By Christine Perez
In this edition of 1-on-1, office tenant rep Billy Gannon chats with property management leader Christy Means. They talk about how the commercial real estate industry is evolving, the most important California relocations they’ve ever engineered, their mutual love of practical jokes, and other surprising things they have in common.
A Director within Cushman & Wakefield’s Tenant Advisory Group, Billy Gannon provides guidance to office clients in Dallas-Fort Worth and around the country and around the world. A former President of Cushman & Wakefield’s Future Leaders group and a graduate of TREC’s Associate Leadership Council program, he is actively involved in a number of real estate and community organizations, including TREC, NTCAR, SMU Real Estate Society, and Jesuit Real Estate Group. He holds a BBA degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University.
Managing Director of Asset Services Christy Means leads property management operations in Dallas, overseeing 15 million square feet of office, industrial, and retail space. She previously held a similar role at Stream Realty Partners, where she helped grow the firm’s property management portfolio by 90 percent during her four-year tenure. Prior to that, she held leadership roles at Cobalt Capital Partners and Transwestern Commercial Services. An active member of IREM, BOMA, and CREW, she earned a BBA degree in Marketing from Baylor University.
BILLY GANNON: So, Christy, you’ve been here how long now?
CHRISTY MEANS: Just starting month seven.
GANNON: Oh, good. You’ve got it all figured out.
GANNON: What brought you to Cushman & Wakefield?
MEANS: I was approached by Bret [Bunnett] and John Patterson. I was intrigued by the firm’s expansive platform and that I’d be able to offer clients services I didn’t have access before. We have so many strong service lines, beyond brokerage and management. It’s nice because we can be a one-stop shop.
GANNON: Absolutely. So, more than six months in, what’s your take?
MEANS: I love the culture. The people are very friendly. I love the changes Ran [Holman] is making. We’ve had a couple of hurdles with regard to transitions, but things are moving in the right direction and I’m pleased with how smoothly everything is going.
GANNON: No question. When you essentially have three companies all coming together under one roof, it’s not an easy thing to manage. Ran has done a phenomenal job of navigating things.
MEANS: So, how did you get started in commercial real estate?
GANNON: I began my career in commercial appraising. I worked for 15 months at DCAD [Dallas County Appraisal District] and earned my stripes there. It was a great introduction to the industry, from learning the market and evaluating properties to negotiating with consultants. After I got my real estate license, I interviewed with everyone under the sun. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to work with Bob Edge and Matt Heidelbaugh and Gary Collett, and it will be 11 years at Cushman & Wakefield this month.
MEANS: So what have been some of the keys to your success?
GANNON: You’re going to have to work hard wherever you are, but great mentors can help you avoid some mistakes brokers can make early on in their careers. They can help provide perspective. You can’t wait around in brokerage; you always have to be working hard and moving things forward and not taking no for an answer. At the same time, in the grand scheme of your career, you have to have patience. A key is balancing those two things, which can seem to be mutually exclusive.
MEANS: Was commercial real estate your major?
GANNON: Finance. I grew up in Dallas. Went to high school here, then SMU.
MEANS: You attended Jesuit, right?
GANNON: I did.
MEANS: My son goes there. It’s a great school.
GANNON: It is. You develop relationships with people who end up staying in Dallas. I still have 11 best friends from Jesuit, and we hang out a couple of times a month, at least.
MEANS: I hear that often about the school. I’m glad my son is there.
GANNON: It’s a great place for him. Where are you from originally?
MEANS: I’m a native Texan, too. I grew up on the outskirts of Cleburne and went to a small school called Grandview, with a graduating class of 54 kids.
MEANS: My parents moved to Texas from New York before I was born. My dad wanted to own a farm, so I grew up with animals all around me.
GANNON: And now you work with animals.
MEANS: [laughs] Oh, you mean brokers.
GANNON: I do. We’ve been called worse.
MEANS: I never really thought of myself of a farm girl. I always felt more like a city girl. I like having easy access to things and not having it be a destination trip to go to a grocery store.
