Welcome back to 1-On-1, a monthly series where two Cushman & Wakefield professionals get together for a no-holds-barred interview. Featured in this edition are office tenant rep Dan Harris and industrial real estate pro Jean Russo. They talk about lessons learned, why a “client-first” strategy is critical for success, and their special affinity for Kellogg’s cereals.
As Managing Director, Harris works within Cushman & Wakefield’s Tenant Representation Practice Group. He focuses on business development and advising clients on office relocations and lease renewals. Clients include Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco LP, Taylor Logistics, and Senderra RX. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas.
Russo, Senior Director, has more than 35 years of industrial real estate experience and specializes in all aspects of industrial brokerage, from land acquisitions and build-to-suits to existing facilities, dispositions, and industrial investment sales. Her clients range from local and regional companies to Fortune 500 corporations like Kellogg, NFI Industries, Mattel, and Dr Pepper. She has a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida.
DAN HARRIS: So, last month when Lauren Napper and Rick Hughes did this 1-on-1 interview, they discovered they had something unique in common.
JEAN RUSSO: I’m not sure that we will … unless I once worked in the car valet business.
HARRIS: Ahhhh … I see you did some due diligence!
RUSSO: Indeed, I did. I would love to say we’ve run into each other here or there, Dan, or worked on a deal together over the years. But I think the only thing we have in common is that we both work for a great company—unless I’m missing something.
HARRIS: I think that’s why we were chosen to do this. Because otherwise, we might not have ever crossed paths.
RUSSO: That’s true. Although I think you are a people person. I remember you from the first time you were at Cushman & Wakefield. Even though you weren’t in the industrial department, you came over to say hi and introduce yourself.
HARRIS: I remember, too. I had started off at The Staubach Co. out of school, in their retail group. And when I joined Cushman & Wakefield, I had a lot to learn. In office and industrial there are some similarities and some overlap, but retail is completely different in every way, shape, and form. So, when I first came over here in 2009, I had three years of experience in the business, but I was really starting over. I didn’t know anyone besides those on the team I joined, which back then was Randy Cooper, Greg Biggs, Rick Hughes, Dean Collins, and Craig Wilson. I was happy to meet everyone else and excited to be part of such a large and respected company. Then there was the Cassidy Turley split.
RUSSO: And now we’re all back together again.
HARRIS: That’s right. And although you and I might not have a lot in common, I certainly have a great appreciation for you, Jean, not only for the success you’ve had in the business, but because you really are a pioneer in the industry. Even today, in 2017, commercial real estate is still a fairly one-sided business, from a gender perspective, especially in industrial.
RUSSO: Well, I don’t really think about it that way. Every once in a while, someone points it out to me, but there are some great women industrial brokers I’ve worked with over the years.
HARRIS: How did you get into the business?
RUSSO: My bachelor’s degree was a major in psychology and a minor in economics. When I went for my master’s degree, I was going into labor relations. After graduating, I went to work in industrial real estate, first for BF Goodrich and then for Frito-Lay. I then decided I wanted to do something where I could essentially have my own business. So, I set up some interviews with some real estate firms. Everyone wanted to put me in retail, but industrial was my love, because of my background, both on the education side and on the practice side. To me, it was a natural.
HARRIS: When you say labor relations, does that mean working with unions?
RUSSO: Yes. My goal at the time was to be a plant personnel manager. At BF Goodrich, I learned that it had taken my boss 27 years to get to that level. I decided I didn’t want to wait that long. So, I began interviewing elsewhere and Frito-Lay said, “Well, we will make you a plant personnel manager, if you do this, this, and this in the first six months.” It was a great time in my life to climb up the career ladder. I was single and it was easy to move, and I did move around a lot, just going for more money and better titles. But then I decided I wanted to have my own business, and so, here I am.
HARRIS: You got your start in real estate at CBRE, is that correct?
