The Brokerage Shuffle

The current slump in the national office market has sent the revolving door spinning at many brokerages across the country. Slow leasing markets typically prompt tenant representatives and other brokers who are paid on commission to consider their options, but this go-around has been extraordinary.

The top office leasing broker in New York, Mary Ann Tighe, jumped to CB Richard Ellis this summer. In Atlanta, Newmark & Co. Real Estate hired practically the entire Julien J. Studley office, picking off more than 20 people, from the top executive — regional manager Neal Golden — to the administrative assistant.

Brokers are, in effect, independent contractors. If nothing's happening where they are, they seek out new opportunities. And yes, sometimes the grass is greener. “When times are as tough as they are now in our business, it's natural for people to begin looking for alternatives to increase productivity,” says Sam Holmes, executive managing director in the Atlanta office of New York-based Insignia/ESG. “People are looking for what they think may be a better vehicle.”

Holmes and partner John Shlesinger, who ranked as the top two office brokers in metro Atlanta last year, shook up the city's brokerage community in 1997 when they left New York-based Cushman & Wakefield for Insignia/ESG. Their five-year contracts were set to expire late this year, but the dynamic duo decided to buck the trend and re-up. Shlesinger and Holmes have helped catapult Insignia from virtual nonexistence in Atlanta to the No. 3 shop last year.

CB Richard Ellis hopes Mary Ann Tighe and Cherrie Nanninga will do the same for it in New York City. In July, Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis fired a shot across the bow of Insignia/ESG and Cushman & Wakefield when it hired away Tighe, formerly a vice chairman at Insignia/ESG, to be the CEO of the New York Tri-State Region. CB Richard Ellis hired Nanninga from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where she closed the net lease of the World Trade Center with Silverstein Properties just months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 leveled the Twin Towers. Nanninga will be the COO of the Tri-State region.

Tighe is a star in the world of New York commercial real estate who worked 18 years at Insignia with a client roster that included Conde Nast, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the Estee Lauder Cos.

CB Richard Ellis is candid about why it recruited Tighe. It wants to be one of the top three brokerage operations in the New York area, says Brett White, president. “In this market, our position was nowhere near what you'd expect,” he says. The company plans to focus heavily on the New York region, he says. So much so that CB Richard Ellis reportedly has given Tighe a $100 million budget to make the company a key player in New York.

And the revolving door shows no signs of slowing. Tighe says the biggest surprise of her first 30 days on the job is how many brokers from other companies have contacted her about opportunities at CB Richard Ellis. She says she even chose “007” as the last three digits of her office phone number because she feels like she's working espionage.

Jones Lang LaSalle also has joined the talent hunt, luring two former Colliers ABR executives to top-level posts in its New York Tri-State market. Peter Riguardi — formerly vice chairman of Colliers ABR — will be president, New York, responsible for leasing, management and tenant representation. Former Colliers ABR executive managing director Robert Flippin will become managing director, New York, for Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle.

Newmark has opened offices across the country with brokers from other firms by offering some equity in the company. In Los Angeles, Newmark hired three brokers from Julien J. Studley and opened its San Francisco office with a half-dozen executives from CB Richard Ellis.

Newmark President Jimmy Kuhn says some brokers were willing to jump ship because they felt the brokerages they worked for had become too large. “You have a lot of people who don't want to be part of a corporate bureaucracy,” he says. Of course, brokers also are being wooed with large financial packages.

“When times are good, brokers don't want to move because they have too many irons in the fire,” he says. “When times are weak, that hook is gone. We couldn't have done this in 1999 or 2000.”

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