REAL ESTATE RAINMAKERS
Rainmakers are the people who bring in business and close deals in a way that makes revenue pour and the tide of profits rise, floating any number of boats—such as the 3.2 million American jobs that were supported by the commercial real estate industry in 2015.
Commercial real estate also put some $450 billion into U.S. GDP during 2015, which amounts to a pretty big financial rain cloud for brokers to work their magic on.
Bottom-line assets to their organizations and key factors in the success of colleagues who work with them on transactions, rainmakers are an entire class of most-likely-to-succeed candidates—a class unto themselves.
In this issue, we recognize six commercial real estate rainmakers from KC and two out-of-towners whose work has seeded more than a few clouds here, as well. Join us in putting some names and faces to the success stories.
LANE4 Property Group
2016: $134 million spent developing KC Area retail centers. $95 million in queue for ‘17
Sporting Kansas City’s soccer stadium, the 39Rainbow mixed-use development, Corinth Square and Village shopping centers—Owen Buckley is associated with some of Kansas City’s most recogniz-
able and much-frequented destinations. His track record also includes clients
with such names as American Stores, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Petco, Walmart and many other local, regional and national retailers.
His is one of those success stories that happens when a man meets the right woman: She says “yes” to getting married and the couple builds a relation-
ship that just plain works. Owen gives his parents and five siblings plenty of credit for influencing him in life but speaks with special admiration of his wife, Lynne.
The couple married young and Owen is grateful they did. “We have grown up together,” he says, “and nobody has influenced, coached, encouraged or understands me better than my wife.”
In fact, Owen says Lynne noticed even before he did that he was better suited to commercial real estate than the banking career in which he started.
Where many in his business might see themselves as salesmen, Buckley views his role as that of a facilitator of good choices. “It’s not about selling and marketing as much as providing the right product or the correct information,” he says, “so your clients or customers can make their own decisions.”
That may not be the battle cry of a traditional wheeler-dealer, but it’s a method he has applied with genuine regard for people, properties and this community in general for the past 30 years. Looking back on his career, he says, “I continue to enjoy playing a part in creating and re-creating buildings, watching them take shape, and hopefully serving the community in a positive way.”
His advice to newcomers in his industry mirrors the Golden Rule, “Be open-minded, fair, and treat others in the same manner that you would like to be treated yourself. Interestingly, he also offers advice to even younger people to simply immerse themselves in something they care about, “Anything you can get serious and passionate about as a kid will help prepare you for real life later,” he says. “For me, that was sports.”
And when asked for his professional “words to live by,” Buckley paraphrases the poet, Maya Angelou: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and be unsurprised by anything in between,” he advises. “That pretty much sums up my game-plan in commercial real estate.”
2015: $79.7 million / 2016 projection: $72 million
According to 2015 statistics, Bryan Johnson’s company boasts $2.5 billion in revenue and some $112 billion in transaction value. An outsized chunk of that can be attributed to the efforts of this award-winning broker whose extensive client list includes such names as, American Century Mutual Funds, AMC Theatres, Hallmark and H&R Block.
Where Johnson grew up, in Minnesota near the North Dakota border, if it was snowing and you could still see the house across the street, you had to go to school. Those early lessons in doing what was needed to be done are still serving him well today. “My parents lived through the Depression and worked hard and appreciated everything,” he says, adding, “as Garrison Keillor might say, “we were taught to ‘make the best of it.’ ”
Having a varied childhood is another aspect of his life that Johnson appreciates, “Unlike today, where the focus is on one sport or one extracurricular activity, we were encouraged to be involved in several sports, band, choir, church and summer jobs. It teaches you to be able to interact with and quickly read all types of people.”
Those are important skills for a future commercial real estate broker to develop. But it was a career he pretty much fell into. This one-time “ski bum and concrete finisher” who was somewhat interested in real estate, after meeting some people involved in commercial side of the business, immediately grasped the appeal of a job that rewarded hard work and placed no limits on your income.
It’s really about work ethic, “Assuming you are honest, reasonably intelligent, work hard, understand numbers, can read people quickly and over- communicate,” he says, “it’s not that hard to differen-tiate yourself. The more you put into something the more you get out of it—
it’s really all pretty logical and basic.”
