David Montross moved up from COO to CEO of Equis Corp. on July 20, when Australia-based United Group Limited (ASX: UGL) completed its acquisition of the formerly private, 400-person real estate services firm. Now part of a 3,300-employee organization with offices in more than a dozen countries, Montross is poised to grow Equis' multi-faceted real estate services firm. Montross recently spoke with NREI about what corporate real estate users can expect from the new Equis.
NREI: Equis suffered along with the rest of the economy after 9/11, with revenue dropping almost 30% from 2000 to 2001. Since then, the business has more than doubled. How did the company bounce back?
Montross: We went back to our knitting. Most [corporations] were downsizing their internal real estate organizations and needed an outside provider with an integrated set of services. We had a series of service lines offered by people who were used to providing the accountability and performance management that companies were looking for. So the market came to us a little bit. We added several new business lines, which really extended our sales entrées into new business opportunities and new sources of revenue. That really took off, and we've felt its value in the significant growth we've achieved since 2001.
NREI: You were a broker at LaSalle Partners before joining Equis as COO in 2001. How has that experience influenced your work at Equis?
Montross: In 17 years as a transaction advisor, I came to recognize that brokers need a series of services, tools and resources around them to support the ever-expanding business needs of occupier services. When I joined Equis, my passion was to build the other service lines to support and drive brokerage. I had this vision of going beyond transactions and building up the support resources and experts around them. The advisory businesses I thought were necessary to complement brokerage capability included technology services, strategic consulting, incentive services, and strategic planning for facilities management, and that led us into government services, where we're now a prominent player.
NREI: You were instrumental in developing the government services group. Why is this a critical service area for the company?
Montross: It's not a heavily developed sector like corporate services, and it really plays to our strengths of knowing all aspects of occupier services, from facility condition assessments to strategic planning, transaction advisory, project services, data management — all the things that the public sector, with its giant portfolios, really needed help with. Many corporations just don't have a need for strategic advisory services, so many competing brokerage firms don't have that capability on their staff. Our government services practice gives us the opportunity to have a strong, vibrant group of strategic advisory people because they're working in the government sector that has huge demand for their talents. That capability also makes them available for an area like corporate services.
NREI: What are your growth plans?
Montross: United Group has well-known growth targets. It wants to grow at 15.5% per year, and United Group is going to demand that of us. Our growth and success are dependent on getting good people, so we are looking for the best and brightest interested in joining a team with an entrepreneurial, small-firm culture and a global vision and commitment to success. Also, everybody recognizes that some of the smaller real estate players are going to get absorbed by the bigger ones in the coming years. We're well-positioned now to look at those opportunities as another growth vehicle for our company.