CBRE’s Thomas McDonnell Talks Advisory Platform Growth

Thomas McDonnell.
Thomas McDonnell.


Thomas McDonnell, who joined CBRE for the first time in the mid-1990s, has seen his role expand in the past year due to his firm’s acquisition of IVI International at the end of 2014. IVI, which provides construction and environmental consulting on behalf of real estate owners, investors and lenders, has helped bolster the global real estate services firm’s valuation and advisory platform, Mr. McDonnell told Commercial Observer. That led to the two firms playing an advisory role in Anbang Insurance Group’s $1.95 billion purchase of The Waldorf Astoria New York on behalf of the buyer, in addition to several other large deals, he said. Mr. McDonnell also spoke about CBRE’s Freddie Mac small-balance loan program and his expectations for the CMBS industry.

Commercial Observer: Where did you grow up and how did you get your start in the business?

Mr. McDonnell: I grew up in Elmhurst, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. Currently, I live in Glen Ellyn, Ill. with my wife and two kids. I have been in the valuation business all of my life. My father was an MAI appraiser, so it’s sort of in the blood, and as a kid I would spend weekends helping him appraise residential homes. In high school, he sent me off with a clipboard and measuring tape to appraise residential homes. In college, I appraised small commercial buildings and after my graduate studies at Texas A&M University, I earned my MAI designation in December 1994.

When did you join CBRE?

I joined CBRE in 1994, but left in 1996 to pursue a career in brokerage. Eighteen months later, in January 1998, I returned to CBRE and have held numerous positions within the valuation group over the past 18 years.

What does your role as the Americas president of valuation and advisory services entail?

As president of CBRE’s valuation and advisory services’ Americas region, I am responsible for more than 750 professionals in more than 100 offices within the Americas. I am highly focused on five priorities—great outcomes for our clients, growing our business, improving our platform, managing our risk and retaining and attracting the best professionals in the industry. I currently sit on CBRE’s Americas executive committee and Americas operations management board, along with being the executive sponsor for CBRE University, which focuses on advanced professional learning and development.

How has your division grown since CBRE’s acquisition of IVI International last year?

Since acquiring IVI, I think we now have the industry’s most powerful valuation and advisory platform. We have added over 180 architects, engineers and environmental professionals across the country and a world-class management and operations team of more than 70. IVI had over 40 years of consulting knowledge in areas where CBRE did not have a presence, such as construction risk management, telecommunication consulting and zoning analysis. We have also developed a strong Freddie Mac small-balance loan program, providing coordinated appraisal, property condition and environmental assessments for our agency client base.

Most important, we have been able to provide our clients with an integrated services platform combining our valuation services with the typical due diligence required for any real estate transaction. This process saves our clients time and allows for less borrower stress and more peace of mind knowing that they will get consistency across the board.

What are some of the bigger assignments you’ve worked on recently?

CBRE and IVI were both involved in the Waldorf Astoria deal. IVI provided a property condition survey for Anbang Insurance Group that included a team of 13 specialists. At the completion of the Property Condition Report, IVI consulted with PKF Hotels and the CBRE team to provide critical knowledge of Anbang’s goals for the renovation of the hotel.

Our construction risk management group is currently monitoring the work at Hudson Yards, as well as eight out of 10 of the largest construction projects currently being built in New York City.

What are the main trends you seeing in the commercial real estate market right now?

We haven’t seen the CMBS business come back in full swing yet, but we anticipate being extremely busy through 2017 and 2018. We have been awarded several large portfolios over the past few months, indicating that we are on the uptick.

With increased global capital flows, continued consolidation in the lender community and quicker delivery times, we are also seeing increased demand for our integrated services to be delivered across the Americas, as well as the globe. Integrated services like these build a real advantage for clients. Our M&A activities—such as the addition of PKF’s hospitality expertise—underscore the continuing trend of clients needing a full spectrum of service offerings and geographical coverage.

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