By Christine Perez
In the November edition of 1-on-1, Agency Leasing pro Ward Eastman meets up with GOS leader Nick Rossini for an in-depth conversation. They talk about the globalization of real estate, the evolution of Dallas, their shared love of golf, and why Nick’s family members have nicknamed him “FUN.”
Senior Director Ward Eastman has built his career by successfully leasing office properties in the Dallas region. Clients like JP Morgan, Northwood Investors, and Blackstone Group trust him to help fill up their assets and help deliver the best returns on their investments. He is also actively involved in The Real Estate Council and the Touchdown Club, benefitting The Rise School of Dallas. He earned a BBA degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Oklahoma.
As Executive Vice President and a respected leader in Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Occupier Services platform, Nick Rossini’s career has taken him around the globe. Some of the world’s largest and most successful companies rely on him to oversee integrated facilities management, an area in which he has built a reputation for operational excellence, turnaround expertise, revenue building, and client satisfaction. An active, longtime member of CoreNet Global and World Congress participant, he earned a BS degree from The University of Texas at Austin.
WARD EASTMAN: Well, let’s start from the beginning, Nick; where are you from?
NICK ROSSINI: I was born in St. Paul, Minn., and I grew up in Detroit, Mich. My dad was with IBM for 36 years, so we moved around a lot. I’m one of eight kids, and all eight of us now live in Dallas-Fort Worth. We must be one of the last big, Catholic, Italian families; they ought to do a TV show around us.
EASTMAN: [laughs] How long have you been in commercial real estate?
ROSSINI: I’ve been in the business for 35 years. I started at Transwestern as a leasing agent, back when everything was developer-owned and there wasn’t much third-party agency leasing. I then got into corporate services at Fischer. I managed the West Coast for the FedEx account, and that’s when I learned how multiple transactions and strategic planning all came together. This was back in the mid-1990s, so it was an emerging business. We had a secret sauce with technology, and after doing that for a while I was offered an opportunity to run corporate services for DTZ, then DTZ merged with Cushman & Wakefield. So, my business card has changed several times, but my phone number and everything else has remained the same. … What about you? Where are you from?
EASTMAN: I’m from Dallas. I have one brother and one sister; I went to OU.
ROSSINI: My daughter went to OU; I went to Texas.
EASTMAN: My wife went to Texas; a lot of people in my family went to Texas. But I went across the Red River. I came back in 2006 after graduating and began working with Bret and Johnny.
ROSSINI: They hired you straight out of school? Did you know them beforehand?
EASTMAN: Yes. My dad was a tenant at Renaissance Tower when Johnny and Bret leased the building. They became friends in the mid-1980s, before I was even around, and I grew up knowing them and respecting them. Like all young kids in college, when you’re looking at your life and not sure what you want to do, you ask your dad to help connect you with a few of his friends in different industries, and Bret and Johnny were two of those guys. They were a few years into Capstar, working hard and growing that platform. I just kept visiting with them during holiday and summer breaks and staying in touch, and eventually, the timing worked out.
ROSSINI: So, you’ve been in agency leasing from the start?
EASTMAN: Yes. I trained under Chris Taylor and Trey Smith and Clint Madison; the core has been around a long time. And even though my business card, like yours, has changed four times in six years, I still work with the same people.
ROSSINI: I’ve known those guys since they were at LaSalle Partners. They are hard-working and have a very solid reputation. I’m glad Bret is still with the organization. Bringing in Ran was a great move; keeping Bret was another great move.
EASTMAN: I agree. I don’t know work life without him.
ROSSINI: So, what are you working on now?
EASTMAN: I’ve been active in Legacy and Preston Center for my whole career, North Central Expressway, and new development in Uptown with Hines and Cousins. It has been fun to see the transformation of Victory.
“You have to have a great team around you. One person can’t know it all. So you lean on your teammates.”
– Ward Eastman
ROSSINI: I remember Victory when it was an electric power generation plant. And Ron Kirk did the “let’s build it” thing and got the bond program going. I always thought it was interesting that you could take a contaminated brownfield site like that and level it and have absolutely zero environmental issues, and then, bang, here comes American Airlines Center. It all happened so fast. Then Hillwood did Victory Park and, for a long time, it just sat there. Today, the market has caught up. It’s amazing to see all of the development going on down there.
