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CRE Brokers On What It's Really Like To Join A Competitor

In the last 41 years, Colliers International broker Brad Mendelson has worked in three different places. He is not big on change.

But in late 2016, after more than a decade brokering high-profile retail deals for Cushman & Wakefield, he and his partner, David Green, left to join rival firm Colliers International.

“This is not an emotional thing, this is business,” Mendelson said. “There are no hysterics, but it’s an embarrassment for a big company to lose someone well-known.”

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Personnel movement is a major part of commercial real estate, an industry where access to rainmakers and lucrative relationships is crucial. Scoring a big-time broker with a strong lineup of clients can be a major coup for one firm, and a stinging loss for another.

Brokers who have made the jump told Bisnow making the call to leave can be a tough, sometimes emotional decision. Severing ties with a firm is a calculated risk, they said.

Naturally, the ultimate goal is about scoring bigger and better deals. But brokers said money is not the only factor at play; sometimes it is about a chance to pivot a career path or create something from scratch.

James Nelson defected from C&W in January to join Avison Young’s fledgling investment sales team. He had joined C&W as part of the $100M Massey Knakal Realty Services acquisition in 2014.

He was one of many brokers who suddenly found themselves an employee of a multibillion-dollar, private equity-controlled CRE behemoth when C&W and DTZ merged in a $2B takeover deal in 2015.

Avison Young investment sales broker James Nelson
Investment sales broker James Nelson

In an interview, Nelson told Bisnow he joined Canadian upstart Avison Young because he was attracted to the idea of building out a sales platform. It was the first time he changed companies in 20 years, he said.

“It’s as if we are building a new company within a company,” Nelson said. “I’ll always love brokerage and making sales, but building teams has been energizing.”

Mendelson said C&W, a 101-year-old brokerage house, changed significantly after private equity giant TPG, which controlled DTZ, acquired it. Internal shakeups can reveal job satisfaction is not always about just dollars and cents.

“It’s all about being happy where you work … We weren’t happy there anymore,” Mendelson said. “A lot of things that we took for granted that we need for business were no longer available to us.”

Toronto-based Colliers is on a mission to ramp up its East Coast presence, recently luring former SL Green Realty Vice President David Amsterdam to be its new president of investments, leasing and the Eastern region. Another SL Green alum, Cryder Bancroft, is starting as managing director there this week. Green and Mendelson were hired with the view of setting up the retail arm.

Mendelson said their move had very little impact on them personally, because they have worked with the same clients for decades. Still, they gave C&W the chance to give them an offer to stay. The offer the firm made was “embarrassing,” Mendelson said.

“They understood,” about the duo leaving the firm, he said. “They wished us good luck.”

Brad Mendelson, David Green, Colliers
Retail brokers Brad Mendelson and David Green

While the clients may stay the same, the surroundings are different, and sometimes that takes some getting used to.

“It was fricking bizarre,” retail broker Robin Abrams said of her first few days at Eastern Consolidated.

Abrams joined brokerage Lansco Corp. in 1979. When she jumped to Eastern last May, three of Lansco's five vice chairs had already stepped down. Agents have since left en masse, including a number of its top producers.

“It was very difficult,” she said of the decision to move. “I had to think of what my next step was going to be … [but] some of my best friends were Lansco people, we helped raise each other's kids, signed each others marriage certificates.”

She likened the move to an “amicable divorce” — friendly, but with lots of logistics to iron out.

“Both parties, to their credit, made it easy, which is not always the case,” she said. “I've heard stories of people who’ve been locked out of their office and their boxes are on the floor.”

Ripple Effects

Influential moves can make waves across the industry. The impact of Doug Harmon and Adam Spies’ jump from Eastdil Secured to C&W in 2016, for example, is said to still be playing out in the investment sales sector.

“It does tend to be cyclical to the market,” said Savills Studley Vice Chair Woody Heller, pointing to the major talent shuffles in New York City in late 2016.

Before Nelson made the call to leave C&W, he said he spent a year speaking to a business coach. His decision to leave in late January came soon after he had finished his required three years that was part of the Massey Knakal acquisition.

Paul Massey has reportedly followed suit, giving his notice to leave C&W last week.

“As I was coming towards nearing the end of my contract, there were discussions out there. It’s a sensitive time,” Nelson said. “The nature of how these things work, the confidentiality means I didn’t have the ability to let [friends and colleagues] know before I did it.”

Toronto-based Avison Young has been in the Tri-State area for just five years, and is far less established in New York City. That, in part, was the attraction for Nelson. He brought on James Kinsey, who was the principal of his own firm, Kinsey Capital, and they have worked to build out the team with new hires.

CRE Brokers On What It's Really Like To Join A Competitor
NKF's Dustin Stolly

It was a similar story for Dustin Stolly, who left JLL last year after a decade at the firm to become the vice chairman and co-head of capital markets debt and structured finance at NKF.

He said he was drawn to the idea of taking on a new level of responsibility. The firm has since hired Cantor Commercial Real Estate founder and CEO Anthony Orso to lead its capital markets group.

“I started my career as an investment banker and I was one of the first round of layoffs in 2007,” he said. “I thought my world had ended, but you have to embrace change.”

At JLL, Stolly was part of the team that worked on the $850M loan for Harry Macklowe’s One Wall Street and his client roster includes Vornado and Novel Property Ventures.

Since going to Newmark, the firm has gone public and he has hired 15 people.

“The opportunity arose and I jumped at it,” he said. “It’s business.”