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Culture Driven

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  • | 11:00 a.m. November 10, 2017
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Canadian-based commercial real estate brokerage firm Avison Young didn't open its first U.S. office until 2009, some three decades into its corporate life.

In the years since, though, it has more than made up the time. Toronto-based Avison Young now contends it's among the world's fastest-growing real estate firms, with offices in Canada, the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom — even Romania.

Today, its 81 offices and 2,600 real estate professionals manage more than 100 million square feet of space worldwide, and the company projects that by 2020 it will post $1 billion in annual revenue -- up from $200 million four years ago.

The firm's Tampa office — one of seven in Florida, together with Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and West Palm Beach — is generating some impressive growth, as well.

This year, Tampa managing principals Clay Witherspoon and Ken Lane say the office's nine real estate professionals and 22 employees overall will have revenue of roughly $5 million. By 2020, though, the pair says they expect to double that figure.

To get there, they plan to rely on the formula that has propelled so much of Avison Young's growth worldwide over the past decade.

“We're a culture-driven company first,” Witherspoon says. “And everything else is second.”

Privately controlled by the company's 400 principals, Lane and Witherspoon say Avison Young's corporate structure promotes a client-centric philosophy that isn't focused solely on next-quarter earnings.

“We're very much about doing what's right for clients,” Witherspoon says. “Our feeling is, the money will come. A lot of publicly held companies, all they're worried about is boosting their stock price or making Wall Street's earnings expectations.”

What further differentiates Avison Young, Lane says, is a collaborative approach that encourages broker sharing between offices.

“Our culture is all about putting the best team on the field,” Lane says. “And Avison Young gives us the support to work together and focus more on our clients.”

Adds Witherspoon: “We're very linear. There are no middle managers in this company, we don't have silos. We're boots on the ground.”

The pair joined Avison Young and debuted the firm's Tampa office in September 2013, following a one-hour meeting with Pike Rowley, a former Flagler Development executive who is the managing director in the company's Fort Lauderdale office.

At the time, they had been running their own brokerage operation for six years, in the wake of a years-long stint with developer Trammell Crow Co. prior to a buyout by CBRE Group.

Clients say they appreciate the difference, and the level of service Avison Young provides.

“Clay and his team are the rarely seen real estate agents who truly get it from an owner's perspective,” says Marilyn Lucas, a senior vice president and director of asset management for PM Realty Group, a Houston-based investment firm that has acquired more than $1.1 billion in commercial assets since 2005.

In Tampa, PM Realty hired Avison Young in the wake of its $40 million purchase in August 2015 of the nine-story Westshore Center, at 1715 N. Westshore Blvd.

“They act like they have skin the game,” Lucas adds. “They think creatively, as if they're part of the ownership group. We've found them to be very helpful and valuable. We have tremendous confidence in them, and they've made all of our jobs easier.”

Lane and Witherspoon say they anticipate the firm's growth to continue — in Tampa and beyond — as a result of the firm's corporate platform.

“What really attracted us was the company's corporate leadership, the vision for the future, the culture of collaboration that we really consider to be different than most every other commercial real estate firm, and the entrepreneurial spirit,” Witherspoon says. “It established Avison Young to have continued growth longer term.”

Lane, too, says the Avison Young platform has paved the way for future expansion.

“When I look at, and consider, where we started and where we're going as a company, I feel like we're in a speeding car,” Lane says. “We're moving forward so fast.”


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