EASTMAN: Within a year we’ll have 5,000 multifamily units and about 25 restaurants. We’ve got Cineopolis, a high-end theater going in, concert venues, sports venues. Victory is becoming the true live-work-play environment it was always promised to be. … So, Nick, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen in Dallas, as it has grown over the course of your career?
ROSSINI: I don’t know if I’d call it surprising—I might even call it predictable—but we are really cashing in now on all of the positive things that make Dallas work. Things like the Central time zone, great airports, right to work, no state income tax, people who work hard—all of those factors are truly coming together. It’s causing companies like Toyota to say, “What are we doing in California?” Or big pharmaceuticals to ask, “What are we doing in New Jersey?” When I started in real estate, Dallas was a second-tier market. And then it grew and grew and, at some point, things tipped, and it became a core, trophy market. Dallas just works.
EASTMAN: What about the commercial real estate business itself? What big changes have you seen there?
ROSSINI: Real estate has gotten a lot more stable, in terms of the underwriting, etc. It has become a much more mature, corporate industry. Back in my early days, people could get non-recourse loans. They put up all of these buildings, on spec, and then everyone got into trouble. Since then, lenders have become much more conservative. You can’t get a building started unless you have a significant amount of equity in it and some preleasing; it has to make sense, financially. … Let me ask you, Ward, how do you manage knowing several different submarkets in the same time? Are you in your car all day?
EASTMAN: You have to have a great team around you. One person can’t know it all. So you lean on your teammates. Our group meets every Monday morning to go through the market and talk about what’s taking shape for the week, who has questions, who has a challenge, trends that are emerging, and other things. Just having that kick off the week helps you set your mind right. If you have a client in town or a big tour or are in the middle of a contentious negotiation, you can lean on your teammates and ask them what they’re seeing in the market or this competitive set, get a feel for what everyone is seeing, and then take it and run with it. We have an exceptionally seasoned group and a great research department. So it’s easy to check your inclinations against hard data and make sure things match up. If you need to get up to speed on something, you can do so pretty fast. … I’m sure that has been a big change you’ve seen in the industry, too. What was it like back in the day, before email and before information was so readily available?
ROSSINI: Especially on the leasing side, it was important to have very good relationships with brokers. Information was shared on a more interpersonal basis. Everyone had to do their own research. There wasn’t the massive availability of data like there is today. It was a completely different world.
EASTMAN: Do you think some of the interpersonal nature of the real estate business has gotten lost over the years?
ROSSINI: I don’t think so. The market has gotten bigger. I’m doing so much GOS work; I’m managing account teams all over. I’ve got calls today in Panama and Ottawa; I’m closing a deal in Lima, Peru. So, I’ve lost touch locally. If I have a big transaction in Dallas, I won’t do it myself. I’ll walk around the office and find a market expert like Mike Wyatt or Dean Collins …
EASTMAN: In this office, you’ve got your pick.
ROSSINI: It’s funny, I did Mike Wyatt’s first deal. I’ve known I’ve known McClung forever, Johnny Johnson, Chris Taylor, Bret, Rodney Helm, and Randy Cooper. The people who have been in this market forever—every one of them is honest, straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, just very solid. But those in the industry who think short-term or try to get one over on you, they’re all gone. They don’t last in this business.
EASTMAN: Your reputation precedes you in real estate; it’s a tight-knit community. … So, as you work with your clients, day-in and day-out, how have things changed, as they look at cities or buildings and make long-term business decisions.
ROSSINI: Today, it’s all about access to labor and cost of labor. We just picked up a client that has 70 global locations. I was in Bangalore in June, where all the call centers are. Our client has 300,000 square feet there. They look at what they can do in terms of per-seat cost in Bangalore compared to a center in California. It’s no longer comparing one U.S. city against another; companies have become global. They look at how they can get the most productivity in an international market. You have MBAs in Bangalore working in tiny workstations making 25 percent to 30 percent of what people make in Santa Clara, Calif. And they’re smart and work hard. You find the same thing in a lot of other countries. It has truly become a global marketplace. That’s why corporations turn to global firms like Cushman & Wakefield and JLL and CBRE—because we can deliver. Some other firms can cobble things together through networks, but it’s the big three that actually deliver, globally.
