We are in a development boom. Companies are building, merging, acquiring, repositioning and growing. The national unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, and – according to industry estimates – commercial real estate currently projects at half that amount. The result is a highly publicized war for talent where the best way to secure a top candidate entails accelerating timely interviews of and decision making on prospective new team members.
In this Executive Q&A, Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates, a leading search and staffing firm that focuses specifically on the real estate industry, and Greg Moore, Senior Vice President of Property Management at Catellus, a national leader in mixed-use and retail development, discuss their insights and observations around finding the right team members in today’s highly competitive marketplace for top talent.
Kent Elliott (KE): Please describe the evolution of your business and the growth of a new asset management platform within Catellus.
Greg Moore (GM): I joined Catellus in 2005 prior to its merger with ProLogis. During the merger, I facilitated the integration of new operations and growth policies within the new company, and turned to RETS to help build our team at that time.
Flash-forward to 2014, the Catellus team was engaged by a well-known private equity firm to help with the launch of a new company, Evergreen Industrial, and the acquisition of a six-million-square-foot portfolio from ProLogis, including the negotiations, contracts, due diligence and staffing.
The launch of Evergreen Industrial progressed quickly, and the team had an immediate need for an asset manager. To fill that need, I approached RETS to find an ideal candidate who could start within our two-month timeline; and we had very little wiggle room with that timeline and needed to meet that deadline exactly. RETS was able to meet our expectations, and find someone who was an excellent fit for the role. Since then, the platform has continued to grow and we’ve hired a second asset manager and a financial analyst.
KE: With this new platform, please discuss how you built a new team and the roles that each team member plays.
GM: With the launch of the new platform, we were growing very fast and recognized that speed was essential in identifying and securing new talent. Even though Evergreen Industrial was backed by a firm with more than $70 billion in assets, for all intents and purposes, it was a startup with a horizontal, entrepreneurial structure.
As a company, we weren’t looking for specialists. We needed adaptable people that could work in a quickly evolving environment. At the time, we didn’t have any processes in place; we were creating them and needed a team that could drive that change. During the interview process, some people embraced that challenge, while others shied away from that sort of work environment. Throughout the search, RETS’ primary objective was to secure top talent that would thrive in a start-up-like environment.
Having a partner that could independently and efficiently source this type of team member was critical. In the short time since RETS began the search, we hired three people with the asset-manager and financial-analyst skillsets that we required and who also fit Evergreen Industrial’s entrepreneurial culture.
KE: How did you ensure that each hire would fit into the existing culture at Catellus?
GM: While the overall hiring process did move quickly, we invested the proper amount of time during the interview process. We brought each finalist candidate into the office and really got to know them – and let them get to know us. Clear communications was key. We were transparent about what qualities we wanted to ensure a strong mutual fit. We sought for and hired people that would embrace our entrepreneurial, start-up culture. Fortunately, we found people who bought into it and – when we did – we moved swiftly to hire them.
KE: How did you work with RETS to identify what you needed in a candidate, and how did this evolve to fulfill the needs of subsequent hires? How did RETS help to manage the recruiting and hiring process?
GM: When I first spoke with Kent Elliott at RETS, I needed him and his firm to provide a high-quality hire within a tight timeline. He said he and his team could deliver, with the stipulation that I had to commit to that time frame, too. RETS made it clear that the only way we were going to land the ideal person within our timeframe was by committing to timely interviews and decision-making on our end. We had to take that commitment on our end very seriously.
RETS delivered a great panel of candidates quickly. Internally, we created an expedited decision-making process to evaluate them. Ultimately, our first new hire started exactly two months after our first meeting, following multiple rounds of interviews that we handled efficiently.
During the search process, the biggest success we had was securing our first asset manager hire. She was a finalist candidate with another company whose interview process had stretched for more than four months. Due to RETS’ advice, we worked quickly to make a decision on her hire and brought her onboard.
That was an important lesson for us. In the current state of the real estate market, companies like ours have no choice but to move quickly if they want to secure the best talent. However, acting on expedited timelines takes adequate preparation. We met with RETS to discuss each candidate profile prior to the start of the search to refine qualifications, attributes and experience we were looking for in each position. During those discussions, based on its knowledge of our operations and culture, RETS recommended additional skills and traits to consider when reviewing applicants to further accelerate our hiring process.
KE: Were there any surprises over the course of the three searches?
GM: These hires were our first ones since the economy significantly improved. There was a noticeable difference in hiring now than in hiring during the recession. Now, candidates have much more bargaining leverage due to the low unemployment numbers in the real estate industry. Today, the pool of talent is much tighter. Many top candidates are employed, and are likely talking to multiple companies when pursuing new opportunities, which reinforces our need to make decisions quickly.
RETS provided guidance to help us understand where the market is today, what kind of employee we wanted and what is expected of compensation packages – because salaries and benefits packages are significantly higher than they were a few years ago.
KE: What are the results of the placements and new team today?
GM: Today, all three of the candidates that we secured are fully integrated members of our team and are thriving. There is always a little bit of hesitation when spending money for staffing a team. Many times, you think you will be able to find someone at the next conference, or on LinkedIn, or at BOMA. But, at the end of the day, it’s more efficient to give that task to someone else, so that you focus on your own work and advance in your own position.
The Evergreen Industrial platform has a lot of runway left to grow, and we hope that these three hires are merely the first of more to come. RETS will be right there with us as we do expand.