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Trailblazer For African Americans In D.C. Real Estate Joins Cushman & Wakefield

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A pioneer for African Americans in D.C.'s commercial real estate industry has joined a major firm after years of leading smaller brokerage shops. 

Willard Freeman
Longtime DC real estate broker Willard Freeman in 2017

Willard Freeman, a 37-year commercial real estate veteran, last week began working at Cushman & Wakefield as a director. He previously served as CEO at brokerage firm Concordis Real Estate Advisors and as principal at boutique development firm Catalyst 3 Realty. 

Freeman began his career with Smithy Braedon in 1982, working there for 13 years before starting advisory firm The Freeman Group. For more than a decade, he advised Discovery Communications on its global real estate portfolio. That work included the acquisition and development of its 550K SF headquarters in Silver Spring in the 1990s, a building it departed last year for New York. 

The industry has changed dramatically since the 1990s, Freeman told Bisnow, and small independent brokerage firms can no longer compete with brokerage giants for major corporate clients. He says that new reality was part of the reason he joined Cushman & Wakefied. 

"If you want to do larger deals, you've got to be able to broaden your bandwidth," Freeman said. "Not having been able to do that recently, it seems like a logical place to go. If you can't beat them, join them." 

Discovery Communications HQ Silver Spring
The former Discovery Communications' HQ building in Downtown Silver Spring

Cushman & Wakefield stood out among the major brokerage firms, Freeman said, because over a dozen of his closest friends in the industry have migrated to the company. 

"They've got fabulous talent in this place," Freeman said. "I'm a little reticent about giving up the full entrepreneur aspect, but they've given me a lot of freedom."

At the firm, Freeman will provide leasing advisory services for a variety of clients from developers to corporations, law firms and government agencies. He hopes the increased resources at Cushman & Wakefield will help him land another large corporate client like Discovery to help manage their real estate portfolio. 

Freeman also hopes the position at a larger firm will give him more opportunities to mentor young, African American brokers to help improve the industry's diversity. He was one of the only brokers of color when he began working in commercial real estate in the 1980s, he said. It has gradually begun to diversify, he said, but not as quickly as he had hoped. 

"The industry moves like a glacier," Freeman said. "This is an industry that has been steeped in nepotism, family relationships, ties, land, money, all the things it takes to make things happen have been passed down from families. There hasn't been a lot of room to bring in other people. Gradually, it's happening. If I can have an impact on helping to make that happen, I'm happy to make that contribution."

Freeman has mentored several African American brokers who have risen in the industry, including his new Cushman & Wakefield colleague Darian LeBlanc

Cushman & Wakefield's Darian Leblanc
Cushman & Wakefield Vice Chairman Darian Leblanc accepting the James L. Eichberg Broker of the Year award

When LeBlanc first entered commercial real estate in 1994, he said he cold-called Freeman because he was looking for advice from a more experienced broker to whom he could relate. Freeman took the time to meet with him and imparted wisdom on how LeBlanc should approach a career in the industry. 

"I never forgot that," LeBlanc said. "It underscores the type of individual he is that he would, as a very successful professional, take time to meet with someone who he didn't know." 

LeBlanc, now an executive vice chair at Cushman & Wakefield, is a top General Services Administration leasing broker and last year won CREBA's James L. Eichberg Memorial Award for broker of the year. He said he has kept in touch with Freeman throughout his career and is looking forward to working at the same company as his mentor for the first time. 

"I've always regarded Willard as being one of those iconic professionals in the industry," LeBlanc said. "In a way, he represents almost like a Jackie Robinson figure because he enjoyed a tremendous amount of success and visibility in his career, particularly during a time when there weren't many minority professionals who enjoyed his level of success."

Freeman is one of several new additions to Cushman & Wakefield's D.C. team. Last week, the firm announced Michael Zelin joined its capital markets team, coming from Eastdil Secured. Today, Cushman & Wakefield announced four additions to its D.C. Project & Development Services Group: Kevin Haggerty and Mike Samala as vice presidents and Milad Bahamin and Mike Dawson as senior project managers. 

"We take tremendous pride in ensuring we always surpass our clients needs," Cushman & Wakefield D.C. Region Managing Principal Peter Carroccio said in a statement. "Willard is a real estate veteran within the region and his addition to our team will further allow us to provide best-in-class support to our clients."