Cushman & Wakefield’s Asset Services team has transformed significantly in the past year, and leading the charge is Kevin Smith, Tri-State Region Lead, Asset Services and Drew O’Connor, New York City Lead, Managing Director, Property Management. Kevin joined the firm last September and is responsible for growing the firm’s 62 million-square-foot Tri-State Asset Services portfolio and the property management team. Drew has been with Cushman & Wakefield for eight years, and was recently promoted to City Lead for New York in April 2019. His focus in his new role is to oversee all aspects of property management operations in the five boroughs and work with Kevin to develop and recruit top talent.
Both based at the firm’s Midtown Manhattan office, this is the first time Kevin and Drew have worked together under Cushman & Wakefield’s roof, but the duo has worked together in the industry for over a decade. We spoke with the team about their careers, trends in property management, and what’s next for them in the industry.
Congratulations Drew on your recent promotion. This is a new role at Cushman & Wakefield – what was the motivation to carve out this position in Asset Services?
Kevin: As we further expand our Asset Services footprint in the Tri-State, our demand only increases, especially within the five boroughs. As I am managing the Tri-State region which includes New York City, New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut, and Long Island, it can be quite challenging to effectively serve all our clients while also focusing on growing the business with one person heading up the region. Since New York City is the largest commercial real estate market in the world and home to most of our largest clients, it only made sense to have a dedicated resource for the five boroughs. Property management in the five-boroughs requires specific and vast expertise, and Drew is the best in the business. This role solidifies our ability to continue offering top-tier service to our clients throughout New York City and will allow us to expand our portfolio even further down the road.
Tell us about Cushman & Wakefield’s Asset Services team and our New York City portfolio.
Drew: Cushman & Wakefield is the largest property manager in New York City and has been for a while. Within the five-boroughs alone, we have 65 clients and manage over 37 million square feet, which equates to about $20 billion of real estate. We manage all types of properties – industrial, office, retail and multifamily – so our portfolio is incredibly diverse. With this portfolio, about 250,000 people walk in and out of buildings we manage daily in New York City. That is a lot of space and a lot of people to cover, which means we have to have a large number of talented employees to assist in managing each asset. That being said, we have about 565 employees working on our properties in the five boroughs making us one of the largest union employers in New York City. This also explains Kevin’s earlier point as to why we need a separate leader for New York City and not just one leader for the entire Tri-State. We have a lot of ground to cover each day. As Kevin focuses on growing the business and our talent pool, I focus on making sure each of our clients are being serviced to the best of our ability and oversee our entire NYC portfolio so it’s a great balance.
What are the differentiators in how Cushman & Wakefield’s Asset Services team operates compared to its competitors?
Kevin: We made a choice to manage our Asset Services team differently from our competitors because we don’t just want to be the biggest, we want to be the best. Most of our competitors use one property management model on a national scale; each city adapts to the national model. At Cushman & Wakefield, we acknowledge that when it comes to commercial real estate, New York City is a different animal than any other city in the world. We adjust our management style and approach in the five boroughs for that reason. We effectively adapt the make-up of our property management team to the properties we manage. New York City is demanding, and we manage some of the largest and most iconic properties including 1211 Avenue of the Americas and Two Park Avenue in Manhattan and the Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn. The needs of a massive office property in Midtown Manhattan are vastly different than the needs of a large retail property in Brooklyn. As Drew mentioned earlier we are the largest property manager in the city and one of the largest union employers in the city so we need to adjust our approach and commit to hiring and promoting top talent to keep our quality of service at its peak.
Drew: I think another major differentiator is how collaborative Cushman & Wakefield is with each of its service lines. The property management team works with GOS, the brokerage teams, the capital markets teams, retail teams, etc. to add value with clients any way we can. For example, we participate in new business pitches, assist the Capital Markets team in helping clients understand building operation costs, and offer operational insight to future tenants. We are really a one-stop shop, and property management is an important player.
Sustainability is important to tenants – both commercial and residential – and to New York City. What changes have you seen in terms of landlords and their sustainability practices?
Drew: Sustainability has been top of mind for landlords for years. Tenants look for properties that are environmentally conscious and LEED certifications are practically expected now so landlords are committed to improving their carbon footprint to meet the different certification standards. I think the biggest news out there right now in terms of sustainability and property management in New York City is the Carbon Emissions Law that recently passed. The law sets carbon-emissions targets and fines for larger commercial and residential buildings – more than 25,000 square feet – in New York City that do not have regulated units at the property. This will force landlords of these larger properties to go one step further in their sustainability practices as some of them that are already considered “energy-efficient” do not qualify as so under the new law. Landlords will need to bring in engineers, sustainability experts and property managers to adjust the infrastructure and processes to reduce their carbon emissions. This will be a seismic change for our industry.