A Sport of It
Tom Acitelli Oct. 6, 2009, 10:20 a.m.
The Commercial Observer: What’s happening right now at Jones Lang LaSalle?
Mr. Riguardi: We’re on a journey as an organization, and we’re on a journey as a group here in New York; and I think they’ve been traveling at pretty parallel courses. For years, people thought Jones Lang LaSalle was a great adviser and provided great information, but they were critical that we weren’t necessarily aggressive enough. Particularly in the brokerage area, they felt we didn’t have deep local roots, and I think in the last seven years, we’ve proved that to be totally wrong in New York.
You’re managing about 120 brokers in the tri-state region. I can’t imagine the stress. Tell me about your day-to-day activities?
We meet every Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. Everybody. All hands on deck. The idea is, we want to know what everyone’s doing, where everyone’s going, so there’s total transparency. We don’t like to resolve issues in a back room. We resolve it openly and in front of everyone so everyone has a fair chance to say, ‘Hey, I should be involved.’ We’re going to put the best teams together. Not political teams. So that’s one way we do it.
We have a training program that Derek Trulson is running for our younger people—teaching them to canvass, teaching them the business, getting them out in the marketplace. We stress communication and respect. And so the brokerage business is running really well. I’m not going to say there’s never issues, but we deal with them professionally, we deal with them quickly, and we try to have the outcome of the broker issues—particularly when it’s broker to broker—resolved between themselves and not through some arbitration and things like that.
Give me an overview of your recent deals.
We represented the Chinese in a very significant transaction at the World Trade Center. It was a lot of years in the works. It’s the first private deal at the World Trade Center. We recently represented CBS in the Orrik Herrington & Sutcliffe transaction, over at the Black Rock building, which I think was a real milestone transaction in New York because it’s a tenant that’s been in the market for a long period of time, that really said to the community, ‘We’re going to sign a deal at the bottom of the marketplace.’ I think it was a significant event when they did sign, and it represented a transaction that not only brought together a contribution from the landlord CBS, but brought together a contribution from a corporate tenant who had excess space. So I think that was a significant deal. That signed about a month ago.
We also recently concluded a transaction with General Motors, which, again, I think is a significant bellwether transaction. They had committed to another building and then disavowed that lease, and ended up at the General Motors Building. And it was, again, another journey. But I really think both will be defining transactions about when this market sort of hit the bottom and started to turn around.
Do you expect those good feelings to continue?
We feel good that the marketplace has got a lot of activity. In the New York marketplace, midtown in particular, the landlord community has made an unbelievable adjustment from sort of Lehman-weakened to today, and where values and concessions are. When you combine that with a marketplace that has 400 million square feet of space, there’s naturally a number of leases expiring. You’re going to have a fair amount of activity right now. And we’re seeing that.
I notice you’re a football fan. Have you met former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, whose company merged with Jones Lang LaSalle in 2008?
I’ve actually had the pleasure of developing a very nice relationship with Roger Staubach. It’s been one of the real benefits for me in the merger. Not only because—yeah, I’m a football fan and I grew up on Sundays watching Roger pump-fake and beat the Giants—but more importantly, today, who Roger is and what he stands for: his unbelievable high standard, his ethics, his commitment to clients. Just developing the relationship I have with him and his wife and my wife, and just seeing the way he goes about his business. That’s the story about Roger Staubach today.
Let’s stay on the sports beat for one moment longer.
You can keep me there a long time. That’s easy for me.
In Queensland, Australia, Jones Lang LaSalle has a company rugby team, which recently beat competitor CBRE. Do you guys play organized sports here in New York?
I’m 48. So I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and as a younger person in this business I used to really enjoy … We used to play softball in Central Park. On Mondays, I think it was; I forget the day. But you would play all the teams, and the games were very competitive. A lot of the guys are still around and we still laugh about those days. And, yeah, you know what? Luckily it was softball and not hardball because you didn’t want anyone throwing it under your chin.
How’d you do against CB Richard Ellis?
CBRE back then was a smaller player, but the roots of CBRE, like their brokerage business—well, their softball team was a tough competitor. Let’s just say that.
In the past year, what type of investors are coming into the New York market?
Since the adjustment in the market, we’ve seen a number of foreign groups that want to buy New York. They see this as an opportunity to compete to win. They want to buy New York while it’s low. JLL is such an international firm; we get a call every day from somewhere in Asia, someone in Europe. But you have to qualify that. Who are they? Can they really be successful? And really make sure that it works.
There had been a rumor going around that JLL was considering a merger with Cushman. Anything to those rumors?
I’m happy to say I have such an important job at Jones Lang LaSalle that I’m not privy to that. You’d have to ask [JLL Global CEO] Colin Dyer the answer to that question. I would never answer on his behalf, but if I could guess, he might say that we’re a publicly traded firm, extremely healthy financially; we have a great book of business, and we would consider anything that makes us better.
In interviews, you tend to mention quality of life in New York City, even telling The Observer’s Dana Rubinstein that graffiti bothered you. Why so sensitive?
Companies want to position themselves here for the talent, and they want to make sure they’re going to be around that talent for the next 20 years or so. If we lose the quality-of-life issue, we’re going to lose the talent pool, too, and that’s going to spiral into everything else. So the fact that young people can live in Williamsburg, or that they can live on Wall Street, is a key factor.
I’d say the quality of life is pretty good right now. Graffiti was a microcosm to me of the things turning back—I don’t think they’ll turn back to the ’70s—but, man, when I see graffiti, I almost want to get out the Soft Scrub and start scrubbing it myself.