While some parents worry that their toddlers may not be ready for kindergarten, Eric Zollinger’s mom was more concerned that the school might not be ready for her energetic son.
“Mother said school wasn’t quite ready for me,” recalls Zollinger ’97. He readily acknowledges the unbridled enthusiasm that earned him nicknames like “Energizer Bunny” and “Tigger” over the years: “I’m always bouncing around.”
The question these days is whether the competitive world of New York real estate is ready for Zollinger – and the answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.
In October 2010, after building a successful, 11-year career in the Manhattan residential real estate business, this up-and-comer launched his own firm: Zollinger & Associates.
According to Zollinger, his business brings a personal touch and sophisticated marketing to the sale of high-end properties, including new developments, condominiums, townhouses and cooperatives. The new enterprise should leverage Zollinger’s reputation as a matchmaker for upscale clients and properties.
“None of Eric’s success surprises me,” says Barry Pearson, Millikin’s vice president of academic affairs and associate professor of theatre. “His energy astounds you – and when he sets his mind to something, you have no doubt he’ll do it.”
Still, owning a boutique brokerage in the nation’s largest city was never part of Zollinger’s career plan. The musical theatre major originally set out to perform in the Big Apple.
And perform he did, doing voiceover work and gigs with MTV and children’s theatre. Over the years, his performances often took a reluctant Zollinger away from New York City.
“I fell in love with New York City … I found I didn’t want to leave,” says Zollinger, who carried his passion for performing into the world of real estate.
“You don’t need the stage to perform,” he says. “The whole city is a stage.”
Fortunately, the side jobs he held while working as an actor – including assistant to two top brokers and a leading interior designer – charted opportunities for Zollinger in the world of New York City real estate.
Those opportunities include helping a number of celebrities find their dream homes in New York City. While he has earned the right to do some Oscar-caliber name-dropping, Zollinger chooses discretion instead. “My clients are my business; they are everything to me,” he says.
Zollinger finds his reputation as the “go-to guy” for posh properties ironic. “I’m associated with high-end properties, but I didn’t grow up that way,” he says, noting that his middle-class roots guide the way he does business.
“My Indiana upbringing has served me well here; my family instilled the value of hard work in me,” he says. His father’s advice to “become the expert at what you do” continues to echo in the life of this third-generation entrepreneur.
Along with the family roots that helped shape his career, Zollinger is equally proud of his Millikin roots and makes a point to mention Millikin whenever he can.
“It’s important to reference where you came from,” he says.
Zollinger returned to Millikin in August 2010 to reconnect with those roots and is helping lead the charge to raise funds for Millikin’s new Center for Theatre and Dance (see page 30).
“Eric is an enthusiastic volunteer for the theatre alumni campaign for the Old Gym project,” says Peg Luy, vice president for alumni and development. “Eric’s enthusiasm for all things Millikin is almost unequalled.”
This same enthusiasm and training from Millikin inspires him to create the best experience possible when showing new properties to prospective owners.
“My theatre training has been so beneficial in my real estate career,” he says. “Selling real estate is all about listening … it’s a lot like improvisation. The way I see it, I do about six or seven shows a day.”
Along with that theatre training, Zollinger carries friendships from Millikin that continue to enrich his life. “The people I met at Millikin are not just college friends, they’re lifelong friends,” says Zollinger, who is part of a cozy contingent of Millikin theatre alums who landed in the Big Apple and have celebrated more than a few Thanksgivings together.
The longevity and loyalty found in his friendships are also a hallmark of his work philosophy.
“I’m not a one-deal person; I’m in this for the long haul,” he says. “You build a career based on the way you deal.”
by Celeste Huttes ’88