In this edition of 1-on-1, Agency Leasing rookie Christy Thelen meets up with Office Tenant Rep veteran Bill McClung for an in-depth conversation. They talk about the evolution of commercial real estate, overcoming high hurdles, and what it takes to have staying power in a competitive market like Dallas.
Thelen joined Cushman & Wakefield last year as a Leasing Analyst. She now serves as Associate and has responsibility for leasing and marketing efforts for a portfolio of office assets in Dallas. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Oklahoma and is involved in several professional organizations, including Ladies in CRE and The Real Estate Council, where she serves on the group’s membership committee.
McClung began his commercial real estate career at Cushman & Wakefield in 1977. He serves as Executive Vice President within the firm’s Tenant Representation group, and has negotiated millions of square feet of office leases. In 2007, he received NTCAR’s prestigious Stemmon Service Award, considered among the highest honors in the industry. McClung, who has a BBA in Finance from the University of Texas, has actively given back to both the community and the industry in numerous organizations, including the Salesmanship Club, where he previously served as president.
CHRISTY THELEN: So, Bill, how did you get started in real estate? We recently celebrated your 40th anniversary with Cushman & Wakefield–that’s quite a milestone.
BILL McCLUNG: When I got out of college, I knew I wanted to go into sales and considered real estate, but the market was in a downturn at the time. So, I went into a different direction and got into the property and casualty insurance business as a marketing representative. After a couple of years doing that, I was about to make a move within the industry. I had three different offers and had been thinking of it about a lot, mostly on my knees. And then out of the blue, a family friend, Sam Hocker, gave me a call and encouraged me to give commercial real estate a try. Whatever I was going to do, I wanted to stick with it (and obviously I have). I became confident that real estate was the way to go, and decided to switch industries and join Cushman & Wakefield. Bob Edge made the final hiring decision, and that was in 1977.… How about you, Christy?
THELEN: Well, initially I was going to move to Atlanta to work in sales for AT&T. My end goal was to come back to Dallas. But AT&T changed how they placed employees and that could have had me ending up in Minnesota or somewhere else where it snows too often. I decided I wanted a little more control over my career and where I’d end up, so I somehow got ahold of Johnny Johnson’s email address, and pretty much annoyed him until I was able to get a meeting with him. I talked with him a number of times and ultimately received an offer.
McCLUNG: And that was about a year ago?
THELEN: Almost exactly. I joined in July 2016. I grew up in real estate, and my goal all along was to work in the industry; I just thought I’d try something else first, while still staying in sales. But I ended up where I should have started in the first place, and it has been great.
McCLUNG: I can only feel sorry for Johnny, as I hear that you’re very tenacious. For instance, when you wanted to go to Alaska, you put together a Power Point presentation to sell your parents on the idea.
THELEN: That’s right! When I first asked them about it, they gave me a hard “no.” I knew I had to figure out a way to go–it was three weeks in the back country. I was in high school at the time and I thought to myself, “How can I make this work?” So, I have a way with Power Points and put together a plan with a few options and the financials behind it, and wound up on a plane to Juneau to meet up with 13 strangers.
McCLUNG: That’s fantastic. How did it go?
THELEN: It was amazing. It taught me a lot about leadership, about getting along and meeting new people. Up until that point, I had gone to the same school for 13 years. So this was the first time, outside of playing club soccer or anything like that, when I was forced to meet and get to know people from different backgrounds and different parts of the country. And we’re all still friends on Facebook.
McCLUNG: Was it like an Outward Bound trip?
THELEN: It was called Wilderness Ventures. We were always with a guide. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever done; I’d go back in a heartbeat.
McCLUNG: Where in Alaska did you go?
THELEN: Juneau was our base, and we worked our way into the far west side of Canada, into British Columbia. I lived out of a 70-pound pack for three weeks. We hiked, kayaked, and saw glaciers–it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. … I’ve heard you’re quite the outdoorsman, too.
