While success in any industry may be measured in terms of a number of tangibles and intangibles – processes, talent, agility, market equilibrium, strategies, common sense, luck – there’s always one constant: It’s clearly recognizable. Nowhere is a success story more evident and deserved than within the world’s premier real estate services firm, New York City-based Cushman & Wakefield Inc. (C&W). This global giant maintains 169 offices in 46 countries, with turnkey capabilities that deliver world-class advisory, transactional, and management services (supported by an established integrated technology platform) to landlords, tenants, and investors through each stage of the real estate process. As the firm broadens and diversifies its business horizons under the tutelage of new President and CEO Bruce E. Mosler, however, it remains true to its traditional philosophy: Clients come first.
Perhaps it’s this seamless melding of core values with a can-do attitude that makes C&W’s success so unique. John C. Santora, executive vice president and head of C&W Asset Services (the focus of this article), concurs with this assessment, adding, “We have the best brand in the world. C&W stands for integrity; it stands for entrepreneurial spirit combined with management discipline. There’s a culture here that’s just wonderful – so many different backgrounds and talents that all come together for a single project or client.”
No easy task, considering Asset Services (encompassing property management, facilities management, project management, and agency services) has recently surpassed 400 million square feet of space in its portfolio (260 million-plus domestically, with the bulk of globalization in Brazil and Europe). Santora and his team of 5,000 Asset Services professionals, however, not only embrace this growth, they continually raise their own bar on their approach to customer satisfaction. Professional accountability and ownership have become very personal objectives. “It has been fabulous to see the pieces come together and flourish – to see people grasp the technologies, the systems, the processes – initially in the United States, and now the world,” notes Santora.
Largest Player in the Biggest Market – and Beyond
Of course, this firm that was founded in 1917 might appear to have had ample opportunity to get it right through a multitude of down-cycles and robust market growth and maturation. Serendipity? No. In fact, what’s most surprising about C&W is its ability to separate itself and buck industry and economic trends, consistently reporting profits and improvements through forward-thinking initiatives, considerable planning, and an ever-sharpened focus.
Its history and dominance in New York City are unsurpassed. Known for its involvement with recognizable, big-name clients and projects, C&W is synonymous with high profiles and high expectations in the Big Apple. “We have the best pool of talent on the property, facility, and project management side,” says Frank Freda, executive managing director and director of operations. “Cushman & Wakefield has been known in this city as a pioneer of innovative ideas. We take our fiduciary and corporate responsibilities very seriously, and I think that philosophy best manifests itself in terms of when there is a disaster or an emergency situation.”
How? Asset Services is committed to pioneering technologies that augment the company’s ability to advise and serve clients, such as implementation of Web-based work order, preventive maintenance, project management, procurement, and accounting systems. This technology, combined with the management experience of its professionals, maximizes the value of real estate for clients. The company’s industry-leading client quality surveys indicate “extremely high satisfaction” with the performance of Asset Services.
“At the end of the day, people involved in multi-tenanted properties hire us to create value and increase the [net operating income] NOI for their real estate through the integration of our leasing, management, and financial teams,” explains Santora. “On the facilities side, it’s different; we’re managing a property or portfolio that is providing an environment for a business to succeed. In both cases, we’re creating value.”
In noting how this extends to C&W’s involvement on the global front, William M. Durslag, executive managing director in the Los Angeles office of C&W, says, “I find two consistent themes are the procurement of goods and services, and the operation and maintenance of buildings.”
Add to that “a global client’s need for consistency of service throughout the world,” says Steven W. Ford, senior managing director, facilities management, “which involves a level of quality, as well as comparative analyses in reporting within a common currency. Our accounting systems allow us to do conversion rates instantaneously.”
Within this consistency, however, the group understands that each client’s (and market’s) needs are individual and unique. “What works in New York [City] doesn’t always work in LA, never mind work in Shanghai,” says Santora. “[Any resulting business] is clearly a hybrid. We bring our experience, i.e. what has worked before, as well as our established policies and procedures. But an essential component is that we have to embrace the local culture – both in terms of geography and the company itself.” This philosophy underscores C&W’s most indispensable asset: as a service provider to its client base, as well as the ultimate communicator.
