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NGKF Keeps Expanding And Gobbling Up Talent From Top Competitors

Washington DC

The DC operation of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank has been growing at quite the clip of late, hiring 12 new faces in the last six months alone, including a new vice chairman, hired away from Cushman & Wakefield, and a new head of NoVa, hired away from Colliers.

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We asked Brendan Owen, NGKF’s asset services chairman in the DC office—and a relative newcomer himself, having joined the company in May 2013—to explain the explosive growth that has brought 41 brokers and 75 professionals into the company in the past two and a half years. That's him in the middle, flanked by Sandy Paul and Greg Leisch (more on them later).

“It’s not easy to recruit and retain top talent in this industry because the most successful brokers are generally quite happy and successful where they are. So you have to have a good story for them to pick up and leave,” he explains.

For Brendan, the story includes emphasis on NGKF’s entrepreneurial spirit and providing the tools to be successful free from restrictive management. “If you create that culture with solid individuals that are fun to come to work with and alongside, it is something that energizes everybody,” he says.  

They’re not shooting in the dark, Brendan continues. For every person NGKF has hired, there's someone already in-house who is close or has previously worked with him or her.

The bottom line, though, is brokers go “where they feel they’re going to be the happiest with the most job satisfaction and have the ability to make the most money.”  

That said, it took more than a friendly lunch and schmooze session with NGKF executive managing director Ed Clark to reel in Greg Leisch, founder and CEO of Delta Associates, a 35-year-old successful research firm he still calls his baby.

During that visit, Greg recalls seeing both young professionals and established all-stars in a high-energy, collaborative, fun environment.  

The carrot on NGKF’s stick for Leisch—and for his Delta partner, Sandy Paul—was the opportunity to build a key research component to support the planned expansion of the broker business. Hiring Leisch and Paul doubled the size of the research staff.  

As NGKF strengthens its industrial and retail brokerage practices, and looks to expand its business in suburban Maryland, it will need more research capability, he says, so more hires are likely.

The company takes research seriously, Greg explains. “That’s why I came here, and that’s why I’m staying here.”  

One of the first products of the enlarged research staff was the release last month of a joint study with the IMF on commercial real estate value cycles. “That’s the kind of research initiatives that the company is committed to,” Leisch says.  

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The most recent “catch of the day” was John Boland (right), who joined the NoVa office earlier this month as Mid-Atlantic vice chairman, becoming the 12th new hire in the past six months. John brings with him a 30-year career in consulting, complex lease negotiations and project management that has produced more than $2B in transactions.

He had been an executive managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. The merged company has about 46,000 employees and Newmark has some 13,000. “I kind of like the smaller company,” he says.  

John, most recently the No. 1 producer at C&W, had always represented tenants. DTZ’s $2B purchase of Cushman “just didn’t work for me,” he says, because the merged organization included tenant and landlord brokers, with some representing both. That meant a potential conflict if he had to compete against his own colleagues.  

With Newmark, he’s joined a publicly traded company with a specific upside for him.

“They have a lot less landlord business downtown and that’s beneficial to me as far as dealing with that conflict.” He admits no one twisted his arm to join NGKF—changing addresses within a couple of months—and he “couldn’t be happier.” 

Andy Klaff, on the left, joined NGKF as executive managing director less than two months ago from Colliers International, where he headed the brokerage operations in NoVa. Unlike John, he didn’t make the transition alone. He brought along colleagues Jeff Tarae and Katherine Pelonero.

What attracted him to NGKF, he says, was the momentum of the hiring expansion. Andy judged the Newmark professionals as people who could be beneficial to his career, he adds. As a 26-year industry veteran, he knew several Newmark employees as competitors and “we thought it would be fun to work together with them.”