With a staff of only three in 1963, Studley’s Chicago office now has 50 full-time employees and, within the past 10 years alone, has executed approximately 3,000 lease agreements and other acquisitions resulting in more than 65 million square feet of space.
This year, Studley celebrates its 50th year in Chicago. Illinois Real Estate Journal recently spoke with John Goodman, Studley executive vice president and co-branch manager, about the firm’s success in the Chicago area. Here is what he had to say:
Illinois Real Estate Journal: Why do you think Studley has managed to stay successful in Chicago for so many years?
John Goodman: First and foremost I think it’s the quality of our people. We probably work hardest at thinking carefully about who we bring into our company. When I look at our employees, I think we have a longer track record of keeping people for a long time and a lot of that has to do with making careful decisions about the folks that we bring on. I think that’s not always true in the real estate brokerage business. I think there’s sometimes a tendency in the real estate brokerage business to say, “Well let’s give somebody a shot and see if they can make a go of it. We got an empty seat and we’ll give this guy or this gal a shot and maybe they’ll be successful,” whereas our environment is centered around developing successful teams with various skill sets. Our team leaders are really looking carefully at who’s the right individual to fill a particular role within the team and then how to develop them into being leaders and partners in the business over time.
IREJ: Why do you think Studley’s clients and employees stay with the firm for so long?
Goodman: I think on the employee side, it’s having a strong support system in a business that doesn’t necessarily gear itself toward developing talent. On the client side, I think it’s just being steadfast and focused on how to develop the best outcomes for our clients. We’re unique among the major real estate advisory firms in that we stay on one side of the transaction. We’re steadfast in representing users of space, whether they’re tenants or corporate owners of property. As a result, it’s sort of like being a brain surgeon instead of a general practitioner. We’re really focused on how to develop the best tools, processes and strategies to get the best outcomes for our clients in a competitive marketplace. We have clients that have stuck with us through three generations of Studley partners, which we’re really proud of.
IREJ: What does offering a high level of service entail?
Goodman: It entails a couple of things. One is not having a standardized process for each of our customers. What we really do at the outset of an assignment is work with our clients to dig deep and really understand what success looks like for them at the end of the project. Then we customize the process to manage the marketplace in a way that delivers the best results. I think the highest level of service is based upon a customized approach that’s geared toward our clients’ key objectives as opposed to a standardized process. The other thing is being up at night worrying about the best results. I think if you’re really providing a service with the highest level of integrity and really consumed with doing the best for your client, it keeps you up at night and it gets you up early in the morning. We’re constantly thinking about how to perform for the best result.
IREJ: What are some of the services the office has offered over the years that have helped it stand apart from its competitors?
Goodman: I think we’ve tried to enhance our core business of representing tenants with a number of different add-ons over the years that really support the core business. One is project management. A big part of the total solution for our clients is developing or redeveloping their space to maximize productivity for their workforce. We’ve brought on a great project management team that works with our clients on putting together the right team of architects, contractors, engineers and consultants to come up with the best workplace strategy and then implement that through the most cost-effective construction means. We’ve also added on investment sales capabilities. While most of our clients traditionally lease their space, we have a number of corporate clients who look for our assistance to buy and sell property for their corporate use. And recently, we’ve added a great team in the area of industrial. It’s been an area that we’ve kind of had over the years, but we didn’t have any industrial expertise really for about the last seven or eight years. A lot of our clients were asking for more help from us in that arena and we really didn’t provide it when we didn’t have specialized industrial brokers. Now we’ve added some real talent in that area and are going to grow that area as well.
IREJ: How important is word-of-mouth advertising for the success of any real estate firm?
Goodman: It’s everything. We don’t advertise. We’re not out there very frequently advertising our services and we don’t have our name on buildings because we don’t represent landlords. So getting our name out there through traditional media is not available to us generally. It’s really the heads of real estate, CFOs, managing partners of law firms and the heads of associations that we represent who support us among their business peers, which is really critical to getting our name out there.
IREJ: How do you get through the tougher markets?
Goodman: The tougher markets mean there is a lot of uncertainty among the real estate community and among the business community. It’s hard for people to make decisions when there’s uncertainty out there. I think it’s about being empathetic. Most of our leadership team and our senior partners here are owners of the business. I think we need to be empathetic with our clients and we need to be patient. One of the keys is to sometimes recommend to our clients that they don’t do a transaction, that they wait until the time is right and that they time things as best as they can for the right marketplace. Sometimes that means we might wait longer before we get paid or complete a transaction, but it’s really important that we be patient and we give our clients fair and honest advice in times where the markets are tough.
IREJ: Is there anything unique about the Chicago market that makes doing commercial real estate here different from in other parts of the country?
Goodman: I look back to what our founder Julien Studley used to say about Chicago, and he’s a New Yorker. He always referred to it as the prairie. As a guy who grew up in St. Louis, it’s OK for me to refer to Chicago as the prairie. I think one of the unique things about this market is that every time we think there are no more great sites to build, there are more great sites to build. The reality is that Chicago is the second densest concentration of office space after Manhattan, but there is always another site and there is always a new frontier for more development. One of the things that makes this market intriguing and challenging in some aspects is that it is a relatively easy city to develop in. It’s a development-friendly city. That always keeps this market a little bit less predictable in terms of supply and I think it gives it a unique quality in terms of managing timing and decisions in the marketplace.
IREJ: What would the Chicago office of Studley like to accomplish in the future?
Goodman: I think we want to maintain a lot of the characteristics that we have, which is around a real community feeling among our company. We want to continue to be an employer of choice because that means that we’re going to attract and retain the best talent and we’re going to continue to be able to serve our customers at the highest level of performance. Community service is very important to us. I think our leaders in this company feel incredibly fortunate to have had the success that we’ve had, and number one in our minds is being able to give back to the community in a bigger way. Lastly, we want to be fortunate to be able to keep and grow our incredible client roster and have the opportunity to continue to provide cutting-edge solutions.