McCLUNG: I do enjoy it. It’s great to get out and go hunting, fishing, or play some golf, and do as much of it as I can. … So back to my question about persistence.
THELEN: It was probably on the verge of annoying, but I like to think of it as pleasantly persistent. It was a lot of waking up early and driving down from Norman to Dallas and meeting with whoever was in the office. But I really liked the Agency Leasing team and I was very honest about wanting to work with them; they’re all great at what they do.
McCLUNG: Well, in talking about persistence and working hard, how difficult is it to run hurdles?
THELEN: You just have to be dumb enough to try it.
McCLUNG: So the first time you ran, how many did you knock down?
THELEN: I was in sixth grade. I was probably 4-foot, 7-inches at this point. I came home one day after P.E. class and looked at my parents and said, “I’m going to run the high hurdles.” And they started laughing.
McCLUNG: Well it sounds like it worked out pretty well, as I heard you went on to win some state titles. How many times did you do that?
THELEN: I won three titles total.
McCLUNG: And you also played soccer?
THELEN: Yes. Soccer in the fall and track in the spring. My coach, Amber Helton, is still one of my biggest mentors. She trained me for four years at Trinity Christian Academy, and we’ve stayed in touch. She has been a huge mentor not only when I was an athlete but overall in life. She has always helped me uphold my morals, be humble, maintain a good work ethic, and think about the end goal, not the day-to-day.
McCLUNG: That’s terrific. Did you ever think about running in college?
THELEN: I did not. Sometimes you realize there are a lot of bigger fish when you get to a bigger pond like the University of Oklahoma. … Which leads me to talk about the fact that we may have a little bit of a rivalry.
McCLUNG: Oh, I wouldn’t go that far.
THELEN: Well, here we are, a Sooner and a Longhorn, sitting across the table from one another.
McCLUNG: We haven’t really showed up to play football in a number of years.
THELEN: We were 50-50 when I was in school. Do you go to the games?
McCLUNG: I do go down to Austin about once a season, and we always do go to the big game [between Oklahoma and Texas]. If I want to stay married, we’re going to go to that game. When my wife and I were dating, I had some really great seats and she thought it was going to be 50-yard-line seats every year. That hasn’t happened, but we’ve been there, anyway.
THELEN: And I’ve heard both of your daughters went to UT also.
McCLUNG: They did. Now we didn’t push them, I promise you. We actually wouldn’t even take them to a game because we thought they would have too much fun, and we didn’t want to influence them. We wanted them to make their own selections, and they did. But we do have a lot of burnt orange blood in the family, including my parents and my wife’s parents.
THELEN: So, I’ve heard you’ve earned some great titles of your own. You’ve won the Cushman & Wakefield Shield of Honor and you previously served as president of the Salesmanship Club. How did that all come about.
McCLUNG: Well, there probably wasn’t anyone else in the running.
THELEN: I’ve also heard that you’re quite modest.
McCLUNG: Well, I was certainly honored to receive the Shield of Honor, and the Salesmanship Club, I’m very appreciative to have had that opportunity, too. It was a lot of fun–and a lot of work. The money is raised from the Byron Nelson all adds up to about 40 percent of the funding for our programs. The golf tournament is the fun part, but seeing where the money goes is even more rewarding. It benefits more than 6,000 kids and their families, and if you expand it to include the people who are trained, you’re into even larger numbers, 200,000 or so who are positively impacted by the club’s work. To see lives being changed, it doesn’t get more meaningful than that.
THELEN: I understand that with the Salesmanship Club, after you serve as president, you go right back to the low rung of the ladder.
McCLUNG: Right. You go to the cart barn at the course or do another menial job. The whole point is, after you serve as president, you go right to the back of the line. It’s part of the culture. There’s no “president emeritus” status or anything like that. So, yes, I had the chance to clean some golf carts in this year’s tournament, and I was pleased to do it. Egos aren’t allowed in the Salesmanship Club.
THELEN: That’s great.
McCLUNG: So, Christy, tell me a little bit more about your role at Cushman & Wakefield. How do you spend your day?
