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Origin Stories: Cushman & Wakefield's Doug Jones On How Military Experience Prepared Him For Life In CRE

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Doug Jones knew about pressure and leadership well before he took an associate role at Cushman & Wakefield in 2015. After all, Jones, a former infantry officer and Army Ranger, had been deployed to Afghanistan when his then-fiancee met the broker who recommended commercial real estate as a post-military career.

While a different level of intensity, the gamble of getting into the brokerage business offered plenty of pressure. When Jones got started, his base pay was a third of the wages he earned in the Army.

The bet on himself paid off, and some five years after moving to a commission-only pay schedule, the United States Military Academy graduate is the managing principal of Cushman & Wakefield's Dallas operations. 

Cushman & Wakefield Managing Principal Doug Jones and his family

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?

Jones: My fiancee (now wife) met a longtime office tenant rep while I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and learned more about the industry. When I got home, she told me I should consider it as a career when/if I ever got out of the Army. I met him later, and he introduced me to the industry and gave me a few other people to connect with. I did, and the rest is history.

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE? 

Jones: I was hired as an associate at Cushman & Wakefield in 2015 making less than one-third of my Army pay annually. I knew brokerage was the path I wanted to go on, and with a growing family, I knew I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Within a year I made the jump to full commission as an office leasing broker. It’s hard to say if it was my first choice, I almost feel like Cushman & Wakefield chose me and provided the opportunity. I just took the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.

Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?

Jones: I did not have any education, certification or official training when I entered the commercial real estate industry. However, my time at West Point taught me a tremendous amount about leadership and how to stay focused under tough circumstances.

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?

Jones: A strong financial background and experience in capital markets may have put me on a different trajectory, but I made up for that lack of experience by trying to be a submarket expert and by working really hard.

Doug Jones and Staff Sgt. D. Hayes in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in 2010

Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE? If you changed careers, did you bring anything with you from your past career that has helped you thrive in CRE, or, on the flip side, anything you had to unlearn in order to succeed here?

Jones: I’ve brought a ton from the military into my work at Cushman & Wakefield. I spent four years at West Point, plus Ranger training, leadership development, platoon leader and company command leadership experience.

As an executive officer, you learn how to coordinate logistics and support the team behind the scenes as a good second-in-command. And during your time on staff, you really learn the behind the scenes and how individuals contribute to the larger picture. You need to see behind the scenes before you can effectively lead.

Joining commercial real estate, I had to unlearn the more structured chain of command thought process. As an associate, sending the head of acquisitions an email can be daunting because you are essentially bypassing the chain of command. But you need to do that in order to get yourself out there; you can’t wait on experience or a higher title to do that.

Also, I had to understand a new concept of risk, which I define as the likelihood of a negative irreversible consequence. The risk in commercial real estate is much different than in the military. Once you work through that and realize and re-evaluate risk, there is only upside to making that call or sending that email.

Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?

Jones: Entering a commission role can be tough. You feel an intense sense of urgency to get things done, but that’s direct friction to what’s required in our business, which is patience.

I remember a moment where a deal I thought was going to happen that was going to help me to breathe financially died. I have a family, and I felt like the industry was throwing a haymaker at me. But I knew if I didn’t quit or give up, then only good things were going to come. It took another 24 months for that to play out, but I decided in that moment to never give up and keep going.

Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?

Jones: I had a great and exciting first impression. It’s a tough business, but people are the key. I love our city, and the future is very bright for those who have the grit to stick with it.

Dallas Cushman & Wakefield Future Leaders volunteer at Reading Partners North Texas.

Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?

Jones: Rick Cenkus, Americas Lead, Valuation & Advisory Services at Cushman & Wakefield, has been a great mentor to me. Because he is based in Dallas, I have had the great fortune of receiving a lot of face time with him. I have learned a lot about the importance of understanding the company as it grows and evolves, as well as the benefit of being in a company for an extended period of time.

He’s taught me the importance of getting to know key people in the company to make things happen. Rick is also former military, so we have a strong connection with our shared backgrounds.

Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?

Jones: I have learned the importance of action. There’s an old saying in commercial real estate that time kills deals, but time can also kill relationships if you aren’t intentional about investing in them. Time is the only finite thing we can never get back. Your attitude and approach towards relationships is important.

Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?

Jones: Be all-in. Don’t enter the industry with the idea that you are just going to try it out, because if you do, then you won’t go all-in. A tough mentality and positive attitude will serve you well in the tough times. But tough things are often the most rewarding.

Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?

Jones: Nothing. I have a personal philosophy that things work together and that our experiences shape us in direct proportion to how we respond to them. Everything has value in our past if we use it to grow.