Tom Didio Sr. (left), a senior managing director with JLL’s New Jersey capital markets team, and Tom Didio Jr., a director, have worked together since the latter joined the firm in June 2020. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
Tom Didio is no stranger to what it means to be in the commercial real estate industry — the good and the bad — with more than three decades as a debt and equity broker in the region.
Neither is his son, Tom Didio Jr., who has seen his father take calls from clients at odd hours and recalls that “there wasn’t a vacation, car trip or trip to Disney that didn’t involve a pit stop somewhere to look at a piece of real estate.” Yet he decided to enter the business nonetheless, doing so nearly a decade ago, in a decision that became all the more gratifying last year when he joined Didio Sr. on JLL’s New Jersey capital markets team.
“I’ve been looking to do this for quite a long time,” said Didio Sr., a senior managing director based in Morristown, making no attempt to hide his feelings on the matter.
He and Didio Jr., a director, are proud to make up a rare father-son combination in the brokerage side of the industry, both focusing on institutional debt, structured finance and joint venture equity transactions. What’s more, they’re part of a team at JLL that remains a leader in the state and has only expanded its reach over the past year. In 2020, the debt team in New Jersey completed 93 transactions with a value more than $2.8 billion.
“There’s a lot of capital out there for the right transactions,” said Didio Sr., who joined JLL as part of its 2018 acquisition of HFF. “The right sponsorship and the right product is going to get a lot of attention.”
For his part, the younger Didio also recalls growing up in Bergen County and seeing his father commute to upstate New York, where he ran the regional office for the commercial mortgage banking firm Fowler, Goedecke, Ellis & O’Connor Inc. Didio Sr. would ultimately shorten his commute in 1998 when the firm was acquired by Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP, leading to the opening of an office in North Jersey.
He has since spent more than 20 years as an office lead or as a producer working alongside many of the well-known brokers that helped build HFF’s presence in New Jersey and have continued that growth under JLL. Many of them were indeed familiar faces when Didio Jr. interned at HFF in 2012, having recently graduated from Tufts University with an economics degree.
“It was a general interest (in business) and then gravitating to this industry almost just felt second nature,” Didio Jr. said. “I knew I didn’t know anything about it other than the tangible nature of what real estate is — and I knew I’d have to learn.”
The younger Didio joined Freddie Mac Multifamily later in 2012 and would spend nearly three years at the company, developing a knowledge of multifamily housing and agency finance. In 2015, he moved to a boutique real estate private equity firm in New York, where he stayed for three years before joining CBRE’s Saddle Brook office to launch his career as a broker.
Admittedly, the ensuing 24 months were somewhat unsettling for Didio Jr., who recalled the awkwardness of “sitting at a dinner table with my father, my mother and my siblings when I knew that for some time I was trying to call on my father’s clients and do business with them, while they’re doing business with him.”
But it also meant he was all the more experienced and well-rounded by the time he joined JLL in June 2020. With positions in lending, private equity and brokerage, Didio Jr. feels he has “built a foundation for what I’m doing now, whether it’s with my father or with other people in the company around the country,” and believes he has much to offer.
He added that JLL’s broad overall platform “was just a big selling point” for joining the firm, citing its “ability to access alternative sources of capital” such as correspondent life insurance lenders.
“I think my prior business dealings in real estate on the debt and equity side has had a focus primarily in the (multifamily) space,” he said. “And I think that is an area where our office — New Jersey, the New York metro and the Northeast — can grow over the next couple of years and I’m happy to try to add some value.”
That knowledge has proved especially useful since he joined JLL, as multifamily has remained one of the most resilient asset classes during the pandemic. He noted that “the debt markets are hungry to put out capital” for apartments as well as industrial assets. The team has also completed deals for grocery-anchored retail and office properties — albeit on a more selective basis — but has stayed busy during the COVID crisis.
The Didios have in fact worked together on several of those transactions, including a recent $48 million loan for a 240-unit multifamily development in Elmwood Park. Still, Didio Sr. noted that the office has eight professionals that work interchangeably in groups of two or three, depending on the project.
“We just have a good group of guys here that know what they’re doing,” he said.
The elder Didio — who has two other children, a daughter who works for a startup in New York City and a son who is pursuing a Ph.D. in gravitational physics — said he doesn’t know of another father-son duo that works together in the brokerage business. Multigenerational firms are far more common on the ownership side, he said, including many JLL clients in New Jersey.
Didio Jr. said the commission-based brokerage business, with no physical assets to pass down and no recurring stream of income, is thus more reliant on trust and relationships.
“That doesn’t assure me anything in terms of success in the industry,” he said. “This is a different animal, a different side of the business that we’re excited to tackle together.”
Naturally, Didio Jr. has learned much from his father and the other senior leaders in JLL’s New Jersey capital markets office, including the importance of “treating the lows as well as you can but also not getting too high when things are good as well.”
Didio Sr. knows that it goes both ways, pointing to the younger professionals in the office who have shown themselves to be nimble and creative in their approach with clients. That includes not only his own son, but fellow debt and equity brokers Matthew Pizzolato and Max Custer.
“They do things a different way than the more seasoned guys in our office,” he said. “And it’s just great to listen to them and to understand how they go about things — and to try to maybe help them with a little direction here and there — but they’re very good at what they do and they actually teach me more than I teach them.”