Transwestern Principal and City Leader Jim Postell (left) and Managing Director Matt McDonough are marking five years since the opening of the firm’s New Jersey office, located at 300 Kimball Drive in Parsippany. — Photo by Mary Iuvone for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
In a little more than five years, the upgrades to the workspace at Transwestern’s New Jersey office have been considerable.
Especially given that the office began in 2011 at Jim Postell’s kitchen table in Mendham, not long after he was hired to help the Houston-based real estate firm establish a presence here.
Today, his team works out of a sleek, 400,000-square-foot building in Parsippany that has won acclaim for being redesigned and modernized and has gone from total vacancy to now just about full occupancy.
And it’s not just an inviting place to work. For Transwestern, which oversaw the repositioning for State Farm Insurance, 300 Kimball Drive has become a signature achievement during a time when it was trying to gain its foothold in the market.
“We were fortunate enough to win this building,” said Postell, a Transwestern partner and city leader for New Jersey. “This changed everything: When we got this building … it kind of revolutionized the market, where, if you didn’t put money into a building, it probably was not going to lease at the time because there was still a bit of the recession.
“But if you did put money into it and you were lucky enough to get a tenant, it kind of fed off each other,” he said. “We were lucky enough to have State Farm as a partner. … And it certainly changed the Parsippany market — and, really, in Morris County, there weren’t a lot of companies that were willing to put that kind of money into a building.”
It’s been a success story for Postell and Managing Director Matt McDonough, along with their team, as they worked to build the Transwestern brand in New Jersey. And they’ve done so while building a staff of about 35 brokers, project and construction managers and other real estate professionals in the Parsippany office.
The firm, which is now marking five years since it officially opened in New Jersey, has since become a player in the state’s office, industrial and retail sectors. It has seen its annual transaction volume double since 2012 — while its property management portfolio has grown during that time to 4 million square feet from 485,000 square feet — with a platform that offers more than just brokerage services.
Other real estate service firms have also moved toward that approach in recent years, but Transwestern entered the market with that strategy in mind.
“That’s always been a forte of Transwestern,” said McDonough, who also joined the firm in 2011. “They come out of a development-ownership background, so they’ve always had those services and they’re just applying those services to some of the biggest institutions in the country. So we’ve got that expertise in-house and we were able to develop it here.”
Both Postell and McDonough have decades of experience with major brokerage houses in New Jersey and worked together at the former Trammel Crow Co. To discuss Transwestern’s growth in the Garden State and its plans for the years ahead, Real Estate NJ sat down with the industry veterans recently at their Parsippany office.
Real Estate NJ: Let’s start at the beginning. You said it was the late George Garfield, an old colleague from your Trammell Crow days, who first reached out to you in 2011 with this idea. What happened from there?
Jim Postell: He said it would be a really good opportunity for me to look at Transwestern and start Transwestern in New Jersey. I was at (Cushman & Wakefield), so Matt and I came together. The hard part was just starting the operation and trying to get a couple of people to believe in a company that’s based out of Texas again — because I did that at Trammel Crow as well — and just to get going. But we were able to get a couple of people in the shop and sat around what was more or less a folding table with a couple of cell phones and started it up.
I knew it was a great opportunity and it would take significant time and effort, because it’s always really tough to start something from the beginning. But if you look at the people that we have here, a lot of them are the same ones that we had when we were at Trammel Crow. If you work with people, if you really like people, if you can trust those people, if they’re willing to go in the direction that you feel like going, then you bring them on back. They’re just good people.
That’s the direction we went and we were fortunate enough to have a lot of leeway.
RENJ: So as we now know, redeveloping this building really set you on the right path. Did you start this office planning to reposition buildings, or were you expecting to start out with basic brokerage services?
Matt McDonough: The repositioning very quickly became part of the plan. Jim and I are in the market and we’ve seen the market go from the gangbusters, go-go 1980s to the dregs of the 1990s. We’ve seen it all and, where the market was, you had to reposition, rezone and reuse. So we knew that’s exactly what had to be happening.
JP: We were trying to grow and be nimble enough to grow in areas where we thought we could make some money and be better in five years. … I never expected us to be just brokers. At Trammel Crow, we had 40 brokers or so. Just brokers. We have (35) people here, and we feel that we don’t have to have the masses of brokers to be successful. And we’re going to continue to do that. With the company in general, which has 2,300 people, if you go to each office, they’re all about quality and not quantity.
RENJ: Let’s talk about the company. We’ve heard all about the awards that Transwestern has won for its culture and for being a great place to work. The New Jersey office has shared in the accolades, too — was it tough to bring that culture to a new office?
JP: That is something that is incredibly difficult to do, and I have to give credit to Mary Bryant and Erin Colquhoun and everybody that contributes to that, because we take a lot of time thinking about our employees and how they’re going to be happy. Everybody can’t be happy all the time, but I will tell you that we don’t act as a traditional real estate company. We act as a family first. (Transwestern CEO) Larry Heard would say that he wants to be a distant third behind your faith and your family. It’s the truth. They really, really care.
So it’s a challenge for me to go in and be different from all of the other real estate companies because sometimes you have to bite your tongue, sometimes it’s not all about money. It’s about: Does somebody really want to retire here? Does somebody really want to have a good life? Does somebody really care if something happens in their family and they need help? We will do all of the above and we will continue to do all of the above, just because of the way the culture of the company is.
RENJ: So it sounds like it’s important for you to keep pace in New Jersey with the rest of the company.
JP: We continue to try to strive in certain areas and make sure that we’re doing the best we can with a lot of the awards that are out there, because it does differentiate you. When people come in here and interview, you’d be surprised at how many people say, ‘Well, I looked at you and you (were recognized as) one of the best companies to work for in the state.’ That used to be a nonfactor — there was no such thing, but that now is a very big thing. And with the change of the business in general, it makes a big difference to know that somebody’s got your back — and a real estate company on top of that, because real estate companies tend to be a little cutthroat.
RENJ: Speaking of hiring, what are your plans for growing your team here in New Jersey?
JP: We’re going to hire as many people as we see fit. But you’re not going to come to me next year and say, ‘Well, now you’re 50 people (because you have) another 10 brokers.’ It’s probably not going to happen. We’re going to really focus on our brokers to make sure that they have time, they’re making money and they’re really doing the right thing for the company. And five years is a nice milestone, but I think that’s how you sustain over 10 years.
RENJ: Let’s go back to this building, given how important it has been to your growth here. How do you take what you achieved and use it to generate more business going forward?
JP: It shows that when we focus on specific assignments, we really focus on them, because it takes time and effort — especially in a bad market — to attract everybody. We did it and now we can go with our résumé to the next building and say, ‘We’re going to do it for you, too.’ And the proof is in the pudding. … I think that’s what we’re going to have for 2017. In 2017, we’ve got some very exciting things coming up that we’re going to move on and we’re going to continue to go on the agency side. We’ve got a lot tenant rep things that are sitting on the sidelines. It’s a very exciting time to be the largest privately owned real estate company, because we do have a lot of leeway to do what we need to do. And I’m on the board of the company in Houston, so I know that the company really feels that New Jersey is a very important place for them to make sure the shop is doing well.
So it is exciting to be here and I think that it’s going to continue.