by Christine Perez
In this edition of 1-on-1, Agency Leasing pro Chris Taylor sits down for an in-depth conversation with Office Tenant Rep Kate Sudol. They talk about lessons learned, careers they might have had, parenting strategies, and standing out in an ultra-competitive real estate market.
An Executive Managing Director, Chris Taylor plays an active role in value creation for clients’ real estate investments, developing marketing and leasing strategies, and performing day-to-day leasing for their assets in the Dallas market. A proven standout in the market, he was recently named to D CEO’s Dallas 500, which recognizes the region’s most influential business leaders. During his career, Taylor has created highly successful marketing programs for more than 100 office properties and closed more than 15 million square feet of transactions. He is a proud graduate of Texas Tech University, where he earned bachelor degrees in finance and accounting, and serves on board of the school’s Rawl’s College of Business.
Senior Associate Kate Sudol specializes in Office Tenant Representation and primarily works with corporate and headquarters clients. Before getting into commercial real estate in May 2016, she worked for eight years at Summit Alliance Cos., where she launched an annuity division and was promoted to co-lead business development for Benefit Harbor, a subsidiary company. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management at Arkansas State University (Summa Cum Laude honors), where she played Division I volleyball for four years and three as team captain.
KATE SUDOL: OK. I’ll get things started. Ladies first, right?
CHRIS TAYLOR: I’m ready!
SUDOL: So, Chris, you are well established within the industry, with a successful career that spans more than 30 years. I’m one of those who believes in the old adage that behind every great man is an even greater woman.
TAYLOR: Very true.
SUDOL: And I’ve heard you have a great one in your wife, Wendy.
TAYLOR: Absolutely. I literally bought an engagement ring for Wendy within a few weeks of meeting her. She took my heart. We have been married for almost 25 years now and have three great sons. I’m very blessed. To your point, she has made me a better man in all respects, whether it’s as a father, a business person, or a husband—she is my rock.
SUDOL: How did the two of you meet?
TAYLOR: We met through mutual friends who invited us to join them for dinner. I was 29 and Wendy was 23 at the time, so we are six years apart. … How did you meet your husband?
SUDOL: Ours is the old familiar story of meeting in a bar. It was a piano bar in Memphis, and we met at 1 o’clock in the morning. Those who know Eric and me know we both like to talk business. We struck up a conversation, and he gave me his business card. He’s about six years older than me.
TAYLOR: So it’s the same age gap as Wendy and me.
SUDOL: Yes. We were both at the piano bar with friends. I decided to follow up with an e-mail. After that, we made many more trips back to Beale Street and the bar we met at, Pat O’Brien’s. We actually had dueling pianos at our wedding, because they were so significant in our meeting.
TAYLOR: That’s great. And you’ve been married for how long now?
SUDOL: It’s coming up on seven years.
TAYLOR: What brought the two of you to Dallas?
SUDOL: Eric’s career. He works in sports (as a corporate marketing and sales executive for the Dallas Cowboys). I followed him to Dallas after I graduated from college; I was about a year-and-a-half behind him.
TAYLOR: Did you go to school in Memphis?
SUDOL: No. I went to Arkansas State University. I played Division I volleyball, and it was a fantastic experience. It was in a dry county though, so we’d travel to Memphis when we wanted to have a good time. It’s about an hour away. … I understand you’re quite partial to your alma mater, Texas Tech University.
TAYLOR: Absolutely. Go Red Raiders! I grew up in Abilene and went to Texas Tech and majored in business—accounting and finance. After graduating I worked in accounting for Arthur Young, which is now EY. I had been there for about three years when a gentleman who’s now with Trammell Crow suggested that I get into leasing and development business. That was in 1988, so it has been almost 30 years. I worked for a while in Austin and made some great friends—a couple of whom were in my wedding. I wanted to be in a bigger market, though, so I came back to Dallas and have no regrets.
SUDOL: Did you focus on the office sector from the start?
