As president of the Central Region of Cushman & Wakefield, Shawn Mobley oversees 37 offices in 33 markets within the 14-state region. Prior to joining Cushman & Wakefield, Mobley was president, brokerage services at Grubb & Ellis, where he oversaw the entire national brokerage team. Illinois Real Estate Journal recently spoke to Mobley about his experiences in the commercial real estate business.
Illinois Real Estate Journal: How did you get your start in commercial real estate?
Shawn Mobley: I had gone back to business school at the University of Chicago. Prior to business school I had a marketing and sales position at Procter & Gamble and I had a capital markets bond sales position at ABN Amro. I went back to business school to get into investment banking or investment management and I picked this company to interview with. The company was LaSalle Partners and I thought that they were some kind of investment management firm. So I put my name on the list and then I went back and did my research. While they are an investment management company, it turned out they were a real estate firm. That interview was in 1996.
IREJ: What do you enjoy about commercial real estate?
Mobley: No two days are the same. No two buildings are the same and no two people are the same. I think real estate probably appeals to people who like a huge amount of variety in their life and who can deal with a lot of imperfect information. That’s what attracted me to the business in the first place. On any given day, I’m a salesman, a negotiator, a finance person – every discipline that you could be converges in real estate.
IREJ: Why do you think you’ve been so successful during your career?
Mobley: I’ve been fortunate to work for some great people and some great companies. I had a couple of early mentors in the business, guys like John Phillips and Dan Ryan at Jones Lang LaSalle, Mark Rose at Jones Lang LaSalle and at Grubb & Ellis and Jim Underhill here at Cushman & Wakefield. I’ve worked with and alongside a lot of great people who I’ve benefited from. Also, I think I have a good understanding of clients and what clients need and want out of a service provider. Those were skills that I gleaned early in my life.
IREJ: When did you realize you had what it takes to be successful in this business?
Mobley: My background in real estate has really been in two distinct areas. During my first eight years, I was a practitioner. I was in tenant rep., occupier services. I’d say it was probably two or three years into the business where I was able to work on some large transactions. If a transaction cycle is six to 12 months, and each deal is totally different, you need to do 20 transactions to have a wide enough experience set. So I’d say the bell probably went off in year three. The difference is that a lot of people get into real estate when they’re 22 and it’s their first job. I was 30 years old, so I already had significant work experience and I was able to get a lot of transaction experience early on.
IREJ: What are some of the more challenging parts of working in commercial real estate?
Mobley: You have no products. You have no patents. You don’t produce anything, per se. We’re in the advice and trust business. It’s a people business all the way and people are human beings and they’re complicated. When you spend a lot of time trying to mobilize groups of people to come together to service complicated client needs, there is an awful lot of human interaction. When you start putting a lot of people together, it’s exciting and it’s challenging. Everybody is coming in with a different set of experiences. The people side of it is the best part and it’s the most challenging. You have no control of your calendar. Good and bad things don’t happen when I want them to, they just happen. Another challenge is that every day, I come in here with some idea of what I’m going to do today. It absolutely never happens. There are things that have happened last night that are going to show up on my desk in the morning which are going to change my entire day. It can be frustrating to rearrange your calendar constantly.
IREJ: What advice would you have for people new to this business?
Mobley: Is it important to pick the right company? Sure. I’d say it’s probably more important for anybody that they have a defined and clear mentor, somebody who is senior that they know and respect who’s going to be personally invested in their success. This isn’t a job where there are a lot of books you can read to learn how to be good at real estate. A lot of this is OJT – on-the-job training and nothing is more important than having a mentor who is invested in your success and is going to listen to the dumb questions and help you out. You also have to constantly be in a continual learning mode. Even if you don’t have to read the lease, read it. Even if you don’t have to manage the construction process, attend the construction meetings. Learn, learn, learn. It’s a very complicated business between architecture, design, construction, legal and governmental aspects of real estate.
IREJ: How has the business changed over the years?
Mobley: The biggest change in the business is the importance of platforms. At the occupier level and the investor level, real estate decisions are being made much more strategically. The service providers that are being picked can provide multiple services on any project as well as multiple services across geographies. Companies are asking more from their service providers.
IREJ: What would you say has been your greatest success?
Mobley: I’ve had an opportunity to create an office here in Chicago at Cushman & Wakefield that I’m incredibly proud of. Cushman & Wakefield has been in Chicago for 40 years and has been part of a number of the largest, most significant transactions. If you look at Cushman & Wakefield in 2010, in Chicago we had 29 brokerage professionals and about 170 or 180 employees. As we sit here today, we have 90 brokerage professionals in Chicago and our employee count ended the year at about 480 from 180 and we hope to be crossing 500 this year. Cushman & Wakefield, around the globe, wants to be one, two or three. We want to be one, two or three in every market that we participate in. To be a part of the resurgence of Cushman & Wakefield in Chicago over the last three years has probably been the thing that I’m most proud to have been a part of.