Joe Bronson, SIOR, senior vice president of industrial services for NAI Hiffman, recently shared with Chicago Industrial Properties his passion for the industrial real estate industry, his family, and golf. Here’s what he had to say.
Chicago Industrial Properties: How did you get your start in industrial real estate?
Joe Bronson: I started in real estate when I took a job in the investor-relations department at First Industrial back in 1997. I had practically no idea what an industrial building was. To make matters worse, I spent the first few years just dealing with Wall Street, which is frankly no place to learn about or run a real estate business. But after that I made my way into operations, and then eventually into brokerage.
CIP: After working in industrial real estate all of these years, what’s the driving force/passion that keeps you going to work every day?
Bronson: I get excited every time I get a chance to work with someone who has an industrial real estate need. Developer, tenant, seller, and buyer – when it’s a real need and a commitment, and not just a wish or a thought, then I get excited to know that I can help. Solving problems with an expertise developed over the years is fun. You get to contribute a portion of your knowledge and hard work to the client, and see real economic value come out at the other end.
CIP: What do you find most challenging about the industry?
Bronson: The biggest challenge is probably the never-ending list of hurdles that each transaction faces. With each transaction, month after month and year after year, there seems to be a new way created to slow down or impede a lease signing or a building selling. Both sides want the transaction completed, but new things pop up each time. A few months ago we almost lost a lease because the municipality changed the utility rate. That was a new one. We laugh about it now, but not at the time.
CIP: What do you like most?
Bronson: I love the people. Everyone in this business is a character. Most everybody is good natured, and most everybody is hilarious in some way, even when they’re not trying to be. It’s like the human race in general – there’s only about 3 percent of the entire population causing problems; everyone else just wants to do their job and help the process. I guess I’m a people person, and I enjoy interacting with clients, colleagues and competitors. If you scratch the surface you get some very interesting stories.
CIP: What sets NAI Hiffman apart from other real estate services companies?
Bronson: I think we have the best of all worlds. We’re big enough to win the awards, have the global reach, conduct the largest transactions, and yet we’re street brokers, with a small-shop mentality and chip on our shoulder. I don’t deal with any bureaucracy at work, and at the same time I have the best management and marketing and research and technology people backing me up.
CIP: Please share some of your company’s recent successes.
Bronson: I’m very proud of the consistent flow of transactions with repeat clients in 2013 and 2014. I wouldn’t want to point to one single transaction as a more-notable success over another. To that point, I’m very proud of recently helping a tenant client find a space for a two-month term while they were getting ready to commence a larger lease. It took a good deal of work and creativity and some quick thinking, and it solved a real problem for the client. The commission dollars involved and square footage were not impressive, but the sigh of relief from the client was important to me.
CIP: What are the current market trends/updates?
Bronson: In general, I think the industrial real estate market is as good as it has been in ten years for landlords, sellers and developers. Tenants and buyers had such enormous leverage since 2009 that I still think it’s hard for them to adjust to the new equilibrium. The one detail that I’d add is that the smaller spaces and buildings, after a sharp upturn in activity late last year and early this year, still seem to be lagging behind the rest of the market. That’s troubling from a macro-economic perspective – if the small companies aren’t experiencing robust growth then I don’t think we have a truly strong economy.
CIP: Are there any new developments in the pipeline?
Bronson: The market is covered with new developments, from one end of the metropolitan area to the other. That sounds like frothy overdevelopment, but it’s not. We were frozen in place for four years – why would we not aggressively ramp up development again? If I was a developer I would be pursuing land sites and building spec as fast as possible, obviously within the confines of the current economics.
CIP: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Bronson: I like to work. I get a great deal of pleasure out of the trade I’m in. And I really enjoy the people I interact with, even my competitors. But before work comes my wife and kids. It’s where I get the most amounts of fun and laughs. I have it as good as it gets in that department, so I focus on enjoying it. And then there’s my insidious golf addiction. I wish I could go back to having just family and work, but I can’t. I talk to strangers about golf; I dream about it; I replay good shots in my head as I fall asleep at night. I’m pretty sure if I took up golf when I was 6 years old and not a few years ago that I would probably be a top money earner on the tour today. I’m just saying. But as of right now I’m just trying to keep my ball from killing someone. In all seriousness, I really enjoy golfing with clients and friends. I play at a very quick pace and am blessed to play at an amazing course.
CIP: Anything fun planned for the 4th of July holiday weekend?
Bronson: I am taking my family on a motorhome trip through the Smokey Mountains, our fourth trip around the country. It creates our family’s all-time favorite memories, and it is truly staggering how beautiful our country is, and how nice the people are wherever you go. Like I said, everybody’s pretty much the same. We’ve been to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Maine coast in prior trips. For anyone planning on robbing us while we’re gone, we have ADT, our house is occupied almost entirely by Legos, and the dogs have ruined everything else, so take your best shot.
CIP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Bronson: I’m really thankful for my clients, colleagues and competitors. We’re in a great country, in a great city, in a great business.