Avison Young has taken the Canadian commercial real estate market by storm in the past few years, but likely has attracted its share of doubters south of the border with its ambitious expansion plans for the U.S.
Many of the doubters likely became believers last month when the real estate services firm announced the appointment of Arthur Mirante as Prinicipal and Tri-State President of Avison Young’s new Manhatten office.
Mirante is no lightweight. Most recently, he was President of Global Development for Cushman & Wakefield and had a 20-year career as CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, a period during which its revenue increased from US$100 million to US$1 billion.
“He is the guy who took Cushman from a New York-based U.S. company to a global company,” said Mark Rose, Avison Young’s Chair and CEO.
“He is an icon in the industry, 41 years at Cushman & Wakefield, but at the end of the day, he loved the (Avison Young) strategy. He said there are times to move on but it would have to be special after everything that he had been through and this was special to him.”
Building A Firm One Person At a Time
Mirante is the latest – and highest profile – example of Avison Young’s preferred policy of hiring the best and the brightest away from established competitors with what it contends is a superior business model.
“He is clearly one of the most high profile individuals in the industry but whether it is our property managers, our engineers, our brokers, our project managers, everybody who has moved over has felt exactly the same, that more and more our industry was trying to maginalize everybody,” explained Rose. “You can come and be an owner and a partner and put your imprint on something that is growing and special and everybody really feels this way, including him.”
Of course not everyone working for the firm is a partner of the independently owned firm. The ranks of partners include the likes of “senior producers, senior talent that is recognized as such.” Today it has about 150 partners, up from 53 when the firm was established at the end of 2008. “We have added about 100 partners at the time that we have added about 700 people,” Rose said.
Ride the Wind
It has been a heady three and a half years for Avison Young. Today it has grown to become Canada’s third-largest firm behind only CB Richard Ellis and Colliers with 30 offices in 27 markets including 13 in the U.S. (all the major markets in that country according to AY) with openings announced in San Francisco and New York.
“There is still a great deal to do in Canada, there is still the filling out of some of the offices in the U.S. and I am already starting to turn my attention to Europe and Asia,” he said. “Global means global.”
Rose said the firm has not decided exactly how it will tackle overseas expansion. It could be a partnership or acquisition of an existing firm. “At the end of the day it is all about culture in terms of the human capital. You can’t just partner with anyone. By the same token it would be a little difficult to embark on the same strategy of recruiting individuals and teams…as we have done in Canada and the U.S. So our expansion in Europe and Asia would most likely be an acquisition or acquisition or partnership, however it has to be the right one.”
Deceptively Simple Strategy
Avison Young’s DNA sounds simple when you unravel it, and Rose has noticed recently that rivals are throwing out Avison themes such as “employee-owned” and “very strategic” or “don’t have business units.” However, “no one has our business model,” he added.
The firm’s model is based on attracting top talent, putting them together with clients who “can thrive by having the alignment with the client’s need and the people who are executing are the people who own the business,” said Rose.
“It is a differientiated model, it is quite frankly the only one that exists in ours pace right now from a global perspective and therefore 700 people in the last two years have left very good companies to be part of this.”
Thriving on Chaos
Earl Webb, Avison Young’s Chicago-based President of U.S. Operations is bullish about the firm’s prospects in the States, which he expects will continue with its stop and start recovery, a state of affairs that will put pressure on the status quo.
“It takes a lot more thought, a lot more analysis to come with the right solutions in how to deal with an environment like that, in how to grow your business in an environment like that,” he explained. “But it also spawns a lot of opportunities. For us, the opportunity is to provide a new platform for great real estate people to join where they can have a collective vision of how to provide senior level client service and help us build a great company.”
Luring Mirante away from Cushman, a “revered” figure in Webb’s words, will go a long way to establishing Avison Young in the U.S. and hopefully overseas. “We had already begun hiring in New York but we held off announcing the opening of an office in New York until he came on board because he is such a well-known person and clients love it.
“By putting Arthur in a senior role in that region, he will attract not only great people but he will attract a great client base and help our existing clients solve a lot of problems.”