GANNON: So what do you like to do for fun?
MEANS: I love to travel. That is a big hobby of mine, if it’s considered a hobby.
GANNON: It’s the best hobby to you can have. What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited?
MEANS: I love Italy. I’ve been to Panama three times, a small town called Boquete. It’s near the rain forest, and the best thing about it is there’s no cell service.
GANNON: No one can track you down.
MEANS: Exactly. More and more, I find I select my destinations based on cell service, or rather the lack thereof.
GANNON: It makes sense. In our 24/7 work environment, you have to disconnect once in a while.
MEANS: I think you owe it to yourself and the people you work with, because you come back refreshed and recharged and in a new frame of mind.
GANNON: Absolutely. So where’s your next trip?
MEANS: In a couple of weeks, I’m taking a cruise to Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya, and Cozumel.
GANNON: What will you do when you make port at these places?
MEANS: We’re going to an underwater cave area, which sounds exciting, and at another stopover we’re going to see the Mayan ruins.
GANNON: Besides Panama, have you been to Central America?
MEANS: I have. I truly love traveling and try to do it as often as I can.
GANNON: My wife and I love to travel, too. It’s the only thing you can buy that actually makes you richer. If you want to spend your money well, spend it on travel.
MEANS: It provides incredible experiences and creates great memories.
GANNON: And it gives you something to look forward to. Having that big trip on the horizon provides motivation.
MEANS: Where all have you been?
GANNON: We went to Iceland, which was incredible.
MEANS: Did you see the Northern Lights?
GANNON: We did not, which gives us a reason to go back. We went to Argentina last year. I didn’t warn my wife enough about a 21-mile hike through the Patagonian Andes, which took nine hours, in freezing-cold rain. She was wearing Steve Madden faux hiking boots. When everyone on the trail stops her and says, “Oh my gosh, I love your boots. They’re so cute.” You can bet she didn’t get them at REI. They’re meant for hanging around the campfire, not hiking up the mountains. So, that was fun.
MEANS: [laughs] Any upcoming trips in the works?
GANNON: We are looking at Scotland. My wife studied there for nine months and it’s one of her favorite places in the world. I have a friend/client who’s from there, so we’re trying to see if we can team up and make something happen this summer.
MEANS: Do you play golf?
GANNON: I can move the ball around a little bit. My wife is better than me, so I’m not sure that we’ll play together, for the betterment of our marriage. She has already played at St. Andrews.
MEANS: That’s awesome. The two of you are still newlyweds, is that right?
GANNON: It will be two years in June. My wife was living in California and met some cousins of mine at a wedding. The wife of one of my cousins told her about me and said he’s a little crazy, but … Lo and behold, a couple of months later, McKenna was in town. We had coffee, and I gave her my best sales pitch on Dallas. It ended up being a one-person corporate relocation. I told her about all of the advantages of coming to Dallas … affordable housing, central location, two great airports, no state income tax. She definitely negotiated some incentives, and there were some claw-backs in terms of deadlines, but we were married a year later.
MEANS: That’s a great story. Similarly, my fiancé is living in California; he’ll move here in September. So I’ve been doing the long-distance thing, too.
GANNON: One of the advantages of long-distance relationships is you really have to communicate well, and you get to really know the person.
MEANS: Especially with the time zone difference.
GANNON: I know, right? It’s only two hours, but it seems like night and day.
MEANS: It does. I have my cutoff, at 10 p.m.
GANNON: How did the two of you meet?
MEANS: George and I met when I was a junior at Baylor. I was hired to manage a retail store, and he was a district manager who was brought in to get the store ready. So, we spent a month together, every day, but nothing romantic happened at the time. He went back to California then stopped back a few months later on his way to Florida and asked me out to dinner. We made it work for a while, but the distance ultimately became too much of a hardship. About three years ago, he found me on LinkedIn and reached out. I said, “This is not going to happen. You live too far away.” And he said, “Well, let me just come to Dallas.” And now, here we are, engaged to be married this fall.