TAYLOR: At first I was doing both industrial and office, working with Marc Myers, but decided I wanted to exclusively work on office properties. Bret Bunnett and Johnny Johnson were at LaSalle Partners at the time, and they were looking to expand their leasing and management platform. They only had two buildings when I joined them, and we just grew it from there. In 2000, Bret, Johnny, and I spun out and formed Capstar Commercial. We built a terrific company, with about 200 employees in Dallas, Austin, St. Louis, and Chicago. That led to an opportunity to join with Cassidy Turley and partner with a national platform. We continued to grow, and then, as you know, TPG came in and bought Cassidy Turley and merged it with DTZ, then acquired Cushman & Wakefield. So, here we are today.
SUDOL: What’s that, about four business-card changes for you in just a few years?
TAYLOR: Yes. It has been a great journey and I many fond memories, but I love the platform we have today. I really enjoy the people here and love the way things have come together. I’ve never had the opportunity to work in-house with a tenant rep group before, because we were always landlord purists. It has been great being able to learn from and collaborate with our tenant rep professionals, to walk down the hall and have a discussion with some of the best in the business. … How did you get into commercial real estate, and have you always wanted to work on the tenant rep side?
SUDOL: I made a career transition about 18 months ago. Up until then, I worked in insurance and technology for about eight years. I had been fortunate to grow within the organization, then stepped back to think about the future. I wanted to be very intentional about where I wanted to be a decade or two down the road. I also wanted to find an industry that best suited my personality. So, I hired a career coach, someone who would be unbiased and help me figure out where I could excel, with my skills and strengths and weaknesses. She pointed me in the direction of commercial real estate.
TAYLOR: When did you join Cushman & Wakefield?
SUDOL: I joined Randy Cooper, Craig Wilson, and Dan Harris here in May of 2016. I’m grateful to work with such high caliber professionals within the tenant rep sector and to have joined Cushman & Wakefield at the time that I did, just as things were coming together following the merger with DTZ. I don’t have the history of any of the legacy companies, so I’m able to just look ahead. From my viewpoint, we’re on the precipice of some pretty significant disruption, in terms of gaining market share in Dallas-Fort Worth, and I want to be a small part of that.
TAYLOR: So you’re about a year-and-a-half in. What do you think?
SUDOL: Well, the first year was a blur, just learning the industry, getting meetings with the right folks, and coming to understand the science of being “pleasantly persistent.” I look at someone like you, Chris, and I am inspired. You’ve built such a strong career and reputation. What advice do you have for me and others who are in the earlier stages of this business?
TAYLOR: I have been fortunate to have had great mentors along the way—Bret and Johnny, Marc Myers, Steve Meyer, and guys like Randy Cooper. I’ve also learned a lot from my clients. On the landlord side, we’re always thinking about how to help owners build more value in their investments. We go to sleep and wake up thinking about that. A work ethic in our business is critical to success. We’re not an industry that thrives on banking hours. You have to be willing to put the effort into becoming an expert, so you can offer the best guidance to your clients. And it just takes time, particularly on the front end of your career, to build that knowledge base, as well as the relationships in the market.
It’s important to surround yourself with the best people you can find, so you can shorten that learning curve. I used to write pitches with Bret. I’d volunteer even if I wasn’t in on the business, because I wanted to learn from him—his way of thinking and how he approached new assignments. It was like getting my MBA in real estate. Johnny, too. He’s one of the best salespeople I know, and I’ve learned a great deal from him. Trey Smith, another one of my partners, is extremely bright and has a great technical mind. John Patterson is very strategic and looks at things from a different perspective. I tried to find people with different strengths, so I could learn from them and we could complement each other. In the end, building a team like that helps provide the very best service to clients.
TAYLOR: It’s also important to recognize that your word is your bond. Trust is everything in this business. That, and recognizing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Ten to 15 years into it, you will start hitting your stride.
SUDOL: Ten to 15 years, huh?
TAYLOR: For you, probably five to seven. It just takes a while to build your network and your reputation. Lastly, my advice would be to get involved in the community. I’m just someone who believes that you get back what you put into it. I’ve been that way my whole life.
SUDOL: Is that the West Texas boy in you?