RUSSO: Yes. I was there for 20 years. I joined Cushman & Wakefield during the millennium, back in 2000. I got sold by [former Cushman & Wakefield executive] Reagan Dixon. If he ever makes an appointment with you to sell you anything, watch out. He’s a master. I was doing mostly tenant representation, and CBRE was doing mostly landlord. So, it made a lot of sense to switch. … And what about you? You majored in advertising?
HARRIS: Yes. I was an advertising and public relations major, with a minor in journalism and German. It was pretty random, but when you stay in college as long as I did, you run out of things to study.
RUSSO: Do you still speak German?
HARRIS: A little bit. My wife and I went to Germany for the first time this past summer, and it was great to go and try it out. But six, seven, eight years of German study … I could have learned what I learned in school in a month of being in the country and just talking. I mean, I could ask you how to get to the airport and if I could borrow your calculator all day long, but it’s a little different having a real conversation with someone in Germany.
RUSSO: Do you have lineage in that country?
HARRIS: Yes. My grandmother’s family is from Germany. The rest are pretty much from England.
RUSSO: And mine is Italian.
HARRIS: That’s what I’ve heard. So, do you like to cook?
RUSSO: My husband is the chef. He’s Italian, too.
HARRIS: What’s his favorite dish to make?
RUSSO: He’s good at everything, honestly. He just loves it. It’s like his hobby. So, I’m very fortunate.
HARRIS: Yeah, you’re on the winning side of that deal.
RUSSO: And he’s second-generation. His parents were born in this country. My parents were born in Italy and came over when they were teens and met here in America.
HARRIS: What’s your favorite Italian dish that he makes?
RUSSO: Well, the one dish I made for him on his birthday, once a year, is veal scaloppini. But he makes everything else. His meatballs are to die for. His lasagna is amazing.
HARRIS: Does he cook a good risotto?
RUSSO: No, he’s not into risotto. It requires too much stirring.
HARRIS: It’s impossible to get right. I love to cook, too, mostly microwave stuff, but occasionally I’ll stop pushing buttons and actually put something over the fire. I love to grill and I do like to cook. But risotto is impossible.
RUSSO: Timing is everything with risotto. If you’re one second late, it will ruin hours of stirring. … The cooking is good experience for when you’re going to be a father, which I understand is imminent.
HARRIS: That’s true. It’s coming up.
RUSSO: Are you having a little boy or a little girl?
HARRIS: We don’t know. We decided to be surprised. My wife is due April 12, so we’ll find out soon.
RUSSO: Oh, wow. Is your life going to change, or what?
HARRIS: It will indeed, but in a very positive way. We’re very excited. I’m 35, so I’m more than ready.
RUSSO: And you’re going to be surprised. That’s very brave.
HARRIS: It has been good though, Jean. My wife is a meticulous planner, to the very precise detail.
RUSSO: I like her already!
HARRIS: So, not knowing the gender of our baby, it takes a lot of the planning and some of the things that might be weighing us down a little bit out of our hands. We’re going to find out and there will be some blankets and furniture rushed in before we get home. There are two people who know: my mother-in-law and a salesperson at Restoration Hardware.
RUSSO: Well, boy or girl, I’m sure you will have a beautiful baby. And you’ve got a whole team to handle your business while you are off being a dad.
HARRIS: Yeah. I love Randy and Craig and the rest of the team we have.
RUSSO: You’ve been with them now for about eight years now, so you’ve gotten all the glitches out of the system. You’re a well-oiled machine.
HARRIS: We know each other very well, our strengths, weaknesses, and schedules. We can finish each other’s sentences. Of course, I’m a little farther behind than Craig and Randy, because they have been together longer, but there are no two better people to learn from in the industry, and we all get along and have great chemistry. I have been very fortunate.
RUSSO: You know, teaming is more challenging in industrial.
HARRIS: Why is that?
RUSSO: Because you may be working on one deal that is a lease and they want to go anywhere, and then another deal that’s a build-to-suit and the client wants to focus on a certain geography, or maybe it’s a land deal. So being able to pull in experts in those various areas, depending on the client’s needs, it gives you the best of all worlds. Each team is different, depending on the assignment, and you can leverage the best of the best. The sector is just too diverse.
