Alumni Profile: Jonathan Ehrlich (STERN ’17)
When not running his real estate business, Lightning Capital, Jonathan Ehrlich (STERN ’17), is busy serving New York City residents in need of urgent care as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) at the Central Park Medical Unit. As a frontline worker, Jonathan has observed firsthand how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted the city—and how fellow EMTs and other paramedics have adapted to the crisis to protect themselves and their patients against the COVID-19 virus.
Read on to learn more about Jonathan, including what inspired him to become a volunteer EMT, his fondest memories as an MBA student at NYU Stern, and how he spends his time outside of his company and volunteer work.
What inspired you to become a volunteer EMT?
I’m always looking for ways to learn practical skills that help others. Tufts University, which is where I went for undergrad, offered an EMT class. I thought it was a great opportunity, and since then, I’ve never looked back.
Shortly after, I joined Tufts volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) agency, Tufts EMS, then the Central Park Medical Unit during my first summer back in New York. The rewards have been immense and have allowed me to sharpen communications, empathy, and listening skills.
As I rose through the ranks at the Central Park Medical Unit and began teaching new members, I was also able to work on my leadership, management, strategy, and teaching abilities. Surprisingly, the skills I’ve gained by volunteering on an ambulance have also translated to business and personal life.
Describe the Central Park Medical Unit and its involvement in COVID-19 relief efforts.
The Central Park Medical Unit (CPMU) was founded in 1975 as a bicycle response squad in Central Park. Soon after, it became a full emergency ambulance service.
Today, CPMU has over 150 volunteer EMTs and paramedics from all walks of life, including doctors, engineers, nurses, lawyers, and teachers, as well as many NYU students and alumni. We don’t bill patients and are supported entirely by donations.
With just four ambulances, CPMU has responded to every modern citywide disaster—from the 9/11 attacks to the 2003 Northeast blackout. We’ve also covered large Central Park events such as concerts on the Great Lawn and the New York City Marathon.
Normally, we only respond to calls that service patrons in Central Park and its surrounding areas. However, since early March, we’ve been servicing 9-1-1 calls beyond Central Park and throughout the city at the request of the New York City Fire Department. The majority of those calls involve patients with COVID-19.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your role as an EMT?
COVID-19 is unlike any health emergency or disaster I’ve ever experienced as an EMT. That includes Hurricane Sandy and other major storms and blackouts where emergency services were severely taxed. In the current crisis, every response takes about twice as long since we have to put on additional protective equipment before we walk into an emergency.
The emotional toll is also higher. Recently, the NYC 9-1-1 system broke the highest number of emergency medical calls in one day—the previous record was set on 9/11. Moreover, this record was broken five times in one week. It’s completely unprecedented.
When hospitals reached their peak capacity, there were lots of patients who would have gone to the hospital, but couldn’t: either because their condition was not severe enough or because the hospital was a higher-risk environment than their homes.
As a result, the way we operate has completely changed. I’m sure this will be a defining moment for any EMT or paramedic who works through this pandemic.
Describe the evolution of your career following your graduation from the NYU Stern School of Business, and what drove you to enter the real estate, infrastructure, and technology sectors.
After receiving my MBA from Stern in 2017, I went to work for a real estate technology startup called ButterflyMX. I had always been interested in real estate, technology, infrastructure, cities, and the future of living. Interestingly, I think many of these things are about to experience a major impact in a post-pandemic world as we figure out how to return to normalcy.
I took a lot of the lessons I learned at Stern and applied them at ButterflyMX. This included raising three rounds of venture capital investment, creating financial models for the company, as well as directing overall product strategy with our executive leadership team. It was great to work at a startup because I could wear many hats.
After two years at ButterflyMX, I decided to start my own real estate company. I had always thought about starting my own business and Stern definitely gave me the tools I needed to launch Lightning Capital in late 2018.
At Lightning Capital, we invest in, renovate, and manage apartment buildings, as well as equip them with state-of-the-art smart home experiences. I believe these technologies will be part of the next wave of amenities and become even more relevant as people look for buildings with features like virtual tours, sanitizer stations in common areas, and touchless interaction with interfaces that have buttons, locks, and handles.
COVID-19 will certainly have a lasting impact on the real estate business and, as a result, we’ll see some major changes in buildings and the way we interact with the built environment. We’ll see how comfortable people feel and what new sensitivities emerge as we all begin to return to this new way of life.
What are some of the most memorable moments from your time at NYU?
I have some fantastic memories from my time in Stern’s MBA program. My classes with stellar professors like William Silber, Aswath Damodaran, and Scott Galloway come to mind; I still look forward to Damodaran’s YouTube updates.
I’ve definitely taken away helpful lessons from those professors and others since I graduated from NYU. And I find myself constantly referring to Stern sources when trying to assess today’s macroeconomic environment.
While the academic experience at Stern was second-to-none, nothing beats the relationships and friendships I formed during those two years. The Japan Trek and DBi (Doing Business in…) Berlin program were also formative experiences.
I recently traveled back to Japan to visit a fellow Stern alum in Tokyo. Everyone I met at Stern was talented and impressive, and I’ve stayed close with and see many alumni regularly.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, what advice would you give to current NYU students and recent graduates?
I remember starting undergrad at Tufts in 2007, then going through the entire financial crisis at the beginning of my sophomore year. I imagine there are many students right now experiencing the same anxiety I did several years ago.
Taking advantage of opportunities might be somewhat easier for recent graduates than current students who are looking for a job. The landscape may also be different for graduate students than it is for undergraduate students.
Still, I think there will be opportunities in any market, even during a downturn. You have to find opportunity wherever you can and capitalize on it. In real estate, some of the best and most recent success stories were opportunities that materialized during the financial recession.
I’ve always struggled between focusing on one thing and being great at it versus pursuing the “mile-wide-inch-deep” strategy. Perhaps that’s why I’m in the real estate business and also a volunteer EMT. I think both methods work, and you just have to find what fits your personality and lifestyle.
I would say don’t stop looking, be persistent, and never hesitate to cold call a fellow NYU alum (a LinkedIn request or an email works as well), especially if they’re in the same school or major. Now that most people are home, they should be able to make time for a Zoom meeting.
In addition to being a volunteer EMT, what are some hobbies you like to do in your spare time?
Currently, I’m involved with the UJA Federation of New York, a local philanthropy that’s given over $44 million in COVID-19 assistance to communities throughout New York City. I also live in Manhattan with my amazing wife, Rachel. We enjoy going out to restaurants—so we look forward to the time when we’ll be able to support local restaurants in person soon. And, of course, I enjoy going to Central Park, even when not in an ambulance.