The Speedy Rep: Colliers International Convert on His Transition From CBRE

Eighteen years ago, while still learning the ropes as a fresh-faced broker, Alan Desino was given an assignment that, later on, would utterly change his life.

Held up by funding complications and litigation, the building known today as the Americas Tower was merely steel beams and girders when the Japanese-owned KG A&A tapped Mr. Desino as a new leasing agent for the 1 million-square-foot Sixth Avenue tower.

Over the course of two years, the young Cushman & Wakefield broker ably leased 800,000 square feet of space to an array of office tenants, almost at once proving his mettle as a leasing agent. Nearly as notable, however, was a young Studley broker named Mark Jaccom sitting on the opposite side of the table during lease negotiations on behalf of a bank from Australia.

“What impressed me about Mark back then? I still remember: He was laser-focused on representing tenants,” said Mr. Desino, now 47. “He understood the deal. He had an objective, and you could tell he was going to get it done. Everything else was just secondary.”

Mr. Desino, a bit older, a bit wiser, told the tale early last week from his third-floor office at Colliers International, a rapidly growing firm he signed on to as an executive managing director in late August at the behest of Mr. Jaccom, now the company’s chief executive officer and, incidentally, the middle-aged broker with the laserlike focus.

For Mr. Desino, the decision to shift from Insignia, which later became CB Richard Ellis, and where he had served for 16 years following a senior vice president position at Cushman & Wakefield, came not just from his long, 20-year acquaintanceship with the Colliers International head honcho, but from his faith in the firm’s business model.

“That’s why I came over here and that’s why I’m excited to be over here,” said Mr. Desino of a business platform that he says is akin to a high-end investment firm for its consulting group and collaborative culture. “When he and I first had discussions about coming here, we talked about the platform we would have, and that he’s been building here for the last couple years, and, well, it’s exciting.”

Not one to waste time, Mr. Desino, who primarily deals in tenant-rep work, already made hay earlier this month when he inked his 10th deal with Evercore Partners, including two others in New York. The growing boutique investment bank signed off last month on a 31,000-square-foot lease expansion at Park Avenue Plaza.

His first deal with Evercore sprang up in 2005, after the then Insignia broker called the group to introduce himself. Since then, he’s inked deals for the group in Hong Kong, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Another recent deal, inked earlier this month, involved the Burlington Coat Factory, the outerwear retailer that held an office lease at a West 38th Street side building before committing to space in the Garment Center at 1400 Broadway, Mr. Desino said last week.

Initially, Burlington executives desired to relocate to office space near Penn Station, in deference to commuting employees. But Mr. Desino, ever the salesman, convinced the group that the 36,000-square-foot Broadway lease would transform their office environment, in part for its city views, floor-through space and unbeatable natural lighting.

“The key to doing this is not just to do a good job,” said Mr. Desino, who has also cut deals for Gilder Gagnon Howe, the American Media Group and the Thornton Tomasetti Group, among many others. “You have to actually treat them like it’s your company.”


MR. DESINO, A Rochester native, moved to New York City after he graduated from Harvard Business School, not knowing what life had in store for him.

Although he served rather briefly as an auditor at the vaunted accounting firm Arthur Anderson & Company, it was a friendship with college co-ed Sharon Silverstein that led to a series of dinners with her father, Larry, who nudged him toward his true calling.

“So I’m having dinner with Larry Silverstein, and so I asked him, I said, ‘I want to go into commercial real estate,'” recalled Mr. Desino, harking back to his college days, circa 1989.

“And he was talking about all of these different big deals he was doing–but you realized that with those big deals, you needed a lot of money to do that. So I said, ‘Larry, what would you say to somebody who has about $70,000 in student loans–in debt–who wants to go into commercial real estate?’

“He said, ‘I would tell them to go be a commercial real estate broker.’ And I said, ‘Why is that?’ and he said, ‘Well, because if you do become a great commercial real estate broker, you’ll know the building better than the landlord. When he thinks he can get X dollars in rent, you’ll know why he can or why he can’t, and you’ll also know, exactly, what the problem is. And also you’ll know the competitive landscape and the building better than I do.'”

It was shortly after his dinner with Mr. Silverstein that Mr. Desino committed himself to a life in real estate, first as a leasing agent at Cushman, which led to his assignment at the Americas Tower, which, ultimately, led to his fateful first meetings with a Mr. Jaccom. The rest, as they say, is real estate history.

But real estate, Mr. Desino assures us, is not his only passion. A Greenwich, Conn., resident with a wife and two children, he juggles no less than five hobbies when not at work. Most noteworthy may be his predilection for riding motorbikes. At the moment, he has five motorbikes, each pushing upward of 140 miles per hour. Not surprisingly, he sees parallels between the sport and his work in real estate.

“There’s the teamwork because it’s not just one guy on the bike,” said Mr. Desino, who also plays volleyball. “You’re competing with each other, but when you’re having trouble with the bike, you help each other out. And that’s the good thing about this shop here. One of the things Mark has said is, ‘We’re going to make this an open shop. We’re all working together.'”

The Speedy Rep: Colliers International Convert on His Transition From CBRE