Johnson applies that common-sense approach across the board: “It’s really a numbers game: Pack the pipeline. If you have a list of clients you are chasing and working, there is always something coming out of the other end of the pipe. If you get caught up in only working deals that are already in the pipeline and forego chasing new clients, the deal
His advice to young brokers is to take the long view, stay away from shortcuts, never burn bridges and maintain a “do it now” attitude
As Johnson puts it, success boils down to an early life lesson: “If it’s snowing and you can still see the house across the street—go to work!”
Reece Commercial Real Estate
2015 Sales: $30 million / 2016 projection: $25+ million
This is a fellow who likes to stay busy. In what his online profile calls just his “recent projects,” John Sweeney has sold more than $125 million of investment property, developed over 1.2 million square feet of commercial space, and is currently working on the mammoth 240-acre mixed-use Gateway Sports Village project in Grandview.
The experience of going straight from college into three years of corporate bureaucracy convinced him that he needed something different. “I really wanted to do something on my own,” he says, “and commercial real estate seemed to be a great avenue to do that. I like the creativity of it and the challenge of putting transactions together.”
If you’re sensing some entrepreneurial DNA in his attitude, you’re right. His father owned and operated his own real estate and appraisal businesses, and was the last elected assessor for Jackson County, Mo. “I was always entrepreneurial and a self-starter under the tutelage of my father,” Sweeney states proudly.
But it wasn’t just business acumen he derived from his upbringing. From his home life, to Rockhurst High School, to the University of Missouri and Rockhurst College (where he earned his MBA) John received guidance that helped him become the man he is today. “I was fortunate to
have quality people in my life,” he explains, “to encourage and guide me, especially
my parents, teaching me how to be a
Part of learning to be a good person meant learning how to treat people with kindness and respect. “I often tell our younger agents to help people, give them some time, advise them, because regardless if their real-estate requirement is small, it is a big deal to them, and helping others is the right thing to do.”
The key to differentiation and success in his business, he says, is simple. “Do what you say you are going to do,” is one of his guiding principles, “follow up with people, and treat people nicely, regardless of what they might mean from a business standpoint.”
When asked his thoughts on the cyclical nature of real estate, his creativity wheels start to turn. “During downturns, continue to make contacts and recognize where opportunities might arise,” he advises. He cites leasing small properties and focusing on properties haven’t been given a lot of attention in the past as examples.
Sound advice from a guy who has won his firm’s Top Producer title six years running. Of course, he probably wouldn’t tell you that, given another rule he lives by: “Help others and stay humble.”
Based on sale of 200+ apartment unit properties. 2015: $480 million / 2016 projection: $470 million
Since January of 2015, this member of Ingram’s “4o Under Forty” has facilitated the sale of over 16,300 apartment units totaling $1.2 billion in consideration, including sales volume of $685 million.
It all started for Jeff Stingley when a friend of the family spotted his talent. “I was underwriting potential real estate
loans and updating financial models on existing loans” for a local bank, he recalls, “This gave me my first glimpse of commercial real estate. I asked my father what he knew about the business and he mentioned a family friend.”
That friend, Lou Steele and his business partner, Don Maddox, gave young Stingley his first commercial real estate job, for which he remains wholeheartedly grateful.
But his gratitude begins with Mom and Dad. “I have great, supportive parents that instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age,” he says. And when it was time for college, “They supported my decision to go to an out of state school. Being away on my own for four years forced me to mature and be independent.”
Stingley brought that maturity with him into the commercial real estate world, where me made a careful strategic decision. “I believe you need to focus on a single product type, rather than spreading yourself across several. In his case, that product type is multifamily property. “This way, you can put all of your energy and resources into becoming the most knowledgeable and trusted resource at your particular niche.”
Being that best-in-class, go-to guy is important to Jeff, who stays on the lookout for ways of doing his job better. One of his methods is seeking out and then applying the best practices of peers in other markets. Feeding his knowledge base is a key focus. “I strongly believe in the entrepreneurial mindset of constantly being hungry and keeping an eye out for the next big thing,” he says.
As for surviving cycles, Stingley knows, like anyone else who’s a success in his field, that preparation and planning are key to surviving in a cyclical business. “However, there are opportunities to be had at every point in a cycle,” he notes. “The challenge is identifying and acting on those opportunities.”
