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The New Closers: Why JLL's Meghan Rooney Is One To Watch

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Landing new commercial office tenants in today’s market depends on much more than lease rates or location. Today’s millennial workforce, along with Generation Z members just beginning their careers, have spent a good portion of their lives online, connecting with friends on social media and generally feeling as if the whole world was at their fingertips. Typically, both groups expect workplaces to provide breaks from monotony and supply experiences, activities and connections older generations would not associate with employment.

That’s where Meghan Rooney comes in.

Meghan Rooney London
Meghan Rooney in London

As head of operations for JLL’s Experience Management platform, she helps lead a group of several hundred professionals, all dedicated to providing concierge-like services in the workplace, as well as retail and multifamily buildings. On a typical day, she may go from organizing yoga classes on a Los Angeles helipad to helping arrange installations that transform open architectural spaces into musical instruments.        

This kind of work comes naturally to the 39-year-old Rooney.

“I consider myself a kind and generous individual, both in my personal life and in my career,” she said.   

That is why she had originally intended to become a concierge, she said. After spending several post-collegiate years in the hospitality and restaurant industries, she applied for a job at Corporate Concierge Services, a firm founded by Tom Larance in 2001 to provide amenities to commercial real estate tenants.

She was convinced to join the operations side, and after Larance’s firm was acquired by JLL in March, became head of operations for JLL’s Experience Management platform, which is now in 15 markets, and counts as clients some of the largest property owners and managers in the world, including Brookfield Properties, Hines and Macerich. It also manages amenities at the Aon Center, where JLL has its global headquarters.

“It’s doing what I love, but in an office and in a corporate setting, so it’s been a perfect fit from day one,” she said.

“The landlords and investors absolutely love and adore her, and that’s because of her authenticity,” JLL President of Property Management, Americas Mark Zettl said.

The company puts a lot of emphasis on technology, partly by creating apps that tenants can use to find nearby restaurants, explore the variety of amenities in their building, sign up for fitness classes and find out about upcoming events, among many other tasks. But Rooney said technology should not overshadow the need for a personal touch, especially considering that the workforce still teems with older generations that did not grow up online.

“People are still looking for that human experience, that human connection, and they get that through a concierge,” she said.

The traditional concierge can still provide local knowledge, Rooney added, and her teams always do deep-dive research into everything a particular submarket has to offer, always helpful if a building tenant needs a recommendation on where to take a client out to lunch or dinner.

JLL recently scored the high-profile assignment of managing the 2.8M SF Old Post Office in Chicago, which 601W Cos. unveiled after an $800M renovation. A five-person team from Rooney’s division will be on hand as thousands of workers begin streaming into the building, helping plug them into the many amenities, including lounges, conference spaces and a fitness center.

Aon center
Aon Center's amenity floor

In addition, the group will make sure the building’s restored art deco lobby teems with activity, especially events, such as weddings or fundraising galas, which bring the public into that space. Activity like that is becoming more important in the commercial office world, partly because it generates revenue, Rooney said. But perhaps more importantly, it stops corporate environments from being seen as sterile, one of the worst things office spaces can be in the eyes of a typical millennial.  

With so much new construction in the nation’s top office markets, today’s tenants have a lot of options, and landlords that want to land deals need an edge, Rooney said.

“All of these buildings are competing with each other, and even though buildings can create spaces, you still need to activate them,” she said.

But generating the all-important “wow factor” can’t be done the old-fashioned way, with after-work ice cream socials or happy hours. The people Rooney hires need to be both research-oriented, and creative enough to surprise clients, she said.  

That ability to surprise is why the team brought William Close and his Earth Harp invention to the plaza of Los Angeles’ City National Tower in 2015. Close attached his 700-foot harp strings, which he can stretch up to 1,000 feet, to the top of the tower, making both the plaza and surrounding buildings part of a huge, temporary musical instrument, a performance he called “playing the sky.”

The scale of such happenings, and the media attention they garner, help attract both new tenants and investors, and that has made property management far more important to building owners, Rooney said. She has seen a noticeable change in attitudes toward the services provided by the platform in just the past two years.

JLL’s property management division business had been one of the firm’s biggest clients before the March acquisition, and its officials began involving Rooney and others in their decision-making.

“They would say to us, ‘hey, we’re pitching a building owner, and we want you to come with us,’” she said. “We’re now to a point where building owners are looking to use us as a consultant as they develop a project.”

That is a big change from just a few years ago, when most of their clients were property managers looking to add some flair to a building. Rooney and her staff can help owners and developers better understand how to create spaces that will encourage activity that brings in the public, and draws employees into after-work pursuits.

“It’s no longer an add-on to property management," Rooney said.

“People like Meghan were instrumental in the startup phase of this business, and it’s a phenomenon that is only going to keep growing,” Zettl said.