In this executive Q&A, we spoke with Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates, a leading national real estate recruiting firm, and Griffin Cogorno, director of client services at Unire Real Estate Group, a premier commercial real estate property, construction and asset management firm that manages nearly 40 million square feet of space in Southern and Northern (now!) California. Kent and Griffin discuss Unire’s current activity, expansion and how to leverage human capital to achieve long-term goals.
Connect Media: Tell us more about the state of the hiring market in the Bay Area, Unire’s current activity and the significance of this recent placement.
Kent Elliott (KE): We continue to experience a demand for real estate professionals across the West Coast. In fact, there is no slowdown in hiring for construction and development managers, asset managers, financial analysts, and of course property managers. The Bay Area particularly represents nearly 50 percent of RETS’ open searches right now. The continued demand for talent has also caused compensation packages to rise for new and existing employees. During the past three years, compensation packages have increased an average of 15-25 percent, and in tighter, more competitive markets like San Francisco, they have spiked by 40 percent.
Griffin Cogorno (GC): We are undoubtedly in the midst of a hiring war for top talent. This is why we partnered with RETS on a recent search for a property manager in San Francisco. We previously managed nearly 4 million square feet in the Bay Area and set a goal at the beginning of this year to expand back into the market. Recently, we were awarded the management assignment for a private client in Mountain View that was looking for a more hands-on approach. In order to meet these needs, RETS led the search for a property manager that could open a new office for us in Mountain View also. This was a great opportunity to expand Unire Group back in the Bay Area to be a part of the dynamic market and tremendous growth opportunities.
In the new office, we now have one property manager that is dedicated to the entire 500,000‑square-foot office and flex industrial portfolio. Additionally, we are looking to build a team around her, including a roving engineer and a CRE‑focused assistant property manager.
With this team, we anticipate continued expansion not only on the Peninsula, but also into the City and East Bay. We plan to grow the portfolio and our office into a regional presence in the market. We’re one of the largest regional industrial managers in Southern California and we’re hoping to grow that portfolio from San Diego all the way up to the Bay Area.
Connect Media: Human capital is critical to the success of any company. Please describe what that ideal candidate looked like and how you found her.
GC: We have a dynamic group of employees and therefore culture is very important to us. The expansion into San Francisco marked our fourth office, and because we’re headquartered in Orange County, we were in search of a unique person that could operate in a satellite office, act and excel independently, and still be productive and accountable. This person also needed to have the experience to make decisions quickly to move the portfolio forward in partnership with the client.
KE: In order to find the ideal candidate to fit Unire’s needs, the RETS team dove deep into the culture to both understand and recommend traits and qualities for this portfolio manager role. Many companies evaluate only the candidates that apply to them; however this is an unrealistic assessment of the available talent pool.
In a healthy economy with increasing talent demands, companies must compete for talent with the total package of growth opportunities, appealing office cultures and increases in compensation packages. People want to be part of a company and culture that is complementary to where they are in life.
GC: We believe this hire is the most important piece to the success of our expansion and we therefore enlisted the help of the RETS team. RETS understood what it was that we needed from this candidate, both internally and client facing. I was not expecting an outsourced recruitment partner to learn so much about our culture, needs and wants – this proved that they were a true advisor, an extension of our team and gave us the confidence that we would find the right match to help us meet our goals. The firm understood the dynamics of our company, our situation and our executive level skill set, and presented a panel of candidates that were all great fits.
Connect Media: Give us your perspective on CRE and hiring moving forward in this cycle.
KE: We are seeing less new talent entering the industry. However, today we have five different generations in the workforce, and each of them has different needs and wants. As we continue forward in this competitive environment, employers need to recognize that more people leave for lack of recognition and appreciation than for compensation reasons; money is a short-term fix for a long-term problem.
Likewise, younger industry professionals need to step back from the appeal of more money and assess the company and opportunity as a whole. This assessment includes understanding the capitalization of the firm, the culture, its industry specialization, people, management and more. We advise talent of all ages that the ‘grass isn’t always greener on the other side’ and continue to stress the importance of doing your homework and understanding all the components, including growth plans.
As we mentioned earlier, there is continued demand for asset management, construction and project management, financial analysis and, of course, the field property level positions. In fact, both construction and development searches in 2016 will surpass previous years.
GC: We’re at a time in this real estate cycle where a lot of our clients and potential clients are looking for someone to take a more hands-on approach. Having someone in the Bay Area that is experienced and can dive in to go that extra mile for a client is extremely important in our growth. We have to be substantially better than our competition and strive to do so being a regional firm – offering our clients unparalleled attention to detail and experience. That’s true in hiring, and it’s true for the work we do as well. We’re really busy, not only with this Bay Area expansion, but with construction management and global portfolio growth. We see redevelopment as being a major focus for the next year or two as acquisitions subside a bit, and we feel that there’s a lot of opportunity for growth and the ability to add value to our clients portfolio using our experience and creative team.
This has been a long real estate cycle, and I think we have another 18 to 24 months to go before we slow down again. There is a lack of flex and industrial inventory, and we believe it’s this lack of supply that is driving construction across the state. Additionally, tenants are getting smarter about the space they’re using and owners are therefore getting more creative about the real estate they’re delivering. In the end, it pushes the envelope for everyone, and it is this competition that creates good-quality real estate.