Julia Silva has worked in Tampa for more than a quarter century with some of the biggest names in industrial real estate: Duke Realty, Liberty Property Trust, Prologis and Cushman & Wakefield.
As the new leader for capital markets statewide focusing on industrial properties with commercial real estate firm JLL, Silva intends to draw from the experiences with each of those nationwide powerhouses to craft deals.
At the same time, JLL’s lone female capital markets chief in Florida and one of a half-dozen women in top leadership roles statewide plans to introduce new technology to gain efficiencies and find innovative ways to serve clients.
To that end, Silva hopes to develop an infrastructure that encourages a more “collaborative culture” with colleagues in JLL’s Orlando office.
“Over the past few years of this growth cycle, especially, I’ve seen the Interstate 4 corridor essentially becoming a single area,” says Silva. “That’s why we’re going to be working closer than ever with our team in Orlando.
“But in everything, I feel strongly that there’s relationship first, then execution.”
Silva has spent a generation developing relationships in Tampa and executing deals.
The child of Cuban immigrants born in New York, Silva got her start in the commercial real estate business in New York City with Credit Suisse First Boston, in 1987.
Five years later, Silva relocated to Tampa to be closer to family and landed a job with Peter Lawrence Commercial Real Estate Inc., which owned more than 800,000 square feet of industrial space near Tampa International Airport.
There, Silva got a crash course on industrial properties while managing the firm’s office. Stints with Prologis, one of the largest developers and owners of industrial properties worldwide, and Liberty Property Trust, a publicly traded developer based in Pennsylvania, followed.
It was around that time, too, that Silva became enmeshed in the Tampa chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), among the real estate businesses’ leading industry groups.
She was eventually elected Tampa chapter president.
“When your peers watch you lead, it becomes a catalyst for the way people perceive you,” Silva says. “I tell young people coming into the business to get involved with NAIOP or some other similar group, because I believe it really helped my career.”
Whether because of her NAIOP tie or not, Duke Realty Co. approached Silva in the late 1990s about becoming its Tampa city leader.
At the time, Duke Realty, an Indiana-based real estate investment trust that has grown into one of the largest industrial real estate owners in the U.S., was an unknown entity in Central Florida.
“It was a blank slate,” she says of her time with Duke. “It was exciting, and scary. We had to create opportunities.”
Silva’s first deal was a 100-acre office project known as Highland Oaks, which debuted in 1999.
“I got to thread my vision for the property through it and even name the streets,” she says. “It was by far the most creative thing I have ever done, until now.”
A similarly sized industrial project, Fairfield Distribution Center, came next. More than one million square feet of industrial space was developed at Interstate 4 and U.S. 301.
Through each position, Silva gained glimpses into the process of development, leasing, finance, planning and other facets of the business.
Nothing could have prepared her, however, for the economic recession of 2008. Trusts like Duke and others left Tampa, in some cases abandoning potential projects.
Silva eventually landed at Penn Florida Realty Advisors, a property and asset management firm that oversaw a portfolio of 2.5 million square feet.
“To say we were running around with our hair on fire would have been an understatement,” Silva says.
At Penn Florida, as she had at Duke, Silva retained commercial real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield to lease the company’s properties.
In 2013 Silva joined the brokerage firm, where she would spend the next six years helping developers like McCraney Property Co., Keating Resources and McDonald Development.
“She’s just relentless, with daunting amounts of energy,” McCraney Property CEO Steven McCraney says of Silva. “When you think of a strong broker, you think of her. Julia is so service oriented, and she has a ‘let’s chase it and get it today’ attitude that’s exciting to be around.
“She’s enthusiastic and passionate and when the chips are down, she has a wit that lightens things, and she gets to closure in a way that makes everyone feel good,” he adds.
“But the best thing about Julia is she understands, because of her vast background, all the salient activity in a transaction.”
Holliday Fenoglio Fowler L.P. tried to lure Silva into its fold toward the end of 2018, until talks stalled when JLL announced plans to buy HFF for $1.8 billion in early 2019. The deal closed in July of last year.
That same year, Silva’s team experienced record leasing activity. When JLL reached out again in late 2019, Silva was intrigued. Her move became official in January.
Although deal making is first and foremost in her mind, Silva also plans to mentor other women interested in advancing in the business.
Silva says she never experienced sexual harassment herself and that her own mentors were a series of men, she’s well aware from colleagues that the phenomenon of gender bias is all too common.
“JLL has purposefully made an effort to be inclusive,” Silva says. “There are a lot of solid female leaders, which really means a lot to me, because the industry has disproportionately been represented by men on the production side.
“For myself, I don’t see boundaries; I’ve never felt like I was not allowed,” she adds.
Her goal at JLL is simple: Be the No. 1 capital markets firm in the Tampa area, a daunting task given competition from Cushman & Wakefield, Colliers International and CBRE, among others.
“It’s a lofty goal, admittedly,” Silva says. “The competition is so good. We have a lot of ground to make up, and the only way to do that is to disrupt, innovate and create greater efficiencies.
“We’re going to create a new machine here, and fortunately, I’m already surrounded by best-in-class leaders.”