Friday, January 5, 2018

A friend who has made a difference in the global commercial real estate industry: Jeff Jacobson

Jeff’s bio from the LaSalle Investment Management website:

Jeff Jacobson is CEO of LaSalle Investment Management, responsible for a 730-person team managing investments in both private and public real estate across all major markets in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.  Jeff is a member of JLL’s Global Executive Board, a member of the JLL Co-Investment Capital Allocation Committee and sits on LaSalle’s Investment Committees in all three regions.

Jeff is located in LaSalle’s Chicago office, having worked in LaSalle’s London and Singapore offices during his career. Prior to his appointment as Global CEO in January 2007, Jeff was Regional CEO for LaSalle’s European operation, based in London, where he was responsible for all aspects of the European business.  Jeff has over 30 years of property investment and transactions experience across the globe.

Jeff holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Master’s degree from Stanford University.  He served on the Management Board of INREV (European Association for Investors in Non-Listed Real Estate Vehicles), and is a member of PREA (Pension Real Estate Association) and AFIRE (Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate).

Jeff and I met around 2004 when I started spending quite a bit of time in Europe launching The Institutional Real Estate Letter. We’d see each other at various industry events. Jeff is one of the friendliest guys in the industry. He always has a smile and a positive attitude. One great experience we shared was at MIPIM (the huge annual real estate trade show in Cannes, France). An industry friend, Marinus Dijkmann, was involved with MIPIM on creating their first live TV event during the conference. Marinus suggested that I be the co-host of that show (along with, I believe, a journalist from Bloomberg). I was allowed to choose the panel. Jeff Jacobson (LaSalle), Ray Torto (Torto Wheaton Research), Bill Krauch (Clarion Partners) and Johan van der Ende (PGGM). Boy, what a line-up! We had a great time!

Q.  How did you get your start in commercial real estate?

A.  I didn’t plan on going into commercial real estate coming out of school.  I grew up in a small Midwestern town and wanted to be a commodities trader.  I’d worked for grain companies over the summers. I also interned on the Chicago Board of Trade.  At the same time as I was being pulled by my Midwestern agricultural roots, I wanted to get to New York. It was the 80’s, when investment banking was taking off, New York was glamorous and many of my college friends were going there. I was trying to make up my mind what to do.

As a happy compromise, I went to work for Louis Dreyfus Corporation, a large, family-owned business, which was one of the five big global grain-trading companies.  I worked for William Louis-Dreyfus who was the Chairman. I was his assistant – a glorified bag carrier right out of school, but it was in New York City. I had my own office on the 56th floor of The Chrysler Building, probably the nicest office I’ve had in my career.

Over time, each generation expanded the family business and William’s passion was real estate.  The company was investing in and developing real estate in Paris, Montreal, Toronto, New York and Washington, D.C., among other cities. Being around William and his real estate team, I naturally got pulled into it.  One day I was told, “We own a real estate project in Montreal.  Go and look at it and figure out how to refinance it.”  I was working for both William and the CFO, Ernie Steiner.  From this beginning, I ended up spending more time with real estate and decided I really liked it and wanted to go into the field.

After two years in my role, I approached William and Ernie Steiner and told them that I intended to commit to a career in real estate.  I also told them that I wanted to move back to the Midwest, more specifically Chicago, with my then fiancée and now my wife, Marian, who had just been accepted to business school in Chicago. After a long discussion they said, “If your heart is truly set on real estate, there’s only one firm you should talk to.” At that time it was called LaSalle Partners.  The founder of LaSalle Partners, Bill Sanders, one of the ultimate legends in real estate, went to college at Cornell with both Ernie and Jeffrey Sussman, Louis Dreyfus’s Head of Real Estate. They called Bill on my behalf.  The next time Bill was in New York, he met with me and that was how I got started at LaSalle.

Q.  What advice would you give someone who has been in the commercial real estate industry a short time or a student looking to get his or her start? 

A.  Two things to focus on early in year career: being around bright and inspiring people and getting into the flow of activity.  Ultimately, it is about learning, developing relationships and credibility and gaining experience. It doesn’t matter so much what the specifics are of what you do, but if you are around really good people and organizations that are doing interesting things good things will happen.  You want to be around people you respect and that you can learn from.  It is valuable to have both talented and experienced mentors and a great contemporary peer group. I look at how much I enjoyed my early years of working with an extraordinary group of people at LaSalle Partners and the long lasting friendships and business relationships we developed. 

Early on it’s about the experience, the people you meet and the things you see. And it really is a small world. Make sure your reputation and how you handle yourself is at the highest level because that sticks with you. People in our industry respect those who are good, honest and intelligent.  Remember: It’s their name on the line when they’re recommending someone for a job or an assignment.

Q.  As you look back on your career, is there anything you wished you had done differently? If so, what?

A.  One of the transformative things for me was going overseas.  In 2000, I moved with my young family for what was initially going to be a three year assignment working in London.  We ended up staying in England for 10 years.  This incredible experience changed not just my professional life but also my personal life.  I had an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective which broadened my horizons. Similarly, our kids grew up overseas which gave them a much better sense of the world and its variety of people and cultures.  For our family, it was a really positive experience.

That experience happened 15 plus years into my career.  Until then, I was narrower in my thinking and less open to out of the box opportunities. I wish, earlier on, I had said, “Wow, let’s try something really different.  Something that’s out of my comfort zone”.   A lot of what’s happened in my career fell into my lap in ways that I could not have planned for and usually when I tried something very different Opportunities arise in unusual ways and at unusual times. Life is that way too. 

Q.  Who have been major influences in your career?  Why?

A.  I’d start by going back to Louis Dreyfus Company.  I was close with the CFO, Ernie Steiner, because I worked on a variety of projects with him.  He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He had a wide range of projects he could handle at the same time.  These could range from a soybean plant in Brazil to real estate in New York City.  Ernie taught me a lot. He was a great guy. One thing he taught me early on: I was working with outside lawyers and I took for granted that because they were at a famous law firm (with a high retainer fee), that they must be right and I shouldn’t question them.  He said, “Don’t ever do that.  Don’t assume just because someone is a supposed expert that you can completely rely on him or her. If you have an instinct about something, you need to question and challenge them until you are satisfied they have the right answer.” That was a great learning.

Bill Sanders - talk about a visionary and seeing the world how it’s going to be. Bill was a great recruiter and motivator of people. It was incredible being around him and being part of the organizations he built at LaSalle Partners and Security Capital Group.

And further on in my career, Lynn Thurber, who was my predecessor.  Lynn took an incredible risk in having me go over to Europe when I’d done almost nothing outside of the U.S., I didn’t speak any other languages and I hadn't managed a lot of people at the time. I was more of an investment person, a deal guy.  When Lynn said, “I think it’ll work. I am confident that you’re the right person” it was a huge vote of confidence.  She gave me the necessary support and was there to talk through difficult issues.  She also gave me ‘Tough Love’ when it was needed   even though I didn’t always appreciate it at the time.  When she stepped down as Global CEO, Lynn handled the transition in a manner that was incredible – both for me personally and for our organization.  I don’t believe it could have been managed any better.

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