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Cresa CEO Jim Underhill To Resign

Cresa CEO Jim Underhill

The largest tenant-only commercial real estate firm will soon have a new CEO.

Cresa CEO Jim Underhill is stepping down from the top role and resigning from his seat on the board of directors, the brokerage announced Wednesday. The firm said Tod Lickerman, a former Cushman & Wakefield executive who joined the firm's board in 2019, will serve as interim CEO. 

Also a former Cushman & Wakefield executive, Underhill joined Cresa in 2016 to help steer the firm's growth. The company has opened at least 19 offices around the world since Underhill joined, it made its first-ever acquisition, and in 2019 it moved into a new headquarters in Downtown D.C. 

Underhill told Bisnow in an interview Wednesday morning that he has accomplished much of what he set out to do five years ago, and it was the right time to part ways. He added that it was an amicable split.

"The company is in a solid position right now," Underhill said. "I think we’ve weathered COVID as well as one could. The bottom line is companies coming out of COVID are going to have a new strategic plan. Particularly the commercial real estate marketplace is different, and I think it’s important, and the company agrees, that the CEO that helps drive the strategic plan should be the one that implements it."

The slower transaction activity during the pandemic led Cresa to tighten its belt, including "modest staffing reductions," Underhill said, declining to disclose the number of people it has laid off. Underhill said Cresa has pivoted to help the tenants it represents with their plans for balancing in-office and remote work, including the June launch of a Remote Advisory Services team. 

"There’s going to be a great opportunity for firms to pivot and respond to the changing and evolving needs of the tenant," Underhill said. "I do think the consulting and advisory piece will continue to be of greater importance as companies try to understand how they want to configure their real estate footprints moving forward."

As for his own future after leaving Cresa, Underhill said he doesn't have any immediate plans. 

“I have my eyes open, but I’m not looking for anything," Underhill said. "I’m ready to take a little break and see what comes my way. If there’s something I find exciting with people I love to work with, I’m sure I’ll entertain it, but I’m not particularly energized to go find anything right now.” 

The entrance to Cresa's headquarters office at 1800 M St. NW

Underhill's departure will be effective Feb. 15, Cresa said, and it plans to engage an executive search firm to look for a permanent CEO.

The move, first reported by the Washington Business Journal, comes after Cresa in November promoted Tom Birnbach to a newly created role of president, hired Kristen MacCarthy from JLL to serve as chief financial officer and brought on Gary Gregg as chairman of its board. 

Lickerman, who will serve as interim CEO, has been in commercial real estate for 35 years. He previously served as global CEO at DTZ, where he helped lead the firm's mergers with Cassidy Turley and Cushman & Wakefield in 2015.

He then served as global president and Americas CEO at Cushman & Wakefield before stepping down in November 2017. Earlier in his career, Lickerman spent 17 years at JLL, rising to become CEO of corporate solutions for the Americas. 

Gregg thanked Underhill for his contributions and said the board is confident in Lickerman's ability to lead the firm. Lickerman said in a statement that he is a "big fan" of Cresa and sees it as different from other brokerage firms. 

"Cresa represents the interests of the occupier and tenant, focused and free from conflicts," Lickerman said. "Cresa is also privately held and owned by the top professionals in the firm, there is a real benefit to having this kind of focus and control, unbeholden to the demands of external shareholders. Office occupancy, logistics and industrial location strategies are changing to meet the current business environment, and a strategic approach is needed now more than ever."