SEPTEMBER 28, 2018|TONY WILBERT
Did You Hear? This Life Change Might Be Michael Marchese’s Easiest
On Friday, Our Look at the Lives of Real Estate Professionals
Left to Right: Michael Marchese, Michael Witko and Edward Flanagan.
Michael Marchese, a broker in Morristown, New Jersey, knows how to adapt and survive, literally.
He’s changed careers – from cook to residential agent to commercial broker – and, as a kid, escaped Communists in Vietnam he says likely would have killed him. Oh yeah, and when he fled his home country in 1975, the first Operation Babylift plane he should have been on crashed, killing all 78 aboard.
As a result, he’s undaunted as he transitions from one of the world’s largest real estate services firms to a boutique brokerage about 35 minutes outside of New York City. Marchese started last week as executive managing director of Chilmark Real Estate Services after working nearly a decade at Newmark Knight Frank and its predecessors.
“It was just a great opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” Marchese said. “I really don’t think there’s any difference working for a smaller firm. Clients are looking for a person who’s professional and gets the job done. They want to work with a person they know and like.”
Edward Flanagan, who started Chilmark with partner Mike Witko, said the company had been talking “for quite some time” to get Marchese to join as part of its growth strategy. Chilmark is the name of a town in Martha’s Vineyard, and as Witko puts it, “Both Ed and I spent much time on the island, and in coming up with the name of the firm, thought Chilmark not only had a strong stand alone name but also reminds us of many great personal experiences.”
Born in Plakeu in central Vietnam to a Vietnamese mom and an American dad, Marchese said he didn’t have much of a future when Viet Cong fighters overran Saigon in 1975. As Red Army soldiers gained control of the entire country, they were known to shoot and kill American-Asian boys, fearing that the kids would become revolutionaries when they grew up, he explained. Even if he had been spared and remained in Vietnam, he likely would have been shunned for being half-American, Marchese said.
“I would have received no education and basically would have ended up a beggar in the streets,” he said.
But his mother wouldn’t let that happen. She took Michael and his older sister Tina to the Holt International adoption agency “and made one of the greatest sacrifices a mother could make,” Marchese said. She put up the children for adoption for better lives in America.
Michael was lucky. Joe Marchese was in the U.S. Navy helping rebuild towns and bridges ruined during bombing raids in the final days of the U.S. involvement in the war and saw scores of local young children in distress. He and his wife decided to start the process of adopting one of them before he returned from his tour of duty. That child was Michael, who would take his adoptive family’s surname.
But before Marchese could join his new family, he had to escape Vietnam as the Communist regime took power. Marchese was set to fly on a plane full of boys seeking new lives in America, but workers accidentally placed a bracelet on his arm signifying that he was a girl and should be on another flight. The boys’ flight crashed shortly after takeoff, and those aboard were killed. He would fly to America on the next plane. “For 24 years [my mother and sister] thought I was dead, not knowing I had been put on another plane,” he said.
Once in America, he still was not entirely safe. His story was told on national morning TV shows and other outlets. As a result, protestors showed up at the Marchese home, upset that they had adopted someone from a country we had just fought in a war. His adoptive father received death threats.
But the family persevered, and Marchese grew up near Philadelphia and attended college at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, where he learned to be a chef. He eventually became a residential real estate agent, but he didn’t like all of the weekend work.
In December 2008, Marchese made the move to commercial real estate. He enjoys the commercial side much more because decisions are made based on growth projections and corporate budgeting, not emotions that often come into play when buying a house, he said.
As for his own family, it took more than 25 years, but Marchese was reunited with his sister, Tina, in 2001 in Los Angeles. In 2006, he returned to Vietnam and saw his mother for the first time since she left him at the orphanage to be adopted.
“As we passed through customs and out the airport doors, I saw a group of people waiting to welcome people off the plane,” he said. “I saw a tiny woman burst through the crowd and run to me as fast as she could. She held onto me and repeatedly said, ‘I love you. I miss you. Are you okay?’ ”
Marchese, now a father of two boys himself, holds out hope to one day be reunited with his birth father.
Did you know? Michael is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and has been a season ticketholder for 21 seasons. So, on his desk, next to photos of his wife Jonelle and sons Luca and Tai, he has pictures of the 2018 Super Bowl champions.