TAYLOR: It is. Hauling hay and working on ranches, fixes fences out in the country. My work ethic is based on that upbringing, and I wouldn’t change a thing. My dad was in the military, so we didn’t have a lot of money. I roofed houses to put myself through college. I had more fun with my pledge brothers, it was a great experience. Moody Younger (of Younger Partners) and I were on the “tear-off” crew in Lubbock. You had to start there before you could become a “nailer,” which was a premium job. There’s nothing that caused me to appreciate an education more than roofing houses. But, yes, work ethic is a big part of how far you can take a career. Your colleagues give you a lot of praise in this area, by the way; where did your work ethic come from? You played college volleyball, and I’m sure involved hours and hours of commitment.
SUDOL: I took 18 hours of classes while holding down two jobs and playing volleyball in college. You just do what you need to do to make it work. That’s the way I think. There are some barriers to entry in commercial real estate, working through the grind and the transition and the competition. In my mind it’s not if but when, and how I’m going to get there. There’s no other option. In terms of work ethic, I’m a Midwesterner. I grew up in Belleview, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis. There were a lot of small, cornfield towns around me. A strong work ethic is part of my upbringing. If I wanted $20 from my parents, I’d go out and cut the grass. I took babysitting jobs all the time. I was taught that you have to work for what you get. I look back at the last year-and-a-half since getting into this business, and the greatest rewards have come from the biggest challenges. I’m just very committed to doing whatever I can do to help my team win.
TAYLOR: When I started out, I just wanted to be a contributor. Everyone else had so much more experience than I did. I would try to anticipate what more senior people needed so I could provide value and maybe get an opportunity to work with them. I would urge you to do the same. You have top talent around you, which will help you shorten that learning curve. The business is more efficient today, compared to when I started in commercial real estate. Information is more readily available. The tools we have today are much better, which frees up more time for you to spend on building your network and relationships.
SUDOL: That’s where I’m focused.
TAYLOR: We’re also super blessed to be in Dallas, which is such a strong, high-growth market. I remember going through the big crashes in the 1980s and 1990s, and it would take many years to recover. But I think the wild swings have given way to a strong, diversified economy in Dallas. We may see little slowdowns here and there, but I believe things will continue to move forward.
SUDOL: I love hearing that.
TAYLOR: Your timing for getting into the business is exceptional. This is the best market I’ve seen in my career. So, how did you end up working with Randy and Craig and Dan? Did you know them before you were hired?
SUDOL: I did not. How lucky am I, right? I had been talking with different folks in the industry, including Randy. Our first meeting lasted 90 minutes. He set up a lunch with Craig. I then met with Bret and, this is an interesting fact, I’m very proud to be Ran Holman’s first hire at Cushman & Wakefield. He and I made a pact that we are going to make this work.
TAYLOR: I love it. Cushman & Wakefield is off to the races with our new platform. I’ve seen a lot of different platforms and it surprises me how much I like this one, and the tools the company provides to help us be successful.
SUDOL: I agree. I think we are really starting to hit our stride. Even the changes I’ve seen since I joined—we’ve had some monumental successes to build on as we move into 2018. It has really been fun.
TAYLOR: The hard part is over—bringing everyone together. People are seeing the strength of the platform and the tools we can leverage. It helps me deliver a more seamless product to my clients. We have everything we need to represent our clients and create value.
SUDOL: So I have a question for you: In what can be considered a commoditized business, one of the biggest challenges is convincing people to make a change in representation. In other words, the perception is, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. As you’ve earned opportunities and won new business, what have been some of the keys to your success?
TAYLOR: Well, there’s the platform and the service line, but I think what makes the biggest difference is the people.
SUDOL: It’s that simple?
TAYLOR: It’s a simple answer but there’s a lot of complexity behind it. It’s people who come up with better ideas on how to market a building, position an asset, have better relationships in a marketplace and can bring prospective tenants to buildings. Our relationships run deep, after so many years in the business. Tenant-rep brokers know we’re going to take care of their clients once they take occupancy, because we’ve worked with them on other deals in the past. Our success that we’ve built over time creates confidence and give people a level of comfort. We also work well together as a team. We strategically assemble different groups for different assets. You go down our roster and see that we have a deep base of talented people who bring different skill sets to the table. That’s true on the tenant rep side, too. Our brokers have done some of the biggest deals in Dallas. They’re uniquely qualified to offer a client experience that no one else can compare to. That’s an advantage that has been earned over a number of years.
