Big Ben: Meet the Youngest Co-Regional Manager at Savills Studley
When Ben Plaisted studied political science at California State University, his plan was to go to law school afterward. But he decided to move to Washington D.C. to follow his wife (then-girlfriend) who worked in politics, and his career path changed.
The then self-motivated 23-year-old learned about commercial real estate through friends in the industry and was intrigued by its business model. “I wanted to work in an industry where I could control my own destiny,” said Plaisted, a broker who represents tenants at Savills Studley in the D.C. region. “This was really the only business that I found my compensation is directly related to my personal success and how hard I work for my job and how well I do my job,” continued Plaisted, in a phone interview with Commercial Observer.
In mid-April, Savills Studley announced Plaisted’s promotion from executive managing director to co-regional manager, joining a team of six executives overseeing 90 professionals across the firm’s offices in D.C., Baltimore, Md. and Tysons Corner, Va. At 38 years old, he’s the firm’s youngest co-regional manager in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.
“Transitions like this are rare, and it’s important that we concentrate on the next generation of leadership and the firm’s future in the region,” Rick Rome, a vice chairman at Savills Studley who recruited Plaisted to the firm, said in a press release announcing the promotion. At the firm, Plaisted is highly regarding for managing complex leases, according to the release.
“We have great confidence in Ben’s extraordinary business acumen, immense industry experience and diversity of creative thoughts and solutions. He is a role model and a leader,” Rome said.
For his entire career, Plaisted has represented what he calls “typical Washington, D.C. clients,” such as nonprofit organizations, law firms and government affairs firms. In over 17 years, he’s completed more than 200 transactions totaling over 3 million square feet.
He scored his first deal as a junior broker with Cresa in 2004. It was a 9,000-square-foot space for a law firm and he has renegotiated its lease three times since then.
In one of his most recent deals at Savills Studley, last year, he helped Feldesman Tucker Leifer & Fidell renegotiate and expand its lease two years prior to the lease’s expiration. The firm now occupies 24,000 square feet south of Dupont Circle, at 1129 20th Street NW. Also in 2017, Plaisted secured nonprofit Pyxera Global a 22,000-square-foot office in Capitol Riverfront at 99 M Street SE.
His largest clients at Savills Studley are law firms. He found Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis and Caplin & Drysdale each offices of about 50,000 square feet.
Plaisted said that building meaningful relationships is integral to his strategy for working with clients. “As they have needs during their lease term, I’m always there to answer their questions and help them,” he said, adding that he assists clients with everything from technology issues to questions about the market and paying real estate taxes. And if he can’t handle the task himself, he refers clients to other consultants with better expertise.
After four years, Plaisted left Cresa for Grubb & Ellis (which was acquired in April 2012 by BGC Partners, a wing of Cantor Fitzgerald, as CO previously reported). That’s where he first hired Greg Scheipers as a junior broker. “He’s given me the opportunity to grow and become a broker myself and has taught me all along the way,” Scheipers told CO. “It’s been a whirlwind ride—a lot of fun and a lot of good times.”
In 2011, both men joined Savills Studley where Plaisted continued to train Scheipers, who is now a corporate managing director at the firm. “The only way you can describe Ben’s leadership style is very hands on—it’s one of collaboration and team mentality… let’s all huddle up and discuss what we’re looking at and how we’re going to get to the solution that’s best for our clients,” explained Scheipers.
Over the years working alongside Plaisted, Scheipers recalls unforeseen challenges such as one client’s request to remove columns in a building and another client’s desire to build a roof deck on a building without a roof. “We have a very good track record of figuring out those challenges, what is needed to get the transaction through and get the client happy and comfortable with a transaction,” Scheipers said.
Scheipers has also witnessed a personal evolution for Plaisted—who lived in a house with several roommates when he first moved to D.C. “He really enjoys his family life and time away from the office as well,” Scheipers said of his mentor, who is married with three children—six-year-old twins and a four-year-old son. Near his home in Annapolis, Md., Plaisted said he enjoys powerboating and water activities with his family on the weekends.
Back at the office, Plaisted and Scheipers lead a team of three junior brokers. “We teach our young people that you need to be by the client’s side [throughout the entire process]. When I see a young person close their first transaction, it’s a really great experience for me—it’s almost as good as closing my own deals.”
Plaisted’s involved approach was especially satisfying for leaders at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), who he helped relocate after the organization operated in Dupont Circle for 30 years. “It was a really big cultural shift for them—they moved to a brand new building on K Street,” Plaisted explained. “It was a typical transaction, an association of about 13,000 square feet, but it was very unique in that they haven’t had a new office space in forever. It was a very big decision for them, and we were able to help them navigate.”
Jennifer Ahearn, AACN’s COO, attests to the experience.
“He understood the market that we were in and he took us from start to finish,” said Ahearn, who recalled Plaisted attending a board of directors meeting early on in the process. “He was there supporting us and helping us develop talking points and getting background information.”
And when he couldn’t make it himself, Plaisted sent a member of his team. “They were very professional, very knowledgeable, very intuitive about the process—and they spoke in layman’s terms,” Ahearn said.
If the association decided to stay at its Dupont Circle office, Plaisted wouldn’t have been able to handle the transaction because the landlord doesn’t work with brokerage firms, according to Ahearn. But he still presented the Dupont space as a viable option. “He walked us through everything without pressuring us. I never felt like he was pushing us in one direction over another,” she said. “He was always just presenting us with the facts, which is really a comfortable position to be in because you don’t feel pressured. You feel like you’re establishing trust.”
At AACN’s new building, which according to Plaisted has become “the nation’s most visible hub for interprofessional health profession education and collaborative practice,” he also helped the organization highlight its presence with exterior signage—a perk that’s uncommon for D.C. tenants who operate in less than a full floor of an office building. Plaisted said he “carefully negotiated” and after a series of discussions, the landlord agreed to build a monument outside of the building to which they affixed AACN’s signage. The organization is one of the first tenants in the building to have exterior signage, he said.
Ahearn said the association has made a comfortable home on K Street, crediting Plaisted and his team. “They saw us through until we actually got into the building, and even afterward. I felt very supported by them and still to this day would feel like if there’s any issues, I can call.”
With all of the high praise, Plaisted is grateful that he opted out of law school for his commercial real estate certification. “We work with a lot attorneys, but I’m glad that I’m not one.”