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CRE's Next Generation: JLL Senior Director De'On Collins On Combining Drive And Mentorship To Thrive In CRE

This series asks rising stars in commercial real estate about their thoughts on some of the biggest issues facing the industry, including inequality, climate change and technology.

The world of commercial real estate can be difficult to breach as a newly minted university graduate. Making it into the small ranks of CRE professionals who oversee transactions in the capital markets division is even more of a stretch. Doing it all as a minority with no family or friends in the business is a rarer feat yet. 

JLL's De'On Collins has done it all, going from student to senior director in less than 15 years and already notching $3B in debt and equity placement. That took a combination of self-drive and mentorship opportunities that he hopes to provide to the next generation of capital markets pros. 

JLL's De'On Collins is paving a trail into the often hidden capital markets side of the commercial real estate industry.

A 14-year veteran of the commercial real estate industry, Collins first cut his teeth partnering with his twin brother after college to found a Dallas-based private real estate firm in 2006.

He credits his persistence in forming his own network and forging ties with mentors early on for his ascent through the industry, but he started from ground zero with no obvious rope to climb.

When Collins first joined a brokerage firm 10 years ago to hone his craft on the capital markets side of the business, he was one of only two Black brokers working in the division nationwide. 

"Once I was able to kind of break down the door and get on calendars, transitioning to a mentorship-type relationship and capacity was really easy because of my willingness to continue to push and their willingness to provide their time," Collins said of his early mentors in CRE.

"But it [mentorship] was essential for me in my early development within the commercial real estate space because, mind you, I was jumping into an industry and a space in which I didn't have family ties. And, I didn't have close friends who had parents that were in the business that I could potentially tap into."

Collins didn't know anything about or have any interest in CRE when he went to college, and he sort of stumbled on the industry by accident.

"I did not have a pre-notion or a plan, prior to by way of exposure, to jump into commercial real estate," Collins said.

He signed up for an open real estate course to fill out his class schedule in college. 

"I think that is where the interest, the passion and the lightbulb kind of illuminated," Collins said. "And I said, 'I really want to learn a little bit more about this.' I never knew this existed. I think the extent of my knowledge of the real estate market at that time was I drove past buildings all the time, and I figured someone built them and someone owned them, but I had no idea about the inner workings of how that all worked."

After working with his brother for a period of time, Collins forged ahead into the capital markets arena, finding mentors, opportunity and a job at HFF in 2011. That merged into his current position at JLL when it acquired HFF in 2019. 

Even though his eagerness to network and willingness to take risks helped Collins achieve his own success, he is mindful today that many men and women of diverse backgrounds are still dealing with a lack of access to mentors and meaningful training in commercial real estate. 

To tackle that weakness in the industry, Collins and several other colleagues launched a formal mentorship program pairing analysts with seasoned brokers at HFF in 2015. 

When JLL bought HFF, the structure of the program transferred with them and turned into the JLL Capital Markets Mentorship Program. It has grown to include 12 months of guidance and training and more exposure to all aspects of the industry for analysts.  

"The notion of the mentor and mentee program when we dreamt it up was a manner of helping to further develop our analytical talent," Collins said.

"It was a way of inorganically trying to pair a mentor with a mentee or an analyst with a senior-level producer that has walked in their shoes and hopefully because they have walked in their shoes, they can help kind of chart that path a little bit better and make it a little bit more of a smoother path as they continue to develop within their career."