EASTMAN: What other changes are you seeing, from a tenant’s perspective?
ROSSINI: We’re seeing real estate directors a lot more aligned with CFOs, with corporate goals, costs, and margins, much more so than the old days, when it was all about finding a place that was close to the CEO’s home or a good deal. You don’t hear the word “deal” anymore; everything is an “assignment” or “transaction” or “project.” That whole “deal” nomenclature is gone.
EASTMAN: How involved has HR become in the decision-making?
ROSSINI: They’re totally in the middle of it. HR, compliance, and security are huge. The employee experience has become paramount. Everything is about employee retention and worker satisfaction. Just look at our own office here in McKinney & Olive. Space matters.
EASTMAN: I just read that Microsoft is building tricked-out tree houses for employees who may not want to be in an office; it’s an arms race for talent.
ROSSINI: I think at some point we will see another push to the home office. It just makes too much sense for corporations to leverage residences. Companies can make sure employees are completely connected, so they know when people are on the screen, when they’re working. With chat and IM, there’s not a lot people can’t do at home.
EASTMAN: I read some bigger firms tried that and then ended up bringing people back to the office.
ROSSINI: Yes, due to culture issues. The cool thing about having everyone in one space is you can really create a culture and a brand identity. It creates momentum and uptick in activity. If everyone is pushed out, it may be more cost-effective, but you don’t feel as connected as an organization. I think it depends on the industry you’re in. Consulting and the type of service we provide—you spoke earlier about the ability to connect with your team and the value that provides. If you’re working a help desk or have a job where you can manage your business autonomously, then it makes sense to work from home.
EASTMAN: As your clients look at seat cost, how has the per-employee space reduced? It seems like everyone I’m dealing with, of any size, is reducing their footprint, but not necessarily their workforce.
“This leadership has a very clear vision and a consistent strategy that hasn’t wavered: It’s to be the best, with excellence in every seat.”
– Nick Rossini
ROSSINI: Density is unbelievable. We’re seeing benching and changes in workstation design. They’re all sit-stand, like we have here in our office. There are more open areas, or association areas, as they’re called. Then the work pods. It’s the way of the future. Throughout my career, I’ve seen four or five iterations of how people work. Today, young people just need a backpack and a bottle of water. They find a spot that works, workstation No. 324 or whatever, then pack up all their stuff when they’re done for the day and Uber home. It’s a different word.
EASTMAN: I’m excited to see what it’s going to looks like in 40 years, when I’m an old fogey; maybe we’ll be flying cars around like The Jetsons. I’ll say, “Remember the days when we drove on streets?”
ROSSINI: [laughs] We’re headed in that direction.
EASTMAN: It sounds like you travel a lot.
ROSSINI: I used to. For the last several years I’ve been a GOS smoke-jumper, as Steve Quick [Cushman & Wakefield’s GOS chief executive] calls me.
EASTMAN: What’s the most airline miles you’ve racked up in a year?
ROSSINI: Probably 300,000, or something like that. Even this year I’ve been to Bangalore and London and Cork, Ireland.
EASTMAN: I’ve bet you’ve had your share of travel adventures.
ROSSINI: I have.
EASTMAN: I thought traveling with two young kids was hard.
ROSSINI: Mine are 31 and 26 now; two daughters.
EASTMAN: Are they in Dallas?
ROSSINI: They are.
EASTMAN: You talked earlier about your family. How did all eight siblings end up in Dallas?
ROSSINI: We all stayed together. When our family moved here from Detroit in 1974—my dad got a job here—the whole crew came down. I have identical triplet brothers who are two years older than me. They had just graduated. I had just finished my junior year and transferred to J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, then my three little sisters and younger brother—we all just stayed here. My wife and I host a Christmas Eve dinner at our house, and we’re up to 53 people now. It’s gotten to the point where all of the grandkids have spouses and children of their own.