SUDOL: It’s years of proven experience that leads to better acumen and building a credible reputation.
TAYLOR: Right. And I think that over time you won’t view it as a commodity business. You’ll also find that Dallas is a fiercely competitive market. Everyone is continually sharpening their irons. It’s one of the most talented brokerage communities in the country. The good thing is, there’s enough pie for everybody. We just want to win our fair share. Our Agency Leasing group is fortunate in that we win about 50 percent of our pitches, which is extremely solid.
SUDOL: Woo-hoo! That’s awesome.
TAYLOR: And I think you guys are doing well on the tenant rep side, too.
SUDOL: We are.
TAYLOR: If you win one out of every two pitches, it’s a great place to be.
SUDOL: So, you and I could talk business all day. Let’s get into some more personal stuff. What do you and your family do for fun?
TAYLOR: We have one son who’s a junior at Texas Tech, and two still in high school, a senior and junior at Southlake Carroll. We enjoy hanging out together as a family. We hunt, we fish, and our boys have all played sports through the years, so we attend a lot of sporting events. I’ve coached a lot of their teams as they were growing up, and now I get to sit in the stands and watch. … What about you? Any plans to expand the family?
SUDOL: A growing family is hopefully on the horizon. My husband and I are going through the adoption process. We were approved as parents so now we’re just waiting to be selected. Until then, we pick up and go and travel a lot, take in some Cowboys games when they play on the road. With my husband in the sports business, there’s no shortage of entertainment options. But we can’t wait to have children.
TAYLOR: It’s such a great part of the journey of life.
SUDOL: What advice do you have when it comes to parenting, as it’s hopefully in my near future?
TAYLOR: Every child is different. But, generally, kids are sponges. They’re going to watch you and your husband, and they’re going to be a very close apple to that tree. It’s important for them to see that you and your husband love each other and treat each other with respect. A faith life is also very important, exposing your children to that. As with work, you get out of it what you put into it. I’m an absolute believer in that you can have both a successful career and successful family life. You can balance it all, if it’s important enough. Pour yourself into it with passion and love, and everything will turn out great. Your kids just want your time; give it to them.
SUDOL: My husband and I believe that the most important thing you can give to others is your time. It’s an interesting concept and applies across the board.
TAYLOR: My fondest memories are times spent with my wife and kids. No disrespect to the industry, and as much as I love what I do, but it’s not a deal or assignment I’ve won.
SUDOL: If you weren’t working in commercial real estate, or accounting, what other career would you have?
TAYLOR: I’d love to be a musician … a James Taylor or Garth Brooks. I love music and I’ve been to more than 100 concerts. Music has always been a part of my life. I played in a jazz band when I was younger, performing different gigs around Abilene. I played trombone.
SUDOL: That’s awesome.
TAYLOR: What about you? What would people be surprised to learn about Kate?
SUDOL: Oh, I’m pretty much an open book. I guess sometimes people are surprised to learn that I spent my last semester of college in a small town outside of Vienna, Austria. I visited 11 European countries during my stay.
TAYLOR: And having a husband who works for the Dallas Cowboys certainly must lead to some interesting experiences.
SUDOL: It’s fun. It’s an exciting industry. Eric and I are a lot alike. We’re both passionate about what we do, committed, driven, and high-energy, although he makes me look like a Type B. He is my inspiration, every day. I’m married to my best friend.
TAYLOR: That will take him far and will take you far.
SUDOL: We have each other’s back.
TAYLOR: Isn’t that the best? We tell our kids all the time, “Buddy, we’ve got your back. No matter what happens, it’s unconditional.” We use that term a lot. The bonds are deep, and I believe they feel like they can tell us anything.
SUDOL: Life is good, isn’t it?
TAYLOR: That is the truth.