Peter Hennessy Has a Busy Winter Ahead

Since being named president of the New York tristate region for Cassidy Turley in August, real estate veteran Peter Hennessy has had his hands full-primarily with realigning the firm’s services platform and its national entities under a single umbrella, but also with his continued role as a broker. Mr. Hennessy, 50, talked about settling into his new position, his expansion plans for Cassidy Turley and his own No. 1 New Year’s resolution.

The Commercial Observer: You took the reins as the president of Cassidy Turley’s New York tristate region in August. Have you settled into your new job yet?

Mr. Hennessy: Yeah, you know, I’m getting there. I wouldn’t say I’m completely settled. There’s a lot to do.

Not that the place was problematic in its operation or organization. It’s just that the old Colliers ABR business was a self-sustaining, stand-alone business, and what we’re now doing is really truly putting together an integrated national service provider platform. So we need to integrate both New York with our New Jersey office, with our D.C. base of business, with our St. Louis headquarters and with our West Coast operations. And that requires sort of a different thought process and effort than just taking what was a good local business and truly developing it into a high-performing partnership culture that is really focused on servicing two masters: The first is our clientele and the second is our own people.


So it sounds like you’re almost building from the ground up? 

I wouldn’t say that. It’s more about realigning the focus of the organization. We’re privately held; most of the big firms across the country are publicly traded. Publicly traded firms are owned by outsider investors-whether you look at Grubb, CB, C&W or JLL. So if you look at size-and, clearly, size isn’t the key criteria that we measure against, but that’s what a lot of people look to-we’re among the top three or four in the country. But our focus isn’t about outside investors; it’s not about the markets. It’s about making sure that we’re investing on a consistent basis back into servicing our clients and taking care of our own people.


You’ve worked at Staubach, Jones Lang LaSalle and Cushman & Wakefield. In terms of the culture, how is Cassidy Turley different from those other firms?

I don’t want to slam any other firm-and that’s not my intention-but they all have different cultures that are focused on different arenas and affect different things. But the culture here is very, very akin to what the Staubach culture was. The Staubach culture and thought process was very simple: It was that teams win more often than individuals win.

So high-performing teams succeed because the individuals worked together to succeed. Other organizations put the focus or energy around individuals that help pull others together and pull them along. Roger Staubach always had a simple message to us as I was learning the business with him and from him, which is you’ve got to give individuals the opportunity to do extraordinary things-so ordinary people doing extraordinary things.


Did you receive any advice from Cassidy Turley’s chairman, Mark Boisi, on how to handle the new position? 

I get advice every day-from everybody. And that’s O.K., I’m sensible. I don’t have a lock on all the right ideas or the best ideas. I’ve got ideas, and my job is really to do two things: One is to try to get a true coalescence around certain ideas and certain issues that people can agree upon that allows us to work as a team; and the second one is not to be afraid to be challenged.

Those are two things I have to do, because if I’m not afraid to be challenged, then people will challenge me and they will allow me to respond and change what I’m doing for the betterment of the organization. And Mark brought me here; and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this seat.


Did you consider it a risk to dive into a relatively new name in New York real estate?

Not a risk per se, but more of a challenge. Here’s what you have in New York: You have the media capital of the world, and the biggest driver for business in New York is real estate. I know that financial services is an incredibly important part, but real estate is the heart and soul of New York City-so you’ve got the biggest players. Albeit CB isn’t headquartered here, but for all practical purposes, this is the engine for CB on the national and international levels. Then you have C&W headquartered here, and you’ve got my former friends over at JLL, whose focus is to build business in New York and truly be the No. 1 firm in the world.

So there’s a lot of focus, both from a media perspective and there’s a lot of focus on the industry itself. So the challenge really is to help differentiate the brand and identify what the brand really means and why it’s really different. I had that same challenge back with Staubach because when we opened the Staubach office in New York, people kind of knew who Roger was, but remember, he was 20-plus years past his playing days. And, No. 2, people didn’t really know who he was in terms of his role in real estate.


I understand that on top of your other responsibilities, you still play a role as a broker.

I am. I still have a number of transactional pieces that I’m doing that are kind of legacy deals that I was working on while I was at JLL, and I’m actively out working with other clients right now that are Cassidy Turley clients. I’ll never take my hand out of working for clients. I think it’s incredibly important for us to stay attuned to the market and engaged in the market as we try to grow and build our business.


What goals do you want to accomplish in 2011?

As we merge all of these different entities together-and by the way, we’re not done-our negotiations to acquire two more firms around the country will come down the pike probably during the middle part of the first quarter.

Besides that, the issue for us is recruiting. We’ve got a good base of talent here, but I need to bring on some additional skill sets of talent. We want to bring on some functional areas where we don’t have the depth we need, like in our capital markets platform and in our project management platform. So those two areas we need to improve the depth of in the tristate area.

And then more tactical in nature and less strategic is moving our offices. We’re now scattered on two floors of space that was built about 20-odd years ago, and so we need to put us into a new environment. Like my old friends at JLL and CB and Cushman, we’ll have picked up and moved by a year or so from now.


And, considering the time of year, what are your own New Year’s resolutions for 2011?

Good question! The one that I think about more regularly than not is be patient. I’ve got a desire and an interest to do a lot in a very short period of time. But more organizations die from indigestion than by starvation. And I’m very conscious of identifying the three or four or five true initiatives that need to be undertaken and accomplishing them in one year.

So that’s the first and foremost-understanding we’re not going to be able to accomplish everything we want in as short a time frame as I would like. It will take some time to accomplish everything I’d like in one year.

Peter Hennessy Has a Busy Winter Ahead