GANNON: That’s great.
MEANS: What does your wife do?
GANNON: She works at the Family Place here in Dallas, as one of their head fundraisers. Cushman & Wakefield was a sponsor last year, which was awesome. The new Cushman has done a great job of putting our brand out there, getting involved with our clients and their nonprofits. I have always been proud to work here, but it’s even more fun now with this new energy and you’re feeling it in the market place.
MEANS: It’s important to be involved in the community and making sure we’re giving back in some form or fashion.
GANNON: Absolutely. … What does George do?
MEANS: He works for the California Highway Patrol as an investigator. He specifically works for a task force protecting children. He helps locate pedophiles, sex traffickers, and things like that. It’s an extremely difficult job.
GANNON: Will he do something similar in Texas?
MEANS: He will not. He likes teaching and is super smart when it comes to computer engineering and cyber-security. So, I could see him as a CIO or teaching. I just want him to have fun and do whatever he finds most rewarding.
GANNON: Cyber-security is so important these days. I imagine that area is exploding with opportunities. … So do you just have one son?
MEANS: I have two boys. My oldest is 26 and my youngest is 16, so they’re 10 years apart.
GANNON: And what’s the oldest doing these days?
MEANS: He has a frame shop in Frisco, at Legacy and Lebanon. Chase has always been artistic and entrepreneurial, and this has been a passion of his. He is doing well and really loves it. Preston, the 16-year-old, is thinking that he wants to get into commercial real estate. He thinks that he wants to go to school on either the West Coast or East Coast.
GANNON: Well, Dallas is a great place where you can be from, go somewhere else and work for a while, then come back.
MEANS: He’s interested in California, and attending USC.
GANNON: That’s where my wife went to school.
MEANS: Really? We’re finding out about all of these things we have in common.
GANNON: Another thing I think we have in common is a love of practical jokes.
MEANS: Oh, yes. I may look innocent, but I have a somewhat sick sense of humor.
GANNON: What’s one of your best pranks?
MEANS: I once had an employee who had two stuffed monkeys on her desk. She made a comment about how they harnessed her power. So, I couldn’t help myself. I kidnapped them and put duct tape around them and took pictures and sent her a ransom note. I have no poker face. I pretty much had to avoid her. It went on for a while, and she never suspected that it was me. It was the funniest thing.
GANNON: First of all, it’s a great practical joke. Second, it’s funny because I did something similar to a co-worker at my previous job. He had a prized Beanie Baby on his desk. He wasn’t cooperating with others in the office, so we had to kidnap the Beanie Baby and do things like threaten to cut its head off with the paper cutter. As a reserve officer in the Army, he responded by saying, “My policy is to not negotiate with terrorists. So you can tell my Beanie Baby goodbye.”
MEANS: [laughs] That’s hilarious. I can’t believe it. I’ve also heard you’re quite the wine guy.
GANNON: I do enjoy a good red, especially a Malbec. I’m working on creating a list of the best value wines, those that are priced under $20 but drink as though they cost $100 or more. I’ve got about six or seven on my list right now; they are my go-to’s.
MEANS: Anything from the Willamette Valley?
GANNON: Yes, in Oregon. I have a pinot noir on the list. I also enjoy wine documentaries. One, called Somm, is about four people who try to become certified sommeliers. The exam that year just happened to be held at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas. The candidates are presented with three reds and three whites. They have to be able to say what type of wine it is, where it’s from, and the vintage, just by smelling and tasting it. It’s incredible.
MEANS: I wish I had the taste buds for that.
GANNON: It is clearly a labor of love.
MEANS: So, Billy, when I Googled your name, I did not find a Facebook account.
MEANS: But I did find a Billy Gannon who was a running back for SMU.
GANNON: Yes, that’s my dad. I am a third-generation Pony. My grandmother was president of her sorority in the 1930s. My dad was there in the 1960s, and I was there in the late 1990s. It’s a fantastic school with a great presence here in Dallas.
