Joseph Harbert Envisions Colliers In The Top Tier

Joseph Harbert’s surprise jump from Cushman & Wakefield to Colliers International earlier this month puts him at the forefront of the company’s push to become one of the top real estate services firms.

“Our goal is to break into the top five,” Mr. Harbert told The Commercial Observer in his first conversation since joining Colliers two weeks ago. “It’s very competitive. We don’t need to be doing every large deal in the city but we want to get a toehold.”

Mr. Harbert said he had made the switch from C&W, one of the city’s biggest and most established brokerage companies, because Colliers gave him the chance to join an ambitious upstart and help it grow.

joe harbert Joseph Harbert Envisions Colliers In The Top Tier

Joe Harbert

“My favorite chapter in my career was helping build Insignia ESG into a major real estate company,” Mr. Harbert said, referring to the company whose brokerage operations he helped manage before joining C&W eight years ago. Insignia ESG eventually was acquired by CBRE.

“You get to a point in your career where you want to do what you really love and I wanted to get back to that,” Mr. Harbert said.

Mr. Harbert’s hiring gave a boost to Colliers International, which for years has been trying to elevate its position both in the Manhattan office market and nationally. Mr. Harbert was C&W’s chief operating officer and managed its brokerage business in the city, helping to propel the company into one of the top-tier leasing and services firms in Manhattan.

“We have a lot of great executives at Colliers like Michael Cohen and Andy Roos and Bob Freedman and others,” Mr. Harbert said. “We’ve got a great core group and I think we’re going to add new talent too.”

His departure from C&W also reinforced a sense of upheaval in the brokerage industry that has made once seemingly-untouchable real estate services companies now appear suddenly vulnerable to lesser-known but burgeoning competitors.

Arthur Mirante, C&W’s former chief executive, also recently left the firm to become a top executive at the Canadian services company Avison Young, which is also trying to grow.

The West Coast based company Lee & Associates also just opened a branch in the city. Other, larger firms are also trying to push ahead, including Cassidy Turley, which hired the brokerage executive Peter Hennessy in recent years to chair its New York operations and has carved out a niche doing deals in the city.

Mr. Harbert and Mr. Mirante’s move has created the impression that C&W in particular is suffering from the shakeup. Before the pair left, a prominent leasing team led by Mitch Konsker and a sales team led by Richard Baxter both left C&W to go to Jones Lang LaSalle, a major global company that in recent years has worked to dramatically strengthen its Manhattan operations.

Mr. Harbert sought to difuse the perception that C&W is struggling and that that had anything to do with his departure.

“C&W is extremely well capitalized, has zero debt and has a very strong partner with EXOR,” Mr. Harbert said, referring to C&W’s Italian parent company. “I left because Colliers is a great opportunity for me. Last year C&W was number one in the city in leasing, we had the top deal of the year. I felt like I had done what I had set out to do at the firm and that it was time to take on another challenge. C&W is in an extremely strong position.”

One of the factors that has allowed smaller brokerage companies to grow is the city’s abundant recruitment market. Mr. Harbert said that more brokers have become willing to take a risk and join less dominant companies for the chance to go after business they might otherwise be precluded from chasing at larger firms, where preexisting relationships and established heirarchies often channel dealmaking through a small cadre of top executives who control key relationships with landlords and tenants.

“There’s a lot of recruitment opportunities in the market right now,” Mr. Harbert said. “I think you’re going to see us make some key hires in the coming months.”

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