And, perhaps recalling the roots of his commercial real estate career, he speaks strongly about the importance of rela-
tionships. “If you carry on the relationships in good times and bad,” he advises, “that will help you weather the cycle,
Kessinger Hunter & Co.
2015: $81.3 million / 2016 projection: $57 million
Greg Swetnam is the man behind the deal that brought the revitalization-spurring H&R Block headquarters to Kansas City’s downtown business district.
“We’ve probably done more headquarters work than anyone,” says Swetnam, whose extensive resume also includes
significant headquarters deals for Apple-bee’s International, Capital One Home Loans and Universal Underwriters Group. And that’s just a portion of his award-winning career.
Small-town values learned in Richmond, Mo., played a big role in putting him on the path to success. “It was a great place,” he says, “with lots of positive influences and role models.”
At age 11, he started working in the gas stations his father managed, which he says helped him develop a strong work ethic. He also credits sports coaches for the confidence and drive that serve him so well.
But it was small-town closeness that helped him understand how to deal with people. “The negotiation process,” he says, “puts you in a position to use
what you’ve learned in the past. You need to know when to push and not to push.”
In college, he earned a degree in horticulture, which led to a job selling ornamental trees and shrubs for a company out of Oklahoma. When the company sent him to investigate some under-performance in Missouri, he went straight to work using those hometown people skills. Getting to know store managers and their needs, he beat out preferred vendors and won the business from 25 Kmart stores with a custom delivery plan that kept their stock fresh and their sell-through high.
He was his company’s No. 1 salesman when he heard about a buddy’s new career in commercial real estate. Some-thing about the job spoke to Swetnam’s instincts. He changed his career path and hasn’t looked back.
His advice to newcomers? “You’ve got to have discipline to learn and understand the process and then figure out what you have that nobody else has. You have to have your own style.”
After that, maintaining relationships becomes key. “Passage of time creates the opportunities,” he says, adding that staying in touch with people whose needs can change at the end of each five-year lease, and helping them stay abreast of the real estate market, is vital to success.
2015: $57 million / 2016 projection: $86 million
More than 1,100 sales and lease transactions valued in excess of $850 million, 21 industrial and office development projects, selling off 27 investment portfolios—and that’s just part of Kevin Wilkerson’s track record. The lessons he learned from his dad, he seems to have learned very well.
Born into a contractor family, Wilkerson started working on construction sites at age 14. His father operated a crane rental company in tandem with a construction partnership. Over the years, he did general labor, ran jackhammers and broke down temporary support structures.
In addition to teaching him hard work and the value of a dollar, Kevin’s father also helped to spark his interest
in real estate. “Dad always invested in retail centers, office centers, farmland, even a marina and resort,” Kevin rem-embers admiringly, “those are the initial things that intrigued me about real estate.”
Recalling the early days of his career, Wilkerson reminisces about prospecting with technology that seems quaint today. “I used to go down to the library and look at microfiche,” he recalls, “At the back of The [Kansas City] Star they would post all the sales and leases. I’d go back 2, 2 years and write them all down.” He would then consult reference sources for contact information.
He still believes in using whatever tools are available. “Everyone can gather the same facts and figures,” he cautions, “What you do with information is what differentiates you.”
Among his tools are innovative information-portrayal technology and an untraditional work process, encompassing parts of a transaction that front-end brokers haven’t traditionally touched. “We get so far beyond economics,” he says, “We look at rights and options that used to be left to the attorneys. We do it up front and I think our clients benefit.”
It’s all about being a complete resource. “Market knowledge is king,” he says, adding: “Understanding conditions and trends is invaluable.”
In fact, he says that weak market conditions are where a solid firm shows its strength. “Opportunities come in the
down cycles,” he says. “We expand our client base in down markets,” says Wilkerson. “We’re constantly cold-calling and
being creative about finding users for buildings.”
And when he calls, he knows the property he’s talking about inside and out. “You have to know your product well,” he says, “others take a more relaxed view. We really dive into every listing we take. I like to think we can answer 90-95% of questions someone might have.”
Two Person Team (KC Market) 2015: $195 million / 2016 projection: $185 million
Working out of Dallas, Gary Carr has been instrumental in closing over 950 equity sales transactions in 60 different markets for a total consideration of $40 billion. Among the markets he’s done deals in is Kansas City, along with colleague Gina Anderson, transactions include the record-setting sale of the Polsinelli Building in Country Club Plaza, which brought the highest price ever paid for an office building in Kansas City.
