CBRE’s Mark Ravesloot: The Renaissance Man With the Gift of Gab
Daniel Geiger Sept. 18, 2012, 7:30 a.m.
Commercial leasing brokers often earn a reputation for being proficient in a particular neighborhood, whether it be Midtown, Downtown or one of the more popular office destinations outside Manhattan, such as the New Jersey waterfront.
“It’s definitely a more specialized business these days,” said Mark Ravesloot, a leasing broker at CBRE.
Even in a city where top brokers are often prolific and versatile, Mr. Ravesloot’s career is distinguished by the apparent ease with which he has done sizeable deals across Manhattan and its ancillary submarkets.
Earlier this year, he and the leasing team he heads at CBRE filled 100 William Street in Lower Manhattan in an impressive streak of deals, including a 22,000-square-foot transaction over the summer with the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation to absorb the remaining vacancy there. In the spring he brought Tower Insurance into an 80,000-square-foot space in Harborside Financial Center in Jersey City. Late last year, he helped handle a deal to bring ION Trading, a financial firm, into about 60,000 square feet at 1345 Avenue of the Americas.
The leases may not be the biggest of the year—though Mr. Ravesloot has struck his share of jumbo-sized deals—but when you add them all up, Mr. Ravesloot is consistently a top dealmaker worthy of CBRE’s highest brokerage title and distinction of production: vice chairman.
“I am a little more client-centric than market-centric, so I go wherever my clients take me,” Mr. Ravesloot said. “Downtown, in general, is not as easy to get familiar with as Midtown, and the rents are lower, and so the fees are lower. It’s the same thing with Jersey City. A lot of brokers would rather concentrate on Midtown. But these are just areas I have developed a comfort level with, and saw the importance of working in, to diversify my business.”
Mr. Ravesloot’s dealmaking is also varied in that he represents both landlords and tenants. If there has been a theme in Mr. Ravesloot’s career and life, it has been his ability to adapt.
He started in brokerage at Jones Lang Wootton, the predecessor to the major services company Jones Lang LaSalle, in the early 1980s. Mr. Ravesloot’s intellect and analytical approach meshed well with the firm’s corporate culture. In college, he had taken only a single computer science class, in what was an emerging field of study then, but the basics of the course work had stuck with him.
“You would take punch cards and literally write your program on the card by punching holes in it and feeding it into the computer so it could read it and do the calculations you wanted,” Mr. Ravesloot remembered.
Jones Lang Wootton had installed a terminal that could relay information to a mainframe computer in Dallas that would perform the routines. The system was primitive by today’s standards but Mr. Ravesloot immediately grasped its potential at a time when leases were typically evaluated and arranged in a far more unsophisticated manner than they came to be in the digital age.
“There were no analytics provided to the client,” Mr. Ravesloot said.
“If the rent was $12.50 per square foot, then the broker might say ‘Take it down by 25 cents’. There was no Excel or Lotus. You had to write the whole program, and I was fascinated by the ability to do this.”
Mr. Ravesloot began running more complex analyses for tenants he was working with, calculating and comparing the assemblage of varying factors that comprise the economics of a deal, including rent, the costs of constructing an office and other factors like landlord incentives. The work was useful enough to the modest sized tenants Mr. Ravesloot worked with at the time, but its value was not lost on more senior brokers at the firm, whose bigger tenants could especially benefit from such a rigorous computer-aided evaluation.
“Some of the senior brokers started noticing, and they said ‘Hey that’s pretty cool, can you run this lease for me?’” Mr. Ravesloot said. “And I quickly started getting involved in deals that were much larger than I otherwise would have.”
By the late 1980s, Mr. Ravesloot was on track to become a top broker at Jones Lang Wootton, but a curve ball would come his way. In an effort to double down as a more consultative, corporate-minded real estate services company, it abolished commissions, wiping out its entire brokerage corps almost overnight.
Rather than drop out of the firm, as many of his colleagues did, to head for competitors, Mr. Ravesloot scrambled to recast his situation.
He had business to finish in his pipeline, which bought him time. When those transactions did finally wind down, he figured top level management at the company would begin to wonder if the decision had been sound, given the exodus of brokers. Mr. Ravesloot, meanwhile, rushed to draft a business plan to keep his team and his compensation structure intact.
“I bought a couple of books at Barnes & Noble on how to write a business plan,” Mr. Ravesloot said. “And I wrote one. I would like to hire 12 or 14 people and continue as a team that received commissions.”
Though Mr. Ravesloot’s team would be the sole commission-based group at the company, management embraced his proposal, in part because then, as now, he was a consistent and reliable earner for the company.
“I think we were the only group that turned a profit every year,” Mr. Ravesloot said.
The proposal also thrust Mr. Ravesloot into more of a managerial position; he became directly responsible for the group he had convinced management to preserve. He did well in the role. By the time he left Jones Lang Wootton in 1999 (for CBRE), his team, which had started its run at the company with about $2 million in revenue, was pulling in around $20 million.
Mr. Ravesloot was primed for adversity and being forced to develop skills on the fly. His father was a Harvard-trained mathematician who became an executive at IBM, operating laboratories the company had in Europe. Mr. Ravesloot essentially grew up overseas, shuttled across a host of countries as his father was assigned to different locations.
He remembers being enrolled in a school in France without being able to speak a word of the language. His teachers took him aside and handed him a copy of Les Misérables, the classic tome of French literature.
“My assignment for the year was to translate the whole book,” Mr. Ravesloot recalled.
It was an arduous but cultured upbringing, and Mr. Ravesloot now speaks several languages, including French, as a result.
“It’s something that was tough to go through, certainly, but something you appreciate looking back,” Mr. Ravesloot said.
Having to constantly prove himself was a skill that came in handy in brokerage.
“We have picked some very good companies over the years,” Mr. Ravesloot explained.
“But in brokerage it’s important not just to be able to pick up business but also to stay with your clients. The skill set with a 10,000- to 20,000-square-foot tenant is much different than one for a two million-square-foot tenant with space across country.
For instance, we started with working with TD Waterhouse, which is now TD Ameritrade, when they were 3,000 square feet. Now they’re two million square feet. You have to grow with your client.”
Part of the challenge is outlasting the inevitable regime changes that take place as companies expand, junctures where even long-standing relationships can be quickly shed.
“It happens when a new administration comes in and I have had a contract with them that stretches for another six to 12 months, and so I have that amount of time to prove myself,” Mr. Ravesloot said.
“For me, it’s giving a client the services they didn’t know they needed before they realized they needed it. That’s how you prove your value.”