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Bob Knakal On Joining JLL, His Cushman & Wakefield Divorce

JLL Chairman of New York Investment Sales Bob Knakal

The biggest free agent in New York City investment sales has found his new team.

Bob Knakal, a co-founder of Massey Knakal Realty Services and former chairman of investment sales for Cushman & Wakefield, has joined JLL to lead its investment sales unit in New York City. Knakal will bring his team of 14 professionals and his extensive client list to his new firm.

In a phone interview Monday, Knakal told Bisnow his decision came down to three things: JLL's brand, its culture and its technology. He spoke "to every major company in town" after his ouster from Cushman & Wakefield in June, and ultimately decided that JLL, the second-biggest commercial services company in the world, was the best fit.

"The main reason for the move is coming to JLL helps me serve my clients better than I would be able to anywhere else," Knakal said. "I’ve never seen anything like what JLL has as its proprietary technology. The company is really leveraging cutting-edge technology to transform the industry. It is very tangibly dedicated to expanding and enhancing the technology they have. That is critical considering how important technology is going to be moving forward."

Knakal joined C&W after it acquired Massey Knakal for $100M. Four days before his contract, which came from the acquisition, was set to expire, Knakal was let go.

"I was fired four days before my contract expired. You can interpret that however you like," he said. "Most of the reports about my termination said it was because they found out I was speaking to other companies. I proactively let them know I was speaking to other people at the beginning of April. They were fully aware of what I was doing."

Knakal has completed more than $18B of commercial transactions in his illustrious career, but he found himself without a brokerage home for the first time this summer, enabling him to explore his options, albeit in an environment with lots of personnel upheaval.

"It was an interesting experience," Knakal said. "There are a lot of really talented and great brokers and platforms that are out there and I feel very fortunate to have found the opportunity that I did here at JLL."

When Massey Knakal was acquired, Knakal was at the helm of a 250-employee firm, and many of those workers stayed with him at C&W for years. At JLL, his team will not approach that size, he said, but he does want to grow it to cover the whole city.

While JLL has had a strong leasing business in New York City, led by Knakal's new boss, Tri-State President Peter Riguardi, Knakal will be tasked with growing the investment sales business, which has not matched up with its international rivals CBRE, C&W and Eastdil Secured in recent years.

While investment sales in New York have been far slower than they were in the peak years of 2014 and 2015, Knakal said he expects to have plenty of deals at his new firm as activity picks up toward the end of this year and into 2019.

"The dollar volume of sales is very likely to be up this year, the number of properties sold is about on par with where we were last year, but we think that metric will pick up speed," he said. "The health of the local and domestic economy is really going to prop up the underlying fundamentals of real estate ... The tax cuts have doubled the profits of every company, and you can take more space, hire more people, buy more computers. All of those things are very, very positive for the underlying fundamentals of real estate."