as principal, and more than $3 billion in his capacities as advisor and broker.

Kuhn hopes to see Whitman ranked among the top 25 business schools in the country, and has made substantial contributions toward that end. The James D. Kuhn Real Estate Center, established in 2006, is a focal point for the integration of research and learning in finance and real estate, offering students preparation for work in domestic and international markets. The Leo and Sunnie Kuhn Scholarship for Entrepreneurial Studies, intended for students in the program, was endowed by Kuhn in honor of his parents. “We have about 45 real estate majors now, and the program is growing by leaps and bounds,” he says. Asked how the troubles of the American housing market may have affected the program, Kuhn speaks confidently of commercial building booms in major U.S. cities on both coasts and abroad. “If anything, fallout from the debt-credit crisis and single-family home market has been paralleled by booms in these commercial markets,” he says. “Building is going on all over the world and increasing numbers of students want to major in real estate or in real estate and finance.”  

Kuhn’s continuing generosity is making a difference at a variety of places on campus—and beyond. He established a fund at the College of Visual and Performing Arts to support student film productions, partnered with Trustee Judy Seinfeld ’56 to endow the School of Architecture’s New York City program, and has underwritten a range of SU athletic activities. “As a trustee, it’s part of the job to get involved anywhere I feel I can help,” says Kuhn, who sits on governing and advisory boards for Pratt Institute, NYU, National Jewish Health, and other institutions. A strong diversity advocate, he is proud of SU’s leadership in this area and has provided principal funding at New York City’s Real Estate Institute for a scholarship program aimed at bringing the benefits of a diversified workforce to the industry. The National Jewish Respiratory Humanitarian Award for 1994 shares Kuhn’s crowded mantel with honors from professional colleagues, an SU LetterWinner of Distinction award, and fencing trophies. Don’t be surprised if a conversation with Kuhn finds its way back to fencing. “When I was in my 40s, I took up fencing again and competed in the veterans division,” he says. Asked how he did, he replied, “I was ranked seventh in the country.”             —David Marc


To see a video of James Kuhn in dialogue with Michael Fascitelli, president of Vornado Realty Trust, at the Whitman Real Estate Symposium 2009, click here.