The Number Cruncher: The JLL Powerhouse on Her BBC Deal
Jotham Sederstrom Oct. 18, 2011, 10:15 a.m.
When the British Broadcasting Corporation began its search for new office space for the executive and sales staff in Manhattan last year, its focus was on finding space that had a newsroom feel, free of the labyrinthine private offices and barriers so common among law firms, doctors’ offices and corporate accounting firms.
Like the bullpen made famous by Mayor Bloomberg, the company envisioned a Manhattan office with open space that would inspire transparency and collaboration while eschewing privacy.
In late 2010, the BBC moved from its 45,000-square-foot office at 747 Third Avenue to a new space at 1120 Avenue of the Americas, a 55,000-square-foot office that boasts wide-open space and additional room for its growing workforce of stateside executives and sales people.
“They don’t have any private offices in there at all,” said Lisa Kiell, a managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle who has brokered approximately four million square feet in transactions since joining the company in 1994. “It’s much more efficient [than the BBC’s former space]. [It’s] easier.”
Sitting in a conference room in JLL’s Lexington Avenue headquarters, Ms. Kiell, 47, said more media and technology companies, such as her tenant BBC Worldwide Americas, are increasingly seeking offices with open space, both to foster collaboration among employees and to house their expanding work forces.
Like Google, which last year garnered headlines with its acquisition of 111 Eighth Avenue, other Silicon Valley companies are viewing the East Coast as a fertile recruiting ground for talented new developers and engineers in addition to the sales and marketing divisions that long ago planted flags near Madison Avenue.
“The work force is here and the skilled labor is here,” said Ms. Kiell, who has brokered deals for Cisco Systems, Medidata Solutions and Microsoft, for whom she is currently working on a 200,000-square-foot transaction in New York. “At some point, they’re going to run out of possibilities in Palo Alto for those people so I think New York and probably Boston are going to increasingly have opportunities for technology.”
Ms. Kiell, who has done transactions for Toyota, United Health Group and the New York City Housing Development Corporation, inked a 450,000-square-foot renewal sublease for Skadden Arps at 1440 New York Avenue in Washington, D.C., this April after a brief search throughout the city.
Working with her JLL Beltway colleagues, Ms. Kiell said she considered relocating the venerable law firm to a yet-to-be-built commercial development project in D.C. in which they had an opportunity to be the building’s anchor tenant. Ultimately, however, the firm decided to renovate and renew in its space at 1440 New York Avenue. Skadden will “refresh” its attorney offices during the renovations, said Ms. Kiell.
“[JLL had] the landlord upgrade the building, including a rooftop terrace with a view of the White House,” Ms. Kiell wrote in an email.
Ms. Kiell grew up one of five children in Mountainside, N.J.
Although both of her parents practiced medicine—her father is a psychiatrist and her mother is a medical technician—it was at their behest that Ms. Kiell eventually chose to attend accounting courses at Emory University in Atlanta.
The young professional’s accounting career, however, was short-lived.
It was in her first several years as an accountant for Coopers & Lybrand, in fact, that she discovered her true calling as a real estate broker.
She spent her first assignment in Allentown, Pa., auditing AT&T while spending her nights cooped up in a Red Roof Inn hotel. It was while auditing real estate clients back in New York that she discovered an industry that, to her delight, embraced collaboration among its personnel.
“I liked the tangible asset of it,” she said about real estate. “With accounting, I enjoyed the service aspect, and I think that is one of my strengths, which is just being a good advocate for my clients. When I worked in public accounting, I found that I liked what my clients did, not necessarily what I was doing for them.”
Her intrigue led to career transition, first with a position in the leasing department for LCOR in Jersey City, where she worked by day. At night, she attended classes at New York University, where she earned her master’s degree in real estate development.
She would eventually land at the Galbreath Company, snatching up assignments for small law firms and fashion companies that, at no greater than 5,000 square feet, were insignificant for more experienced brokers yet substantial enough for a hungry Ms. Kiell.
“They were small deals that weren’t going to make much money, but they were just opportunities for me to learn the business,” said Ms. Kiell.
“And I was earning a salary.”
Two decades later, Ms. Kiell is not only earning a considerably larger salary; she is also opening doors for other female professionals in the real estate industry, which has long been considered a boy’s club.
At Jones Lang LaSalle, where an estimated 30 percent of company’s managers are female, Ms. Kiell has been actively mentoring female brokers and hosting seminars to help others break similar barriers.
Last month, in fact, JLL hosted its first Women’s Summit in Chicago, where the firm is based.
“I think it’s an interest of mine and the firm to really create and grow our junior women to have more senior women in the real estate ranks,” she said.
And while the gender equation is evening out—an estimated 43 percent of commercial real estate professionals are women, an increase from 36 percent in 2005, according to a 2010 report from the Commercial Real Estate Women Network—Ms. Kiell believes balancing work and family can be a challenge.
“The hours that are required a lot of times don’t work for people who want to have a good work life balance and want to have a family life,” said Ms. Kiell, a married mother of two boys who lives on the Upper West Side. “The time constraints are tough.”
Looking ahead to 2012, Ms. Kiell believes business will remain steady, but we won’t see dramatic improvements in the coming months.
“It’s going to be a plateau, small increase kind of thing for the next 12 months,” said Ms. Kiell. “We’re not going to see big ups or downs.
“The good news is people still want to be in New York City. Companies want to locate in New York City … it’s where people want to work. So we’re fortunate in that people still want office space.”