HARRIS: We can speak to different uses and can put an experience sheet together pretty much anywhere in the region, but we deal with leases, for the most part. We have building sales and we’ve done build-to-suits, too, of course. … So, another thing I wanted to ask you about Jean is your long involvement in SIOR.
RUSSO: Yes. I’m wearing my legacy pin, which I just got last week, for reaching the 30-year milestone.
HARRIS: Congratulations. You were president of SIOR, isn’t that right?
RUSSO: Yes. I was the first female president of the chapter.
HARRIS: And it’s a big chapter in Dallas.
RUSSO: That’s true. It’s such a great group of people who have known each other and done business together for many years. And there are conventions twice a year with some of the best seminars in the industry. After you continue attending over the years you get to know others across the United States. It’s a great group of professionals.
HARRIS: So, when you first got into the business, what was it like to be a woman in industrial real estate?
RUSSO: I never looked at it that way. To me, the gender makes absolutely no difference. But I will say that when I first started at CB, there were 14 guys in the industrial department, so it was like I had 14 big brothers. And you know how big brothers are. They all want to give you a hard time, but they all wanted me to succeed. And I worked hard. I’d often be the last one to leave the office at night, but I didn’t think anything of it. There’s nothing glamorous about industrial, the way there might be with retail—or the 130,000-square-foot flashy deal you did in Preston Center for Energy Transfer Partners.
HARRIS: That was a great deal. And you’re right, you get there through hard work. Energy Transfer Partners was not an inbound deal. It wasn’t something where we got lucky and went into a pitch. It took years of knocking on their door and putting stuff in front of them. It was a classic marathon example of showing them that we were qualified and that we wanted their business more than anyone else. That’s how we got hired, and we’re continuing to work on transactions for them all over. There are a lot of brokers out there, and it’s important to be outworking them all the time. Randy is the hardest worker I’ve ever come across. You just can’t let up on the gas.
RUSSO: And I’m a firm believer that it’s the relationships that will get you that repeat business. That’s what I try to pride myself on. My motto has always been “clients first.” I never care what it is. That’s just where my priority is. I don’t have a problem making a choice, because it’s always going to be client first. And hopefully that translates into my clients knowing that I will go the extra mile for them. I’ve definitely found that I get repeat business from that. It’s not the email campaigns or the holiday gifts.
HARRIS: And you can’t overlook what others might consider the small or unprofitable exercises. If it’s important to the client, you can win big if you solve small problems for people.
RUSSO: They will remember. There have been many times where I worked with a small 15,000-square-foot industrial deal that would go on to double in size the next couple of years and then in five years double again. Those kinds of clients are golden.
HARRIS: Talking about the strength of your relationships, I’ve heard that there’s one global client that works with another firm almost exclusively, but in this market, they wanted you to be involved.
RUSSO: You’re talking about Kellogg. That’s a funny story. About 25 years ago, I was sitting across the table from Kellogg, representing the landlord. Kellogg was a tenant in the building, and we negotiated a lease extension. We did that deal and the next thing I know Kellogg is calling me and asking me to represent them on deals in West Virginia, Denver, Atlanta—all over. Today, if the deal is in Dallas, they’ve been very considerate to keep me involved, even though JLL has the national account. Recently, a 1 million-square-foot deal came up in Dallas, and we co-oped the deal with JLL, because Kellogg asked JLL to use me.
HARRIS: It’s a great testament, Jean, to the caliber of your work.
RUSSO: It’s a neat story, and I’m grateful for their loyalty. A 1 million-square-foot tenant rep assignment? I was just honored.
HARRIS: And that begs the question … what is your favorite Kellogg’s cereal?
RUSSO: I really like Special K. How about you?
HARRIS: You don’t want to know the answer. When I was growing up, we always had the standard Cheerios and Raisin Bran. Then one day my mom brought home Rice Krispies treats cereal, which is exactly what it sounds like. I don’t want to know the caloric count, but I love it. Even today, if my wife goes out of town and I’m at the grocery store, I’ll still pick up a box. I love it.
