Since January, Grubb & Ellis veteran Joseph Swingle has been at the helm of the firm’s New York metropolitan region as executive managing director. In a whirlwind eight months, the 56-year-old has managed to dutifully weather the downturn, and, last week, second-quarter reports seemed to validate his work.
The Commercial Observer:
The second-quarter report was released and Grubb & Ellis announced it had narrowed its losses, thanks in large part to revenue growth in its transaction-services businesses.
Mr Swingle: It’s very true, it’s very true. While all of our business lines were up year over year, based on the second-quarter results, our transaction services increased by a larger margin than the other business lines, which is very encouraging after coming off of 2009, which all of us in the real estate services business worked through. So it’s encouraging.
As executive managing director, did you focus on that service line here in New York?
Oh, clearly. It’s a huge focus for us here in New York. We have a cadre of experienced professionals here, and juniors, and a good crew of brokers, and it’s the lifeblood of our business here in New York. But my role as market leader, I have responsibility for all of our different business lines in the New York area. Clearly, in my six months of focus since I’ve assumed this position, the majority of my time is spent on the transaction and brokerage services.
In the second quarter alone, the company hired about 33 senior brokers nationwide. Did that hiring spree hit the New York office as well?
I’m not sure of that number. Everyday that number’s getting bigger, and every time you have those successes around the country it helps all of our different markets. That being said, I’ve spent the first six months here, if you will, reorganizing our support teams and adding to them as well. But you’re going to see us in a big way in the market, for recruiting, in the third and fourth quarter. We’re already in a number of conversations and expect to increase that. So we’re going to be very serious about recruiting throughout the balance of the year.
Primarily on the brokerage level?
Yes, typically on the brokerage level, but also on capital markets, investment sales, hospitality-the heart of the industry-and mortgage brokerage as well. And clearly tenant-rep and agency brokers as well.
It may be a naïve question, but why hire now? Is there just extra money to spend?
I don’t think you can talk to anyone who would say that there’s extra money to spend. That being said, it’s about making a decision on where to invest. We’ve made the decision that we’re going to invest in New York and we’re going to grow our platform and what we do here in this market. Again, 2009 was a tough year for everyone. I’m personally very encouraged about the future. I think in 2010 we’ll start to see the green shoots. Our leasing transaction volume is clearly higher. I think it will stay relatively steady throughout the balance of 2010, but I’m expecting great things in 2011, and we want to be positioned for that uptick.
Did your predecessor, David Arena, give you any words of wisdom or advice when you came into your current position?
David and I worked together for four years. David and I are friends. I’ve been with the company over 20 years. But the role I had for six years previous to Jan. 1 was running one business line on a national basis, whereas my responsibilities now are all business lines in the New York metropolitan area. But I worked hand-in-hand with David over the last four years because I worked with him on the corporate accounts side, and that’s an area of the business that David was very much involved in as well. So our paths crossed, and we collaborated often.
Did he say anything in particular about this position?
Clearly, he congratulated me—his hearty congratulations. He offered me some support. I can still pick up the phone and ask David advice, things on the market, and he can do the same with me. But I know he wishes me sincere success.
In April, you received the Hal Ellis award, an in-house honor named after Grubb & Ellis’ founder. Did you have the opportunity to meet Mr. Ellis before he passed in 2009?
I have met Hal, and being with the company for over 20 years I’ve met him at certain functions we’ve had over the years, typically at our national meetings. It was very nice, because at our 50th anniversary—at our national meeting on the 50th year of our being in business—Hal came and spoke, and it was really kind of fun to hear him in front of a couple thousand people up there talking about what made him successful and all. And I was reflecting at that time about how I really believe in what this guy said and his values.
I must say, I’ve gotten a number of awards from the company over the years, but this was the most humbled and probably the most appreciative I’ve been, to be recognized that way. I just respect the man.
Earlier in your career, you managed the New Jersey offices. From a market perspective, how does Jersey differ from Manhattan in 2010?
In many ways, we all share the same challenges coming off a difficult 2009, and now solidifying our base in 2010, and positioning ourselves for growth in 2011. My counterpart in New Jersey is Eric Stone. He’s a great guy. He and I speak virtually every day.
Historically, going back a number of years, it would almost be like that border of the river, and it was, like, ‘Don’t go over the river!’ Well, we don’t think that way anymore. We want to put the best team in place for our clients, to deliver the services to our clients that we can. And we’re collaborating often, and our teams are now joined based upon those pursuits.
New Jersey is one of the largest office markets unto itself in the country. It’s a very significant market. But it’s kind of funny: What’s old is new again, because when you look at some of the vacancy rates in New Jersey, what they are today? They’re just like they were in the early 1980s. They haven’t changed. The markets that were the first to deteriorate are the last to come back, and they’re the same markets today.
Do you have any good Jersey jokes?
I do. But I can’t share them.