(First of a two-part series)
Commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield and longtime C&W executive John Santora have each reached a noteworthy and significant milestone this year. The storied New York City-based brokerage firm is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, while Santora is marking his 40th year with the firm.
Globest.com recently sat down with C&W vice chairman Santora, who was appointed president of Cushman & Wakefield’s Tri-State region last October and officially took on the role in November. The New York City native previously led the global integration between Cushman and DTZ as global COO. He has held a variety of leadership positions at the local, national and global levels throughout his tenure with Cushman & Wakefield, including CEO of North America and global head of Cushman’s client services business. In 2010 he held the positions of president and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield’s Corporate Occupier & Investor Services group.
Santora at his offices at 1290 Ave. of the Americas discussed the current state of the New York City markets and growth plans for the global commercial real estate brokerage and services firm.
Globest.com: Cushman & Wakefield is celebrating its Centennial anniversary. Are you holding any events or having any special programs in connection with the brokerage firm’s 100th anniversary?
Santora: We are having a Client Appreciation event in October with our top professionals and clients here in New York at the World Trade Center. That has a lot of meaning for us; very much so, from the standpoint that C&W was a team that worked with J.P. Morgan in selling the original World Trade Center to Larry Silverstein and then we lease One World Trade from Durst and the Port Authority. We also manage the complex, not the buildings themselves, but all the infrastructure…
It’s an exciting time for us, a lot of firms don’t make it this long.
Globest.com: As head of the tri-state region, how many employees do you oversee?
Santora: It’s about 2,500 corporate and with the facilities staff you are probably looking at another between 5,000 to 6,000 or so. I oversee all the services we provide from brokerage, capital markets, property management, facility management, valuation, retail, industrial and consulting.
Globest.com: Overseeing that many employees, do you sometimes find that a bit daunting?
Santora: It is in its own way. It isn’t when I look at what I have done in the past. It is exciting as hell, it really is. But I was global chief operating officer of the firm twice, I was president of the Americas twice so I handled much more geography then. Here, I can make a day-to-day impact.
Globest.com: What are some of the bright spots you experience on a day-to-day basis and what are some of the challenges you see?
Santora: The bright spot is New York is home. I know a lot of the clients. I know a lot of the people. I know the real estate in the market pretty well. I grew up here. Even though I have worked outside of it, I know this market.
This is an opportunity for me to bring all that we have globally to a local market. So I can go meet with one of my clients who I have done business with in London and Tokyo and built relationships with outside of this market. So I can bring the global down to the local. I have the connections to support them the other way out. For example, if I am talking to one of our clients or to a potential client here and he says, “I don’t need anything in New York, but what do you have in London,” I know the players, I know the market a little bit so I can make those connections around the world for people.
I think the challenge in New York and in the Tri-State is growth. How do we continue to grow? We are a big, big player in the market… We will look at some acquisitions, particularly outside of Manhattan…
I look at markets like Brooklyn and Queens adding (people there) because we are very big on the capital markets side there. We are growing our leasing. We can grow our property management more. So how do we expand all those services we talked about and make them strong in each market? That is both the challenge and opportunity.
Globest.com: Are you planning any new initiatives this year?
Santora: The initiatives are centered around growth and around strengthening Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, strengthening parts of New Jersey and Connecticut from a service line perspective.
From a brokerage perspective, we are really strong (in those markets)…
Globest.com: So therefore you are not looking to add any more brokers?
Santora: We always look at talent. It’s like (when you see) a good athlete, you will always grab a good athlete.
Globest.com: In terms of possible acquisitions, what exactly are you looking at brokerage firms or more service-related companies?
Santora: More on the service side in Brooklyn and Queens and we are looking at opportunities in New Jersey and Connecticut.
Globest.com: One of the great things about the New York City metro market is its diversity. At present the markets in Manhattan are pretty strong, while Westchester is reinventing itself and New Jersey is having its issues as well. How do you see the markets you serve heading?
Santora: If you look at Manhattan right now, the leasing market is solid. You got a lot of big deals happening—Hudson Yards, Manhattan West and these new developments are exciting. They are great opportunities for people to pick up big blocks of space in brand new buildings, be more efficient in it and be part of the future… So it is a good steady market with a lot of big deals happening. The TAMI industry is still growing, the financial services industry is growing again. That is exciting.
A lot of those jobs in the financial services sector are technology jobs. The deal that was done at Manhattan West with JPMorgan was for their technology group… That was a nice deal and I think we will see some more of that as we go forward.
In Downtown Manhattan, when I look at the World Trade Center redevelopment, it is fabulous and there is a lot of excitement because it is becoming a 24-hour city there—you got live, work and play. You have great restaurants, great retail. So it’s an exciting market there.
Overall, the market is solid. It is not hot; we are a little concerned about where it is going. But, it is an OK market in Manhattan… Obviously there is a lot of discussion around retail. Retail now is very specific to location. You still have some real strong spots and you have some locations that are not as strong. I think the exciting thing is how retail and industrial and the whole e-commerce are coming together… The industrial product is the hottest product in the country right now and potentially the hottest product in the world. The valuations have continued to rise for the last five or six years and the rents are rising significantly. So, let’s just stay in our market. In New Jersey there is “nothing” (industrial real estate) to buy. There are so few properties on the market and so many bidders chasing them and the developments are spoken for with tenants as soon as they get approval, even before they break ground in most cases. And it is driven by e-commerce. Amazon, Wayfair and others need places if they are going to get it to you in one day, it has to be close, right?
Note: In the second part of the interview, Santora discusses his views on the local markets and the changes he has experienced over the four decades he has been in the commercial real estate business at Cushman & Wakefield.