RUSSO: My husband has a sweet tooth, too.
HARRIS: You should get him a box.
RUSSO: I’ll think about it. … So, what do you do for fun, Dan?
HARRIS: I fly fish. I also golf. And traveling anywhere with my wife is a happy place for me to be. … What about you?
RUSSO: I don’t really have a hobby. Real estate is my hobby. I’ve got 11 nieces and nephews and one god-child, so you know, big Italian families, my husband and I will travel to be with them. Between my side of the family and Charlie’s side of the family, that keeps us busy. Another thing we’ve done is visit the Presidential Libraries. We’ve been to 10 of them, and I think there are 13 or 14 now. So, we have to finish up the last few.
HARRIS: What did you think of Bill Clinton’s?
RUSSO: It was OK. It kind of feels cold as you approach it. You should go to the Reagan Library. It’s terrific. And you can see the plane and board it and walk around on it. On the Democrat side, I like JFK’s in Boston. The worst one on the Republican side is Eisenhower’s, just because it’s all the war stuff and eight years of presidency; I thought I would never get out of there. On the Democrat side, it’s LBJ’s, although I’ve heard it was recently renovated. But every exhibit, it’s “Ah did my best …”
HARRIS: Have you ever heard the recording of his phone call to order some Haggar slacks?
RUSSO: Is it at the library?
HARRIS: I doubt it, but it’s online. He was very particular about where the seams would go. It was fascinating.
RUSSO: I’ll have to Google that.
HARRIS: You won’t regret it. … So, now that we’re all in one place, Jean, what do you think Cushman & Wakefield should be known for, here in Dallas?
RUSSO: Client-first. That says it all. A client-centric focus.
HARRIS: I agree. Absolutely. And on a short-term basis, with as much M&A activity as the industry has seen, I think it’s important for the perception to carry through that we are one cohesive unit that operates its service lines fluidly and effectively and has a real, legitimate presence in the market for whatever the assignment is. The reality is there … the perception, in some cases, needs to catch up.
RUSSO: We’re in a good place. And a good time in the market, I might add. On the industrial side, we’re in extra innings. And if manufacturing is truly coming back to the United States, well, they’re going to have to put that stuff somewhere.
“We’re in a good place. And a good time in the market, I might add. On the industrial side, we’re in extra innings.”
HARRIS: On the office side, we have seen such an aggressive uptick in demand and rate increases for such a sustained period now, I think people are going to stop and really evaluate all the increases that have been happening, and if we’re at the top of the market. If companies don’t have to act at this point, they likely won’t. Some of those rate increases are tough to swallow. I don’t think things are going to implode or that there’s too much product out there, I just think the rate increases are causing some people to be cautious.
RUSSO: Do you think more people will downsize, to compensate for the rate?
HARRIS: We’ve seen some submarket moves, people in Preston Center move to Central Expressway, and some people in Uptown move downtown. You won’t get the big firms to go down there yet, but for some smaller firms, downtown is a very viable option at a mid-$20s rate when you’re looking at mid-$40s and above in Uptown.
RUSSO: Well, we’ve made it to the end of the interview, Dan, and I still haven’t heard about your valet parking career.
HARRIS: Oh, right! Well, when I first started in the business, it was in the middle of the recession. So, not only was I in retail real estate at the time, but it was the worst retail market anyone had seen in years. That sector was hit the hardest and the fastest and for the longest. At that point, no one was opening any new stores, and even fewer were hiring a 24-year-old kid to represent them. So, I started valet-parking cars just to get me through. I remember one time I was offered the opportunity to work an evening function, and I had a conflict … a real estate industry event. I needed to make money, so I took the valet job, and it turns out it was for the same real estate event! So, I was valet parking for my colleagues and other people in the industry. And, to make matters worse, it was raining. But you know what I did? Once everyone was inside, I went across the street and changed my clothes and went back and attended the event.
RUSSO: I love it! What a great story.
HARRIS: You do what you’ve got to do!
RUSSO: Isn’t that the truth.