THELEN: Well, every day is different. Right now I’m serving in an analyst/associate role and moving into brokerage bit-by-bit. A lot of what I do is coordinating between our team, marketing, and our clients, figuring out what information they want and need, gathering that information, and putting it into a deliverable package. The other side is doing smaller tours, updating reports for our buildings, and keeping clients updated on the market.
McCLUNG: So how often do you meet with clients?
THELEN: There are always leasing calls with the senior members on our team. So that has been great, the amount of exposure our team has provided just be including me. That has been the greatest help in learning the business.
You can look at commercial real estate as just buildings, but it’s much more than that. It’s business. It’s the economy.
McCLUNG: Mentoring is so important. I mentioned Sam Hocker earlier. I shadowed him for several years and I can remember countless meetings I’d sit in and wouldn’t say a word. I learned from him and Bob Edge and others. When I got into the business, we were leasing what is now Renaissance Tower. We weren’t doing tenant rep at that point. And we’d lease ourselves out of a building, which was good for the client and we got our pat on the back, but then they’d take it in house. We continued to lease buildings downtown, but we also started to do more tenant representation. Cushman & Wakefield was doing this in New York and Los Angeles and other markets, and we were helping to pioneer it in Dallas. We were sitting in a tiny office in Renaissance Tower, about 1,400 square feet–it’s a big difference to where we are today. I could hear Sam talking on the phone, I could hear a guy named Al Sanford talking on the phone, and it really helped, just picking up on their conversations.
THELEN: What was it like in the early days of Cushman & Wakefield in Dallas?
McCLUNG: Cushman & Wakefield opened an office here in 1974, and I joined three years later. Renaissance Tower, which was known back then as the First International building, was built in the early 1970s. First National Bank of Dallas was trying to lease the building themselves through their relationships with clients, but the economy was tough at the time and it’s a very large tower. The bank’s partner, Prudential, had a relationship with Cushman & Wakefield in New York and, ultimately, the firm recruited Bob Edge to open an office in Dallas and help with leasing. By the time I joined three years later, Bob had made a big lease with Mobil Oil, which stabilized the property, and then Bob and Sam and I were able to get it up to over 90 percent. We also began leasing other buildings downtown, including what’s now 1700 Pacific. As the youngest person on the team, you didn’t always get the great greatest buildings to lease. I worked on the Praetorian Building and the old Mobil building, which is now the Magnolia Hotel.
THELEN: How did you get into tenant representation?
McCLUNG:One of the early accounts I had was a lease I had made on the landlord side at Renaissance Tower. It was a smaller law firm that wanted to move their office, and they contacted me. We started seeing more tenant representation work and were also getting referrals out of New York. The Staubach Co. is often given credit for inventing tenant representation, but Cushman & Wakefield had been doing it for years in other parts of the country. The Staubach Co. was the first to make it their sole focus, however, and it was one of the firms that has helped make Dallas such a strong real estate town, along with Henry S. Miller Co., Swearingen, Fults & Co., and a list that goes on and on. We are blessed to have so many terrific firms, but it also makes it a tough market from a competition standpoint. And then you look at developers like Lincoln Property Co. and Trammell Crow Co. and Paragon and other groups. Dallas is home to some of the biggest and best.
THELEN: What have been some of your career highlights over the years? I know it’s kind of like asking you to name your favorite child.
McCLUNG: That’s right. I’ll say first that I appreciate every client I’ve ever had. One early transaction that comes to mind is one that kept me going on the tenant rep side. It was a 30,000-square-foot lease with a group called National Data Communications, which is no longer in business. It was a relationship I had there and was fortunate to be able to work on it. I brought in Sam on the deal, as I couldn’t have done it without him. It was a nice-sized deal at a time that really kept me going. I’ve also had the great privilege of working with people like Jere Thompson of Ambit Energy. He’s such a fine individual and a great leader who has been great for Dallas. The Citigroup consolidation on Interstate 635 was one of the more difficult transactions, as it involved about 14 different leases that we had to work our way out of or into, and a 620,000-square-foot build-to-suit. That deal took at least two years to get done. I worked with Tim Relyea out of our Houston office; my involvement came from having worked with a group called The Associates, which was acquired by Citigroup. I’m thankful for that opportunity. I was included in that transaction, and it’s one of the deals that certainly stands out.
