As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Willie Hoag, a tenant representation specialist for Mid-America Real Estate Corporation. Hoag has coordinated efforts for national retailers new to the Chicago market, as well as existing retailers who seek to change strategy or re-brand themselves through their real estate efforts.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and spent the entirety of my summers in Door County, Wisconsin. I was exclusively interested in going to college somewhere on the East Coast, and was fortunate to be accepted to Boston College. And equally fortunate that the dean of student affairs had a sense of humor. I returned to Chicago with a degree in English in hand, eager to share enchanting tales from Chaucer and Tolstoy with my new T-Mobile business sales colleagues.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Writing, specifically speech-writing for political campaigns, was something that nagged at the back of my mind before I realized how rumpled and pale that lifestyle made you. In a way, that stuck with me; I do enjoy the facet of real estate that promotes crafting one’s position while taking into account the stance of the opposition.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My father was involved in myriad facets of commercial real estate, from industrial to office brokerage and development, to retail and power center development. He was still in that capacity when he saw me come unglued in my first sales job out of school. He suggested I speak to a number of his colleagues, friends and even some that I am not sure even knew who he was. When I interviewed with Mid-America, I identified with the varying styles and distinct personalities that indicated a lack of pretense and openness to bringing different ideas to work. I remember arriving on my third interview and watching one of our brokers, Kevin McLaughlin, laughing with a retailer client, looking more like friends than the “agency relationship” to which I was accustomed. After three further interviews, roughly equal to that of a prospective CIA agent, I received an offer to start.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I was fortunate to start immediately and exclusively in tenant representation, working under Jeff Kuchman who had very active, interesting and savvy retailer clients during a period in Chicago that saw millions of square feet of new power center construction in the outlying suburban areas (2004-2008). I was principally tasked with supporting our team on the LA Fitness expansion, where I learned with patient dealmakers within LA Fitness. In lieu of dismissing my relative naivete, they treated me like a talented collaborator before I deserved such trust, giving me perspective on category market share, cannibalization and learning everything about your competition.
They are my longest client relationship, having today opened or committed to over 50 clubs in Chicagoland, and as active in expansion as they have ever been. It has been edifying to have a front row seat to see the retail market (and historically wary landlords) now see fitness as a welcome and needed solution to drive traffic into vacant, or soon-to-be-vacant centers. My other longest-tenured client, Aspen Dental, gave me an early glimpse of how medical tenants would become a stable and consistent salve amongst the volatility of other gimmicks and flashes-in-the pan. We have now identified and secured over 50 locations for Aspen regionally.
What does a day in the life of Willie Hoag look like?
I move slowly in the morning, but I do not begrudge my nature anymore. I enjoy seeing my kids to school and calmly getting ready before the onslaught begins. I have as reliable a team as ever in my career. We meet as a group, and hopefully find time in the first half of the day to discuss individual priorities. I have been very focused on business development, which has me actively discussing trends and emerging concepts with out-of-state brokers; I am on the phone enough to get tired of my own voice. Five to seven days out of the month I am in a car with clients, locally and out of state. In particular, many of our medical clients including Aspen Dental, Well Now Urgent Care and Oak Street Health are expanding quickly, seeking retail space for their respective clinics amongst everyday needs traffic. Ideally if I am in Chicago, I strive to meet face to face with current clients, industry acquaintances or those who have better ideas than me.
What do you like most about your job?
Creativity and humor can quickly lead to new business pursuits and clients, if you just follow up. You can learn so many epic stories when you ask the right questions, and that texture becomes a crucial part of my business relationships. And socializing is blissfully required, where there are no shortage of interesting people.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
As Mid-America Real Estate Corp continues to support our effort to grow our regional and national tenant representation platform, we will continue to pursue and assist interesting new concepts that help to transform retail centers over the next ten years. Be it medical concepts like Oak Street Health that provide primary care and communal interaction for seniors, or restaurants like Lazy Dog that seek to serve the abused masses, tired of their obsolescent options from yesteryear. They promote chef-driven ideas in dominant regional settings, with a huge patio to welcome the families and canines (as eponymously referenced). Clients that innovate and see a void inject optimism amidst the flawed headlines. And as importantly, I look forward to watching my youthful partners (Danielle Kling, Ali Hicks and Katie Killeen) collaborate and matriculate so I can be lazier.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
The best times I have away from the office are traveling with my wife and three children, Calvin (8), Penelope (5) and Baxter (2). I am most serene when I find time to read a book. And I am also learning and betting extensively on jai alai.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
Hawaii and Yosemite are two that I could return to often. Mattoon, Illinois is also beautiful this time of year. We are planning our next summer road trip, which will take us to Virginia and the Carolinas.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
My tenant rep partner, Sean Bossy, who is as capable as he is concise!