The communicator model extends to the company’s renowned technology infrastructure. A driving force in raising the level of reporting capabilities and accountability in the real estate industry – think “best practices” – Cushman & Wakefield remains a pioneer in the development and implementation of its ever-more-sophisticated integrated facilities management platform. The proven success of the company’s strong technology background has, “in a number of cases, been the difference between us winning and not winning an assignment to manage a portfolio of new business,” says Santora.
This techno-leadership position came about in 1999, when C&W decided to partner with a small group of techies (today’s large-scale Business Integration Group [BIG]), who offered a Web-based call center package. Fast-forward to present day: Now, C&W delivers and markets fully integrated real estate solutions to its clients worldwide under a global technology platform. The platform contains all the internal and external components necessary to meet clients’ needs and provide its professionals with the best technology available. A combination of internally developed tools and external alliances enables C&W to manage communications, assignments, and performance throughout the organization, thereby offering clients real-time information, speed, and cost reduction in service delivery. Clients and team members benefit from the company’s proprietary CW-ONE Share Place, a highly secure, website to which any and all portfolio documentation can be posted, reviewed, and modified.
Technology partnerships offered to clients through C&W are numerous.
C&W and the Business Integration Group (BIG) offer an integrated suite of software and services to owners, landlords, and major corporate tenants with commercial real estate portfolios. This platform, called big-e-realestate, provides clients with a comprehensive technology solution for real estate administration and offers management of a network of external service providers. big-e-realestate’s applications serve all core property management and ownership functions, including lease and property administration, space management, 24/7 call center, transaction management, project management tracking, and work order management.
ePropertyTax™ is the developer of Property Tax Office®, the leading Web-based software application for managing real and personal property taxes. Property Tax Office accurately processes property tax information from any state or local U.S. taxing jurisdiction. In 2002, Cushman & Wakefield launched a new tax consulting service to help major corporate and institutional real estate owners manage their property taxes. This service combines C&W’s property valuation expertise with ePropertyTax’s Web-enabled property tax software and legal advice from a nationwide network of local tax counsels.
Yardi Systems Inc. has worked closely with C&W to customize its accounting system and provide maximum flexibility, both internally and to clients. C&W’s portfolio, financial, and on-site managers use Yardi and other integrated reporting tools to electronically and centrally distribute and approve invoices. The result: a global system that brings significant process improvements to system efficiencies. This Web-based accounting system also ensured that serv-ice to clients remained operational during the events of 9/11 when C&W’s physical premises near the World Trade Center were affected.
Looking to the Future, Tending to Present Day
Although many of the professionals involved in C&W’s Asset Services have significant tenure within the company – Santora, for instance, at 27 years – senior management puts great emphasis on building a knowledge base for the future. “You have to love this industry,” says Santora, admitting that he does, “but it’s not an easy industry.” Therefore, C&W takes its recruiting, professional development, and mentoring programs very seriously.
Notes Freda, “The ‘new’ professionals coming forward need excellent technology and financial skills. More importantly, however, they need to think like our clients and understand their business objectives – and communicate that internally and to the client. We train our people to understand the intricacies of the business and the importance of integration [skills, services, and products] across our Cushman & Wakefield network.”
Both Durslag and Ford note how mentoring and continuing education programs benefit not only C&W newbies, but also themselves. “I went into [mentoring] thinking that I was going to give something back, and what I found out is that I’m getting a lot more out of it,” says Ford. “In revisiting some of the issues that the portfolio managers face and helping them through the issues, it’s very rewarding.”
Santora agrees. “Besides the obvious, [the mentoring relationship] also gives me a chance to hear what the field hears. It certainly helps me in my day-to-day business understanding; from a senior management team perspective, I might think something appears great, but that project or property manager – what does he or she think or need?” he explains.
Who will be the future leaders at Cushman & Wakefield? According to Santora, while not imminent, it’s top-of-mind among management. “We’re in a process now; we’re doing some strategic planning and starting to give certain people a little more responsibility. As these responsibilities grow into larger roles, we’ll see what unfolds.” He likens a perfect “candidate” to an athlete:
“When I interview people, their background certainly comes into play – it’s great to have a legal, financial, or engineering background,” he says. “But personality is important; this remains a face-to-face business. As I look to build my team of the future, I’m really looking for those talented players – and then deciding where they fit and what they can achieve.” The legacy and essence of C&W will continue.
