Alter Goes Beyond Talk on Diversity
Diversity and inclusion are too often just spoken about, and not acted upon, in commercial real estate. Newly formed EnTrust Tenant Advisors plans to change that one lease at a time, SVP Jud Henry tells us.
The latest venture of EnTrust Realty Advisors (ERA), which is an Alter Group affiliate (we know, it's like Russian dolls), is EnTrust Tenant Advisors (ETA), formed to rep minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, non-profits, and foundations in their real estate decisions (as well as large corporations with supplier diversity requirements). After repping large institutional landlords (at NAI Hiffman and CBRE), Jud (pictured with his family, sending adoption papers to Ethiopia for their fourth child, whom they’ll bring home next month) realized he got into the business for its energizing interactions with real estate users and entrepreneurs. Add ERA’s $1B-plus in institutional-grade deals (led by Jim Clark), and the platform offering diverse clients the highest level of service was born.
As a smaller company and minority-owned business itself, ETA knows how occupancy costs affect the bottom line. Diverse tenants may receive similar service from a big brokerage shop, but it's more about trust, connection, and having the opportunity to work with someone of a similar background, Jud says. (ETA just became exclusive rep of the largest minority-controlled accounting firm in the country.) “Many of the people I respect in commercial real estate figured out early on they want to be the go-to person in one specific area,” he tells us. “I’m carving out this niche.” And Chicago’s tenant pool is huge. The city has launched some of the country’s most storied minority entrepreneurs (Ed Gardner, Oprah, above, John Rogers), and they’ve passed the torch to the next generation.
Jud’s family’s private island, above (more on that later). Why aren’t minorities more of a presence in Chicago real estate? Access to the business is limited (you don’t see big firms recruit at historically black colleges) and minorities often can’t leverage that country club or fraternity brother network to enter the industry. Being commission-based can also be a turn off. “My dad was a forklift operator and my mom worked in a grocery store,” Jud says. When you’ve watched your parents live paycheck to paycheck, the thought of potentially going months without getting paid can be a repellant.” And it causes some young minority talent to look for consistency in careers like medicine or engineering, he points out.
Things have been improving in terms of getting minorities in the door at real estate companies, but inclusion, sustainability, and career growth are key, Jud says. One perk for his clients: Once a year, Jud takes a group of prospective and existing clients on a trip to his father-in-law’s private island in the Exuma cays (part of the Bahamas, above). Activities might include spear fishing, diving, skeet shooting, long-drive tournaments, bonfires, and shark fishing, he tells us. And their neighbors on the nearby islands are the best part: Johnny Depp, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and the Aga Khan. (Maybe one day they’ll all convene for the strangest dinner party of all time.)