Global powerhouse Cushman & Wakefield has always been a niche player in the Chicago market, but Shawn Mobley, the firm’s new executive vice president and market leader, has been charged to change that.
“This is a unique opportunity,” says Mobley. “I’m at the big firm and I have a chance to build.”
Cushman & Wakefield is a big firm, just not in Chicago. The full service, privately held commercial real estate firm was founded in 1917 in New York City, where it still is one of the dominant market players. It has significant presence in major financial centers on the East and West Coast, and, in international markets. The hole has always been in the middle, where the firm has never really gained a foothold in the country’s largest Midwestern market.
“C&W is always one or two in New York, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta,” says Mobley. “Chicago is always the smallest market for us and it’s the third largest metro area in the country.”
In August of 2010, Glen Rufrano, president and CEO of C&W, spoke with the Illinois Real Estate Journal. He was clear about the firm’s goals in the Chicago market.
“Chicago represents a major market. If you are financial services firm it is a market you need to serve,” said Rufrano. “We are doing business planning right now and we need to come up with a better plan and have better penetration. We are committed to the business here and committed to increase our penetration.”
He wasn’t just paying lip service. Since then, C&W has added dozens of brokers to its Chicago operations and it has recruited big names to be national practice leaders, such as Jim Dieter, who heads the firm’s industrial practice group, and Gregory Vorwaller, who is the global head of capital markets for the firm. Both are based in Chicago.
The addition of Mobley brings another big name to the fold. Mobley left Grubb & Ellis in June, where he had led the firm’s Chicago office for six years. Around the same time several of his co-workers at Grubb left to join C&W as well, prompting his former employer to file a lawsuit against Mobley, alleging that he raided the firm’s talent. Mobley declined to comment on the situation.
Moving forward, his task will be to recruit more professionals to the firm’s Chicago and Rosemont offices. Recent activity for C&W is positive momentum for him to build on.
“We had 30 some brokerage professionals 90 days ago,” says Mobley. “That number is now in the mid fifties. Over next couple years look to double that and have a 100 broker operations.”
The goal is not be the biggest firm in Chicago, but the most profitable. To achieve this, Mobley is aware that he will have to significantly increase some of the firm’s local product lines.
Mobley says that the firm already has a strong base in tenant representation, but that it needs to grow in its agency leasing services.
“I want to grow downtown and in the suburbs on the agency leasing side,” says Mobley. “We have far too few buildings right now.”
With large competitors already entrenched in that market, it will be a tough trick to pull. Mobley says that the goal would be to recruit several top names that could “import relationships and brand equity.”
The sell for potential recruits right now is C&W’s global reach and its ability to leverage lucrative deals and clients in major markets such as New York. Recruiting big name brokers is no easy task, but in a slower market, Mobley figures he has a decent chance.
“People are making enough money now, but they are not making so much that they don’t have time to meet with you,” says Mobley.
This underscores another point in C&W’s expansion plans. The firm is investing heavily into the market financially. Not only is it adding brokers, but the firm will soon make a significant real estate investment as it plans to move to larger offices in the West Loop. There is always risk involved when taking this route and Mobley acknowledges that this plan is only obtainable if the economy avoids any major declines.
“If it stays like it is, then we can do well in this condition,” he says. “On the other hand, if there was a double dip recession that would hurt our growth plans. We have already made significant investments in people.”
This will not be an overnight process. Mobley acknowledges that this is a one-to-two year project. But with the backing of the firm’s global brand, he likes his chances.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he says. “We are off to a good start, but we are not even half way there yet.”