THELEN: That’s impressive.
McCLUNG: So you’ve been in the business for a year now. What has surprised you the most? How has reality matched up with expectations?
THELEN: I think what has surprised me the most is how much Dallas is changing. You can live here your whole life and not realize what is going on. That has been the most exciting part for me–learning what drives the city we’re living in. You can look at commercial real estate as just buildings, but it’s much more than that. It’s business. It’s the economy. It’s why people and companies move here. It’s a very exciting time to be in Dallas.
McCLUNG: You’ve gotten in on one of the hottest landlord markets that I’ve seen in my career, which is great. Downward markets can toughen you up. But learning about your adventures in Alaska and experiences running hurdles, you don’t seem to have a problem being tough. But, things will turn. A down market will happen. We just don’t know when.
THELEN: It already seems that people are looking over their shoulders, a little bit.
McCLUNG: People always ask what inning we’re in. I’ve been saying that we’re in the eighth inning for the last several years. We’ve definitely gone into extra innings. It’s amazing.
THELEN: Someone who has really helped me get acclimated and understand the market is Ward Eastman. He reached out on my second day and gave me the opportunity to meet with him on a weekly basis. He has been an advocate for me the whole time, and his mentorship has been invaluable. I’m fortunate to have had a number of great mentors, and Bill I know you’ve been a great mentor to others. I’m looking forward to reaching the point in my career where I can do that, too.
McCLUNG: The more you can do, that the better your life will be. You learn just as much as you teach.
THELEN: In doing my due diligence for this interview, everyone I spoke with has said the same thing about you, Bill; they say you’re consistent, you’re loyal, that you preserve the confidentiality of your clients and their deals, and that your faith and family are very important to you. After 40 years in the business, what drives you to keep pursuing business the way you do?
McCLUNG: I enjoy the people I work with. That’s the main thing. I enjoy the people I work with and I want to make sure they are taken care of and get the best deal they can possibly get. I don’t want to slow down. I don’t want to play golf every day or hunt or fish. I enjoy those things, but I like the balance that work provides, too. I like the feeling of accomplishing something, and that’s why I plan to keep on doing this for as long as it remains fun.
The local leadership of C&W is extremely strong and has those things that I consider important – great moral compass, people who are respected in the industry.
THELEN: That’s great. So, looking back and looking ahead, what do you hope Cushman & Wakefield is known for out in the market here in Dallas?
McCLUNG: Well, I hope we’re known as a group that has solid ethics and humble but very talented people, who give everything they’ve got for the right reasons–that being the client, and not the dollars and cents.
THELEN: I agree. I hope we’re known for being honest in how we conduct business, for having a good culture, and for having great people who come to work every day wanting to do the best for their clients and their teams.
McCLUNG: So, what has you most excited about the future?
THELEN: Besides dinner?
McCLUNG: I know what you mean. I’m getting hungry, too.
THELEN: Seriously, what makes me so excited about working at Cushman & Wakefield is you can see that it’s not a job. You’re not hired expecting to do a job, but to develop a career. There are goals that are set for you to achieve in one year, three years, five years, and up to 40 years. It’s a career that can shapes, just as yours has, from agency leasing to tenant representation. What’s great about our company right now is we have such strong platforms. You can learn a lot about the industry, and I’m excited to see what else is out there.
McCLUNG: I think I would say the local leadership of C&W is extremely strong and has those things that I consider important — great moral compass, people who are respected in the industry. I think the way the two groups [legacy DTZ and legacy Cushman & Wakefield] have blended is working, and that we’ve all benefitted from the merger of our platforms. There are a lot of good things ahead.