The New Closers: Kaleigh Jones Working Her Way Up D.C.'s Top Capital Markets Team
When Kaleigh Jones began working as an office assistant at Cushman & Wakefield in 2014, she wrote on her first performance review that her long-term goal is to make the global brokerage firm's list of top-performing brokers.
The 28-year-old still has a ways to go before reaching the top, but she has begun to work her way toward that goal. She has received two promotions and has gained the confidence of the senior members of her team, D.C.'s top-performing capital markets group, to give her the lead role in transactions. At the same time, she has taken on leadership roles in women's groups and philanthropic organizations that have helped her build connections in the industry while giving back.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a political science degree in 2012, Jones started her career in the music industry in Nashville. She began working in the mailroom for an entertainment company and worked her way up to working with artists and booking concert tours. But she soon felt it wasn't the right fit and began looking for new opportunities, and a friend working for Cushman & Wakefield in Nasvhville pointed her toward the firm's D.C. office.
She interviewed with Cushman & Wakefield Executive Managing Director Eric Berkman, a veteran capital markets broker, and landed a job as an assistant, helping with paperwork and scheduling duties. It was not the typical starting job for an aspiring broker, but she was happy to get her foot in the door.
"I'd started in a mailroom at another company so I thought, 'I can start as an assistant and work my way up,' I wasn't really intimidated by that,'" Jones said. "I didn't realize at the time that not a lot of people do that, but it was an opportunity, and they said there's upward mobility, so I took that seriously."
In the same week the team brought on Jones as an assistant, Berkman said they brought on a young man as a junior analyst, a more traditional starting role for a broker. But the difference between the two was quickly apparent.
"Within two to three weeks we realized we had it backwards, that she had more intuition, more drive and more potential than the guy we had hired to be our analyst," Berkman said. "So we made a decision to switch her out of that role almost immediately and see how she'd do in brokerage."
Jones began taking on larger tasks like calling heads of real estate firms to bring in new business for the team. As someone with no relatives in commercial real estate and little background in the industry, she spent countless hours studying to bring herself up to speed.
She earned her broker's license as soon as she could to give herself the opportunity to do deals, and she dove into D.C. market reports so she could hold her own in conversations with industry veterans. She credits Berkman with helping teach her to be a broker and for bringing her to commercial real estate events where she could meet people in the business.
Just as she began to gain more responsibilities on Berkman's team, the company went through a major shift that helped boost Jones' career. Cushman & Wakefield, in late 2015, merged with DTZ, which had merged with Cassidy Turley earlier that year, to cement itself among the top three commercial real estate brokerages.
After the merger, Berkman's team joined with the former Cassidy Turley capital markets team of Bill Collins, Paul Collins and Drew Flood. The team now regularly closes some of the largest investment sales transactions in the D.C. area, including a two-month stretch with $2B in deals closed to finish out 2017. In April, Bill Collins and Paul Collins were recognized as the top regional sales agents by industry association CREBA. Through the first nine months of 2018, Berkman says the capital markets team closed 55 deals worth $3.5B.
"There is a lot of diversity on the team, which a lot of people don't realize because they're behind the scenes, but we have all races, ethnicities, religions, backgrounds and genders," Jones said. "That's truly the modern-day example of a powerhouse team — not everybody's the same, we all have different strengths and backgrounds we're able to bring to light. To me, that's the winning combination."
Jones was promoted to brokerage coordinator in 2016, and earlier this year she moved up again, now as an associate. The new titles have come with new responsibilities, and Jones this year has begun taking lead roles on investment sales transactions.
She took the lead in representing Bethesda-based Finmarc Management in the sale of an Old Town Alexandria office building, a deal which closed in August for $29.6M. Jones credits Berkman with giving her the opportunity and praised the analysts and everyone on the team for helping her bring the deal to the finish line.
"It definitely felt like a big step in my career because I ran into things I'd never run into before, and with the help of all these resources, we were able to get through them," Jones said. "It was exciting to feel that sense of accomplishment to have that one close and develop great relationships with the buyer and seller. That was a huge win."
Berkman said that deal proved Jones has strong personal skills and can interact well with clients. And while she is still learning all the ins and outs of brokering a complex transaction, he said her willingness to ask questions gives him the confidence to put her in more lead roles.
"Like any young person, they need mentoring, but you don't mind handing the ball to her and letting her run because she knows when she needs help to come in and ask for direction," Berkman said.
The team has several other young aspiring brokers that Berkman says are also rising in their careers, such as Shaun Collins, Shaun Weinberg and Kevin Sidney.
Jones is now working on six different deals in various stages of the process, largely in the D.C. suburbs. She said the first deal gave her confidence and she hopes to uses that momentum to keep taking on larger transactions.
Beyond the capital markets team, part of what has made Jones stand out is the leadership roles she has taken on in groups within her company and the industry at large.
In 2016, Cushman & Wakefield Regional Managing Principal Roberta Liss asked Jones to lead the newly formed D.C. chapter of the firm's Women's Integrated Network. The D.C. chapter is now the third-largest in the company with over 100 members, Jones said.
She led the group for two years, helping bring in influential women for speaking events, organizing community service events and group workouts to promote wellness. Jones said she recognizes that the brokerage industry is still male-dominated, but she is hoping to help change that by encouraging young women to join commercial real estate.
"I'm in meetings all the time where I'm the only woman, but I think it will eventually change," Jones said. "I've been patient with my career, and I'll be patient for that to happen because I'm sure that it will."
Jones is also one of four co-chairs of the D.C. chapter of Cushman & Wakefield's Future Leaders Group, along with Lindsey Wohning, Ryan Lopez and Neil Werner. The group helps support young people in the company and organizes networking events such as happy hours and an annual Nationals game.
Outside of the company, Jones has taken on increasingly large responsibilities with two industrywide groups. She has served on the member services committee of the D.C. chapter of CREW, an organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the commercial real estate industry.
Last month, she took on the role of co-chair of the JDRF Real Estate Games, along with Grosvenor's Zac Linsky and Stream Realty's Charlie Smiroldo. The three will lead the organization's effort to raise $1M for Type 1 Diabetes research in the 30th year of the games.
Jones has served on the committee to raise money for the games since 2014, and she said the daylong event that brings together thousands of people from across the industry is one of her favorite days of the year. The event raised $525K and $528K in 2016 and 2017, respectively, so the jump to a $1M goal is ambitious. But Jones said the team is reaching out to new companies about sponsorships, and she expects the legacy sponsors to raise their contributions given the significance of the 30th anniversary.
Cushman & Wakefield Executive Managing Director Sherry Cushman, a longtime chair of the games and a leader at the firm who has watched Jones' growth, said she is perfect for the job.
"She has really come into her own in the last two years, not only as a broker selling her first building herself, she has also really taken on these great initiatives through WIN and through JDRF, and she's really done an amazing job," Cushman said.