Cushman & Wakefield’s Mike Davis has remained at the top of his game for years, thanks to a client-first dedication and a marathon mantra.
Throughout the Gulf Coast and Central Florida, Mike Davis is the commercial real estate equivalent of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady.
Year after year, Davis and his capital markets investment sales team at commercial real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield have excelled to the point of superstardom.
Since 2014, for instance, Davis and his team have led and participated in more than $4.7 billion worth of commercial real estate transactions, according to a Business Observer tabulation of completed deals.
His clients include some of the region’s largest institutional property owners and active landlords, including Banyan Street Capital, Cabot Properties, Angelo Gordon & Co., Meridian Development Group, Brennan Investment Group, Oaktree Capital Management and Liberty Property LP, to name but a few.
The properties Davis and company have sold — some more than once — include Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Ruskin, the 38-story Tampa City Center office tower in downtown Tampa, Gartner Inc.’s Fort Myers office campus and the massive CenterState Logistics Center, in Lakeland, again to name just three of dozens of individual assets.
Most recently, Davis last month was a part of a deal that saw the Dragstrip Logistics Center, an industrial property in Lakeland occupied by online retail giant Amazon, trade for $108.74 million, according to records. Cushman & Wakefield represented former owner Ackerman & Co.
Reflecting back on a more than three-decade career in brokerage, Davis cites a number of personality traits that have helped him.
“More than anything there’s a fear of failure I have,” says Davis, 61. “I don’t like to lose, which I think comes from being in competitive sports as a kid.”
A self-described “hyper kid” and “type-A personality,” selling commercial real estate also fits with his personality and “skill set,” he says.
“I really enjoy what I do, and I think I’m well-suited to the profession,” adds Davis, a Cushman & Wakefield vice chair who has been a broker at the firm for 29 years.
“The business is creative, and dynamic, it’s definitely not cookie cutter. You need to know when to shuck and jive, because there’s no one way to do a deal.”
Though he credits his long-time, now 11-member team of brokers and support staff and the environment they provide, it is Davis who provides the most experience, brings in the most relationships and sets the tone for the entire group.
“One of my few rules is you have to put the client first and foremost all of the time,” Davis says. “Your interests always have to be secondary to those of the client. Sometimes that will cost you money in the short term, but in the long term, clients will remember that and come back to you for it.”
One such client is Banyan Street Capital, a Miami firm that owns the 42-story Bank of America Plaza, the 38-story Tampa City Center and the 32-story Rivergate Tower, all in downtown Tampa.
“Mike’s persistent, he’s thorough, he’s effective,” says Rudy Prio Touzet, Banyan Street’s founder and CEO. “He’s a hard worker and just a pleasure to work with. He makes what can be, at times, a difficult process enjoyable.
“I’ve known Mike for 30-plus years,” Touzet adds. “He’s amongst the best in the industry, and one of the good guys in the business.”
Davis says that reputation comes, perhaps intuitively, from being honest.
“Business ethics are paramount,” says Davis. “Unfortunately, in the real estate business, and many others, that’s not always the case. But clients sense that.”
Having staying power also means working on a long-term horizon.
“One of the keys to success, I think, is that you have to treat the business as a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “You have to think long-term, as much as 10 years, 20 years out with relationships. If you can do that, you’re half-way home.”
Davis recalls that as a young agent he recommended a client renew a lease deal rather than opt for a build-to-suit — a move that would have earned him a $125,000 fee.
“Here I was, just two years into the business, and this was an assignment that I’d worked on for nine months,” Davis says. “I could have really used that $125,000. But there are times when you have to do things for a client that are directly adverse to your personal interests.
“In this case, the developer I felt wasn’t giving our client the best deal, so I advised the company’s CFO to renew. That was a hard conversation for me, let me tell you, but it was the right thing to do.”
The story had a happy ending, though, and a moral that’s stuck with Davis ever since.
“That company and that CFO became one of my best client’s ever,” he says. “We worked together for 20 years.”
That sense of purpose has carried through, motivating him then and now.
“The great thing about commercial real estate is it’s a win-win business for the most part,” Davis says. “It’s not like litigation. In 99 of 100 deals we do, people on both sides are happy, and it feels good to bring people together.”
Knowledge also is key.
“I think what helped me a lot is I came to investment sales from a leasing background,” Davis says of his transition in 2000, after 14 years, from marketing industrial properties to tenants to exclusively selling assets. “It’s a harder part of the business and closer to the ground. I was able to develop blocking and tackling skills. Everything starts with leasing. It teaches you how to structure deals.”
So is drive.
“When Mike is selling something for you, he’s a fierce advocate,” says Steven Kossoff, managing director of Meridian Development Group, a Tampa-based investment firm established in 2000.
“You know he’s going to get you the best price, that’s why he’s one of the Top 10 brokers at Cushman & Wakefield nationally, year in and year out. He has a deep understanding of the markets he operates in, properties’ values, buyer dynamics and buyer profiles.”
“I learn stuff all the time, even now,” Davis says. “Especially about technology. I’m not great at it, but I’m also not afraid of it.”
Kossoff says Davis’ modesty in the face of so much success is refreshing.
“Mike’s a very down-to-earth guy. That’s one of the things I most enjoy in working with him.”
After so many years atop the proverbial mountain, Davis says what motivates him now primarily is his responsibility to his teammates and, of course, his clients.
“I generally genuinely enjoy the people I work for, and with,” he says. “There’s a lot of power and knowledge in a team our size. We’re splitting fees, but we’re also able to execute at a level that’s superior, I think, which in turn leads to larger volumes that we can handle.”
To younger brokers, Davis advocates focus and hard work.
“To succeed you need to work some 12-hour days, some Saturdays,” he says. “You have to get in front of people and always go beyond what is asked of you. That’s how you separate yourself.
“And don’t be afraid to collaborate, especially with more experienced people, if you have a tough or complex assignment. Learn from them. That’s how you get better.”
For his part, Davis says he plans to work “full-tilt” at least another five years.
“I feel I’ve accomplished 50 times more than I ever could have imagined when I started out,” he says. “I want to continue doing what I do. I don’t have a desire to be the CEO, or the need to form Davis & Co. I like brokerage, I like being part of the national platform at Cushman & Wakefield.
“I hope I can keep doing deals at the level we’re now doing them. That keeps me plenty happy and fulfilled.”