MEANS: It’s like the college version of Jesuit, in a way, because the fraternity continues with people you meet there.
GANNON: Especially in commercial real estate, a business that is so relationship-driven. It gives you a head start in pursuing business. And, by the way, the best book I’ve ever read on that subject is Never Eat Alone. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. The author talks about the power of helping other people. You don’t do it so others send you business, but that’s what happens. At some point, they would love to return the favor. And in the meantime, you get to feel good doing the right thing.
GANNON: You also try to be at the center of a lot of different groups. For the last four years, I’ve hosted two breakfast groups, a real estate one and a non-real estate one. It’s fantastic because you get to meet people in a lot of different industries, whether it’s private equity, oil and gas, or whatever. And you help them and make those introductions to your clients. They help each other; everyone is grateful and everyone benefits. … So, Christy, what is your 2018 economic prediction?
MEANS: Obviously, I think commercial real estate will continue to do well. I don’t see any signs that indicate otherwise. The great thing about Dallas is our economy is so diversified.
GANNON: I agree. I think Dallas and North Texas overall is very well-positioned, from a market standpoint and a commercial real estate standpoint. We have a lot of strong industries and continue to lead the nation in corporate relocations, job growth, and population growth. In terms of activity level, I think 2018 will be similar to 2017.
MEANS: I’m curious about how the industry has changed, from your viewpoint, since you got into the business 11 years ago.
GANNON: Along with the densification of space, which has been a huge trend, one thing I’ve noticed is end-users are evaluating their real estate much farther in advance of lease expirations. Dallas is the most competitive real estate town in the world. I don’t care what New York says. Everyone in Dallas has a commercial real estate relationship. So, you really have to find a way to distinguish yourself.
MEANS: And how do you do that?
GANNON: I think the best way is to become their partner. You’re not just their real estate consultant, you are helping grow their business. You are making introductions and sending them referrals. You are becoming 100 percent aligned with them. That’s what solidifies those relationships.
MEANS: I would agree. When I was a property manager, one of my favorite things to do was connect tenants with other tenants. It’s amazing the value that can create.
GANNON: What else do you do to try to differentiate yourself?
MEANS: I have experience on the ownership side. So, being able to think like an owner, I think, makes me better at my job in helping guide and direct properties … understanding the ownership strategies and managing to support them.
GANNON: That’s a definite strength. … What has you most excited about the future?
MEANS: Well, personally, and obviously, I’m most excited about getting married.
GANNON: When’s the big day?
MEANS: October 6, in Plano. I’m excited to finally have George in the same state. And professionally, I’m very excited about the way we’re growing and building the property management platform. I’ve been working very hard on building and fortifying our team.
GANNON: You have a big team.
MEANS: I do. We have nearly 120 people. My favorite part has been getting to know all of the property managers and engineers and where they live, hearing about their kids and grandkids, what they do for their hobbies. It helps me with my big chessboard in where to put people in the future.
GANNON: Those details matter a great deal. If you can make someone’s life easier by moving them to a property that’s closer to home, that can make a big difference.
MEANS: Exactly. I preach the life-work balance it. It’s important.
GANNON: And I understand the Property Management group recently got some recognition from the Building Owners and Managers Association?
MEANS: Yes. We had some fierce competition, but won two BOMA Lone Star Awards. Jessica Beltrand was named Assistant Property Manager of the Year and Benny Miles was named Chief Engineer of the Year. We also had three finalists: Lynne Hetimanek, Michelle Rochester, and Doug Simmer.
GANNON: It’s always great to be recognized by your peers in the industry.
MEANS: It’s very rewarding. … So, what are you looking forward to in 2018?
GANNON: I think it’s going to be a strong year for Dallas and Cushman & Wakefield in particular. All of the cylinders are firing, which allows us to go after and compete for the top tenants in the market. With the tools and people we have in place, we can go after any deal in Dallas.
MEANS: It seems like a lot of the right people are in the right seats, and we continue to attract new talent. I think Cushman & Wakefield is the strongest it has ever been in Dallas.