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By Cristina Gair
Associate Editor

Transactions are the bread and butter of brokerage companies, but today's top firms are just as inclined to provide a five-course meal of strategic planning, advisory services, financial advice and other client services.

"The overall challenge to the brokerage business is how to transform from what we historically have been--transaction-based companies--to ones working closely with clients as a team to create business strategy as it relates to real estate," said John Orrico, president of real estate advisory services at Northbrook, Ill.-based Grubb & Ellis.

With revenues down from a peak in 2000, brokerage companies are going back to the basics and concentrating even more heavily on developing client relationships. "Last year was an extraordinary year for our company," said Mitchell Rodin, president of U.S. transactions at New York-based Insignia/ESG. In 2000, the biggest demand from clients was for extra office space to expand their businesses, he said. And cost sometimes was not a factor among businesses that were growing exponentially.

The top brokerage firms aren't willing to reveal all their secrets, but they will discuss some of their competitive advantages. For Insignia/ESG, investment in employees is one of the keys to its success. "I don't feel there's a company in this industry that has paid more attention to the development of both its professional and non-professional staff," he said. "My colleagues and I have an absolute comfort level that regardless of the sophistication of a particular assignment, that the people in each of our markets have the ability to handle it and draw upon the significant resources of the organization for support."

Likewise, Grubb & Ellis identifies its professionals as its main strength. "We keep steering our company more and more to specialization and bringing in people who have specific skill sets to work with our clients," Orrico said.

For Cushman & Wakefield, the key to maintaining a competitive advantage is preparing for the long term. "As a privately held company, we face fewer challenges than those that are publicly traded because we don't have to manage our business quarter to quarter," Mosler said. "We've been able to make long-term strategic investments that focus on increasing our market share so that when we come out of the downturn our revenue will reflect that strategy."

Orrico sees the industry shrinking to fewer players. "The level of professionalism will continue to rise within the industry," he said. "There will be more companies that consolidate to one or two real estate providers for not only their transactions needs, but also their consultant and facilities management needs."

According to Rodin, the future will require more cohesive brokerage teams and the ability to "recognize trends in the industry before they occur and prepare to address those trends."

Respondents to NREI's survey of leading brokerage firms were asked to list the total dollar amount of leasing transactions and investment sales during 2000. The two totals were combined to determine the ranking of each company.

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