The New Closers: Why Newmark's Aaron Sommer Is One To Watch
Before home and office services conglomerate ServiceMaster decided on retrofitting a defunct Downtown Memphis mall into its new headquarters, there was the search. The Fortune 1000 company with more than $2B in annual revenue wanted options not only in Memphis, but also in other major Southeastern cities like Atlanta, Tampa, Raleigh and Austin.
And before ServiceMaster's C-suite boarded the corporate jet to travel to each of those cities, Newmark Knight Frank Senior Managing Director Aaron Sommer had their itinerary buttoned up tightly: tours, meetings, luncheons, the works.
“From the time we touched the ground to the time we left, we had an agenda, we had meetings set up. It was not an easy task. So [Sommer] did a good job from a logistical standpoint,” said Stuart Thomas, ServiceMaster's head of real estate at the time. “He didn't waste my time with stuff that he knew there was no way we would be interested. It was like a good marriage.”
Ultimately, ServiceMaster stayed in Memphis and leased the dormant 350K SF Peabody Place mall in Downtown Memphis for its headquarters.
It is that knack for organization and anticipating exactly what a corporate client wants in real estate that has allowed Sommer, 37, to broker not only ServiceMaster's headquarters, but more than a dozen other major corporate headquarters across the country since starting his real estate career in 2004.
“That's been my focus for forever,” Sommer said.
Sommer has been among Newmark's top producers over the past four years, and he has negotiated more than 5M SF of leases since beginning his career there 15 years ago. Most recently, he assisted AXOS Bank in a new headquarters facility in San Diego and brought Owens & Minor to 1 Edison Drive in Alpharetta, a deal first reported by Bisnow.
He also assisted Overstock.com in its $95M headquarters development in Salt Lake City. Sommer won that assignment with a cold email to then-CEO Patrick Byrne. But instead of emailing him about his and his firm's real estate knowledge, Sommer took a financial/investment banking approach, he said.
“Knowing that [Byrne] was a legendary finance guy, we knew this approach would appeal to him,” Sommer said. “He responded by immediately putting us in touch with his finance team.”
The Overstock.com deal has since led to a deluge of assignments in Salt Lake City, Sommer said, including InMoment's 60K SF headquarters, Nature's Sunshine Products 50K SF facility, Dyno Nobel's 50K SF headquarters and Merit Medical's 200K SF headquarters.
“[Sommer] zeros in on prospects, understands what the client needs and then executes every detail to ensure his client receives the best,” Newmark Knight Frank Executive Vice President Sean Moynihan wrote in an email to Bisnow.
Sommer started his career during the summers in between semesters at Tulane University, working in the food industry, marketing packaged goods to grocers with his father Don, a food broker in New York.
“It was an invaluable experience and helped mold me into the person I am today and instill a sense of drive and hard work. Talking about the supermarket business and deals with Price Chopper [Supermarkets] at the dinner table every night as a kid gave me the foundation and skill set to be an effective communicator and negotiator and is a major reason for my success today,” he said. “But I could never go to a more corporate environment. It's just not in my DNA anymore.”
A chance meeting with an acquaintance from New Orleans just after graduation from Tulane netted him an interview with Newmark Vice Chairman Neal Golden, a person Sommer credits as one of his key mentors in the business. Golden, who ran NKF's Atlanta office at one point, hired Sommer right out of college. Both are still with the firm, which went public in late 2017.
“Fortunately, it's one of the better decisions I made,” Golden said. “Aaron was wise beyond his years. He's incredibly introspective about the business, and he's incredibly enthusiastic.”
Sommer now meets with young potential talent to give them an idea of what it will be like in commercial real estate. And what makes someone a success in the business is not a deep secret.
“Building your pipeline is something you wake up and think about every day. You have to be hungry. You have to be ready to work hard,” he said. “There's just a lot of different pieces that make people successful in this business. But you got to be self-motivated. That's the number one thing.”