Carr wasn’t in real estate when he transferred to Dallas in 1979, and when he got there, he saw that commercial real estate was booming. “Dallas was going through very much a growth spurt, he says, “Lots of activity. Some of the most prolific developers in the U.S. were based in Dallas.”
A career change called, but Carr remained grateful for all of his previous experience, especially the time he spent at Xerox. “I learned a lot with Xerox about basic sales skills,” he recalls. “An individual is a problem-solver, a good listener,” he continues, citing the necessity to be ambitious, organized, and someone “who learns the basics and the value of getting out and prospecting for business.”
“Prospects lead to suspects and suspects lead to sales,” is among the basic rules Carr lives by professionally. Growing up in Iowa, he says, provided a great atmosphere for developing that kind of uncomplicated, sincere work ethic. “We had a great life,” he remembers, “but didn’t feel entitled.”
As the children of an Iowa Catholic high school teacher/coach, and a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mom, Carr says he and his seven siblings learned early that they needed to work hard and make their opportunities in life. “My parents were very grounded,” he says, “They always instilled very down-to-earth values. They taught us confidence and to do the right thing.”
And it’s that steady confidence that has helped Carr build a successful career. “You just have to stay steady. Never get overly confident,” he advises. “Stay disciplined and you’re going to be fine,” he adds. “Stay with it and in front of people and there’s always going to be transaction activity in one form or another.”
What skills should newcomers develop? “I’m probably a good listerner and pretty good interpersonally with people, Gary says, “You certainly have to take the ego out. It’s all about your customer. It’s not about you.”
It’s also about collaboration. “I’ve learned the value of working collaboratively with complementary talent. Not every individual has all the skills they need.” Where Gary enjoys being in front of clients, he values partners with financial and other expertise that make deals happen. “The devil is in the details,” he says, “having good quality people as partners is always important. No one can do it all on their own.”
Asked for advice to new brokers, he says. “Don’t look at the clock. Do what the clock does. Get moving.”
Three Person Team (KC Market) 2015: $53 million / 2016 projection: $120 million
Denver-based Mark Katz has closed $5.5 billion in investment sales transactions over the course of his career. In Kansas City, his three member team, including Jeff Bramson and Jaime Fink, accomplishments include the Zurich Building in Overland Park, Kan., ($42 million) and his Van Eyck & del Sarto transaction in Overland Park, ($25.3 million).
Katz didn’t have to find the real estate profession. It found him. At age 13, he started working as a janitor and painter in his family’s apartment buildings and shopping centers, carrying on a proud tradition of hard work that began with his grandfather. He was a German immigrant who came to America through Ellis Island with, as Mark puts it, “three kids and a couple of dollars.”
Grandfather went on to build a dry-cleaning business and, as any small business owner can tell you, times were sometimes tough. He instilled the importance of hard work in his kids, and Katz’s dad passed the tradition along.
How much stock did his father put into a solid work ethic? He once fired his son for showing up 20 minutes late. “I had to beg to get the job back,” Katz recalls.
That lost job lesson is reflected in an attitude he carries to this day—an aversion to the thought of losing. “The most successful people in this business just hate losing,” he says, even more than they enjoy winning.
While he’s passionate about not losing, Katz speaks with special urgency about the value of reputation and treating people fairly. “All you have is your reputation. No one deal is ever going to make me enough to retire on so there is nothing that could make me cut a corner on a deal just to make a fee,” he emphasizes, “because once you burn a bridge, it’s burned forever. And then your reputation is burned, too.”
He offers a way for others in the business to keep that in mind.: “We have a saying that it’s a short walk from the penthouse to the outhouse.” And understanding that means understanding the value of maintaining penthouse standards of integrity: “We always put the client interest ahead of ourselves and ahead of our firm.” No one deal is ever going to make him enough to retire
Demeanor is important, too. His advice for new brokers includes, “Be likeable and work harder than anyone else. People want to do business with people they like.”
Mark says he never had to think much about career choice, given his family’s involvement in real estate and he approaches it with the same attitude his grandfather probably approached dry cleaning with: “Be the first in, the last to leave and work harder than anyone else.”