In fact, for a business that must turn on a dime and is anything but impersonal, no one can qualify a company’s value better than a customer. Cushman & Wakefield client Kevin Thorwarth, managing director in charge of MetLife’s $8-billion commercial equity real estate portfolio, points to the reliability and execution of C&W’s core philosophies and performance history as a big part of the two companies’ decades-long relationship in the management and leasing of MetLife’s commercial real estate investment portfolio.
The deal that really cemented the relationship, however, was a large-scale program at year-end 2002 in which $2 billion worth of real estate needed to be sold. “Cushman & Wakefield really stepped up; they came in on short notice, under a short timeframe, a larger portfolio, and we jointly knocked [the deal] out of the park,” he recalls. “They absolutely achieved our goals. Bottom line, their value-add is two-fold: It’s their breadth of size and ability to understand what’s going on in the marketplace, combined with an ongoing effort to make sure the client gets what it needs. It isn’t simply a business relationship; it’s personal. They take the time to understand us, both as an institution as well as a business partner.”
An ambitious agenda lies ahead for this global commercial real estate services firm, and, while growth is eagerly anticipated, Cushman & Wakefield will also wisely remain true to its traditional philosophy of customer service.
Linda K. Monroe (email@example.com) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.
At a Glance: Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services
Property Management. With its roots in property management, Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) today provides comprehensive property management services to a wide portfolio of quality office, industrial, and retail properties. Its leadership position in the industry reflects the company’s extensive property management experience, cutting-edge technology, broadly trained staff, and service extending beyond the scope of traditional property management capabilities. Through C&W’s sophisticated property management accounting systems, clients are provided with customized reporting and operating cost benchmarks. In addition, the firm provides budgeting; planning; operational engineering; personnel recruitment and development; and leveraged purchasing power to reduce costs. C&W’s comprehensive property management services are enhanced by its use of the most sophisticated property management software systems in the industry. The organization uses a customizable, real-time, Web-based portfolio management system that supports the management of every aspect of a property or portfolio.
Facilities Management. Clients increasingly are outsourcing their facilities management to focus corporate resources on core business functions. C&W offers complete facility management services, including operational management (facility-related services, maintenance, construction management, and regulatory compliance); business support services; purchasing management (procurement and contract administration); and occupant relations. Of particular note are:
Operational management and business support. Clients may outsource the management of lighting, janitorial, elevator maintenance, electrical maintenance, HVAC, plumbing, and cleaning contracts. In addition, C&W can manage burdensome administrative office support services, such as mail and distribution, reprographics, micrographics, records management, shipping and receiving, office supplies, and security operations.
Purchasing management. By combining purchasing volume, market leverage, a Web-enabled procurement system, and a time-tested bidding process, the professionals at C&W ensure that their clients enjoy the lowest possible cost for supplies and services. The organization has bulk purchasing agreements with electrical/plumbing, HVAC, paper goods, cleaning, and water/chemical treatment suppliers. In addition, the company offers an innovative procurement technology that lowers the cost of goods and services by as much as 30 percent.
Project Management. The Project Management group manages the planning and execution of office and industrial working environments. From site evaluation to occupancy, these professionals provide expert solutions based on 40 years of experience. The group includes architects, engineers, and strategic programmers who provide development consulting and project management expertise in construction of commercial and industrial real estate. Most of C&W’s project managers use a Web-based reporting system that allows clients to access all project files any time, anywhere in the world. Cushman & Wakefield’s completed project résumé includes some of the most distinctive real estate in the world, including the headquarters for the Bank of America (San Francisco), The Boeing Co. (Chicago), Ceridian (Minneapolis), Discovery Communications (Bethesda, MD), Marathon Oil (Houston), and the World Bank (Washington, D.C.), as well as ARCO Plaza (Los Angeles) and the Sears Tower (Chicago).
Agency Services. Cushman & Wakefield represents landlords and property owners in the most significant leasing transactions occurring in major commercial markets. The company’s leasing agents, who have specialized expertise in landlord representation, develop and execute customized leasing plans to efficiently and effectively achieve client goals. Drawing on C&W’s unmatched local market knowledge, the agency leasing team develops a property-specific leasing plan designed to preserve and increase the leased occupancy of each project and to maximize benefits and value for clients.