Conquering the Northeast from the West
Late last year, Transwestern quietly began recruiting New York brokers to oversee the Texas-based commercial real estate firm’s ambitious expansion into New York. The company eventually chose Patrick Robinson, who had logged a decade at the Staubach Company, running its New York offices between 1996 and 2006. Mr. Robinson, 51, talked last week about how he came to be tapped as the company’s president and principal of the Northeast, and what, in particular, he has in store for what will be Transwestern’s 28th corporate office in the U.S.
The Commercial Observer:
Take me behind the scenes: How long had Transwestern been planning its expansion into the New York market?
Mr. Robinson: It’s been a long time. Without mentioning names, there are several firms that the company spoke to at great length a couple of years ago. They spoke to many people here in New York. It’s a multi-year process for them, that I can tell you.
How did they get in touch with you?
About four months ago, they came to me through one of my former colleagues at Staubach in Dallas, who said that I had started and run and built the Staubach office here in New York from 1996 to 2006, and that they should contact me.
Did you immediately jump on board, or did you have reservations?
There were no reservations, but, like anything else, before you get married you like to date a little while. So through a series of conversations over time we came to an agreement on how to strategically grow the office and build a business here in the Northeast.
All things considered, it happened pretty quickly. I think strategically and culturally, it was a very strong fit right up front, and it was just a matter of details.
What were Transwestern’s initial strategies for growing the business?
The initial strategy was to find somebody who was culturally compatible with their firm, and Transwestern has very strong roots in being a client-driven company and having a collaborative teamwork kind of culture internally. And they wanted to make sure that that really matched well-so very similar to the Staubach Company.
How do you plan on distinguishing yourself from all the real estate firms that have already established themselves in New York?
I think quality is always better than quantity, so being very diligent about bringing personnel in and finding people with the right fit and the kind of people who will make us accessible. So we’ll have a very strong but methodical growth pattern.
I imagine many of the people in Houston have been traveling to New York. Has there been any culture shock for them?
I don’t think so. Transwestern has been around as a company for 30 years, and the leadership of the company has been very successful and they’re very sophisticated. But they just wanted to be careful. New York is the largest market in the world for real estate, and they just wanted to be very confident in how they approached the New York market.
When they’ve come in to New York, where have you taken them to showcase the city?
We did the classic 21 Club. You know, right at the bar there, old-school New York. That’s my go-to restaurant when I have to show around out-of-towners; and I think they liked it-we had a great night. I think it pretty much sealed the deal for everybody.
Looking forward, what are the first few goals on your list that you hope to accomplish?
First is client service. I mean, we have a current client base and it’s ours; and then we’ve gotten a lot of calls from people around the Transwestern network about prospective clients around the region. So, first and foremost, we want to give world-class service to the client, but other than that priorities one, two and three are pretty much just recruiting top-quality talent.
And have you already begun the recruitment process?
Yes, we have one person who is already joining us, and half of my day is spent either in meetings or on the phone; and I’ve had probably three dozen phone calls with people wanting to sit down with us and talk.
So I think there’s a fair amount of dislocation in the brokerage market. You’ve seen some big brokerage teams moving around and that sort of thing, and when there’s that kind of change, that usually precipitates other people thinking about changing. Sometimes there’s not as much room in a company, and you have new people coming in, so I think there’s a fair amount of dislocation within the brokerage community right now, and I think we can capitalize on that.
There’s also a need, or a wanting, for an alternative to some of the bigger, more established shops. I think some people want a more creative or entrepreneurial environment.
Will you be focusing on all five boroughs, or the tristate area, or some other market?
Manhattan would be the first priority, but we will-over time, which is yet to be defined-expand into New Jersey, Connecticut and up to Boston. But for the foreseeable future, the priority is New York City, with a focus on Manhattan.
It must be exciting to be at the helm of a brand-new company in New York.
Yeah! It’s way exciting. It’s a very broad platform with a lot of service capabilities, and that opens up a lot of opportunities. Not just for me, but for whomever our partners are who join us in this market. It’s going to be very exciting, and financially successful-and I think we’ll have some real fun while doing it.
You were formerly partners with Roger Staubach. What was it like working with him?
Roger’s great. You know, Roger is remarkably humble for all that he’s achieved, whether that’s in athletics, business or family.
You see these people in the world who are wildly successful financially, but might be on their fifth wife. Or you see these people who give up what could be very promising lucrative financial careers to be with their family, to build that-and that’s a wonderful thing. And you see professional athletes who are so talented and then they get out and within a short time they’ve lost everything. But Roger is one of those very few guys who have been able to be off-the-chart successful at pretty much every area of life. That’s a very rare thing, and I think it has to do with his strong family upbringing.