EASTMAN: That compounding effect.
ROSSINI: We might have to start renting out a ballroom at some point.
EASTMAN: Sounds fun.
ROSSINI: It is. That’s my nickname, by the way: Favorite Uncle Nick.
ROSSINI: Yep. Everyone calls me Fun.
EASTMAN: That’s great.
ROSSINI: How old are your children?
EASTMAN: Our daughter Perry is 3 and Baby Ward is 1. He’s walking and she’s talking, so it’s a lot of fun.
ROSSINI: Where do you live?
EASTMAN: We live in Preston Hollow. We’ve been there seven years now, in a great spot. We have a park next door. I didn’t have kids or a wife when I moved there, and didn’t realize the importance of that park. But now, whenever we have a free 30 minutes and the kids need to get burn off some energy, we just walk outside. It’s great. … So what does Fun like to do for fun?
ROSSINI: [laughs] It’s all about golf. I’m a golfaholic.
EASTMAN: Me, too.
ROSSINI: My wife and I recently took a trip with two other couples to Scotland. We played the Old Course (St. Andrews), Nairn, Royal Dornoch, Turnberry, and Aberdeen. It was incredible.
EASTMAN: Wow. What’s your favorite golf memory?
ROSSINI: About 20 years ago, a guy I did a deal with invited me to play at Augusta National. I asked him if I could bring my father, who had just retired. I called my dad and asked him to pack a bag and told him we were going to play at Atlanta Athletic Club and maybe one other course. He was shocked when we pulled into the drive at Augusta. We played the Par-3 Course, had lunch, and then played the Big Course. As we were driving back to Atlanta, before flying out the next day, my dad looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Don’t tell your mother, but this was the happiest day of my life.”
EASTMAN: That’s awesome.
ROSSINI: It was incredible. Now that I’ve played the Old Course and Augusta, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I can call it a good life.
EASTMAN: Doesn’t get much better than that. I’m a big golfer, too, although I have less time for it these days. I’ve not been to your top two, but I’m going to Pine Valley next week. I keep hearing about how difficult it is.
ROSSINI: It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the experience. It’s the social experience, with your buddies.
EASTMAN: Being outside, having fun, cracking jokes, then coming into the 19th hole and having drinks and dinner.
ROSSINI: A nice cold Guinness, after the Old Course …
EASTMAN: Is there anything better?
ROSSINI: There is not.
EASTMAN: So, turning the conversation back to business before we wrap things up, what has you most excited about the future?
ROSSINI: I’m excited about the leadership here at Cushman & Wakefield. I’ve seen a lot of companies come together, I’ve been in a lot of real estate environments. This leadership has a very clear vision and a consistent strategy that hasn’t wavered: It’s to be the best, with excellence in every seat. There has been a big emphasis on communication and building a single, powerful culture out of three or four different cultures globally, after all of the mergers. Everyone I deal with around the globe is good at what they do, they’re sharp and they’re customer-focused, and that doesn’t happen without the right leadership. As we continue to get more wins, that momentum will just keep going. I also like the way our GOS group is knocking down barriers and interacting with brokers, particularly in the Dallas office. That’s what I’m excited about. What about you?
EASTMAN: I’m excited about two things. First, the strength of our clients, on both sides, the landlord side and tenant rep side. Our client base has gotten more institutional, with very high quality assets and quality people. And on the tenant rep side, we represent so many big, quality corporate names that have huge footprints in the city. They trust us with their real estate, and that’s cool to see. I’m also excited in the trust that has been established within the firm. Mergers, from what I’ve heard in the past, can go a couple of different ways, and it always takes time to shake out. In Dallas, we’re two years into it, and I feel like everyone has really come together on both sides for the common good. Anyone can walk down the hall and talk to a colleague and trust that they’re going to get good information and good advice.
ROSSINI: That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens because there is an intentional strategy to make it happen. Without the elusive behaviors that have been encouraged by leadership in Chicago and here in Dallas by Ran, the office space, the Thirsty Thursday get-togethers we have—they’re all building blocks to creating an exceptional culture.
EASTMAN: I agree. We’re headed up, and it’s great.