The marching orders for Brett Miller, the newly minted Chief Executive Officer at Jones Lang LaSalle are pretty simple: beef up the real estate services firm’s operations in Canada and get them more in keeping with JLL businesses in much of the rest of the world.
“JLL is a global brand, usually well-positioned in all the markets it trades in, usually number one or two in those markets, certainly a leader in commercial real estate – yet not in Canada,” explained Miller.
Jones Lang LaSalle has operated in the country for about a decade and over the past two years has added offices and hired about 40 additional professionals to its staff. But that’s not enough for head office, hence Miller’s hiring.
“In terms of Jones Lang LaSalle’s global priorities, in fact Canada and Brazil are the most important geographies for growth,” said Miller. “Our ambition is within less than five years to be one of the top players.”
JLL on a hiring binge
Since his appointment as CEO in May, Miller has been hiring steadily, adding on average one new person a week to a national business that currently numbers about 300 people.
“It is rapid growth, the market is ripe for it,” he said. “My phone is ringing a lot from existing players in the market who are aware of Jones Lang LaSalle’s brand and expertise and see the opportunity as I did.”
JLL has offices coast to coast, with recent office openings in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa, and now needs to fill them, he said. “We have the coverage but we are certainly adding to the number of people we have at the company and the geographies that we service.”
The company has a strong corporate management group, it manages about 31 million square feet of space for 19 large global clients.
Miller sees the growth opportunities for JLL coming from increasing its capabilities on the brokerage/advisory side in both its investment brokerage and corporate services as well as continuing to grow its construction management division which boasts 22 project managers across the country.
Great time to be the new head honcho
Miller marvels at the national office market -“the healthiest that I have seen in the last 15 years from an occupier perspective” characterized by single-digit vacancies and new office construction in cities from Vancouver to Halifax, which hasn’t seen a new tower in more than a decade.
“This construction activity is not limited to just a few towers, it is in every city and in both suburban and downtown markets and we see that the demand is there,” he added.
The market for industrial real estate is “more spotty” with more activity in western Canada than in the east of the country. There is strong activity in the new development market powered by demand for modern uses such as distribution centres, which require large shipping platforms, high ceilings and close access to major highways.
“There is weakness in the kind of traditional older, 1980s manufacturing-type facility, particularly if it is not in a major market, because really times have changed,” he said. “We are also seeing some conversion or gentrification of industrial areas that are being supplanted by residential use.”
That trend is in full display in Montreal’s Mont Royal area where close to one million square feet of industrial land has been zoned for residential and is targeted for condo development.
Miller knows the Quebec market extremely well. Prior to joining Jones Lang LaSalle he was with CBRE as Regional Managing Director based in Montreal, where he ran the firm’s Eastern Canada division for more than a decade. In addition to overseeing five offices, he led major investment transactions and launched several business lines, JLL said at the time of his hiring.
“To ensure our continued momentum in this important market, we required an individual with deep knowledge of multiple business lines, proven leadership skills and a track record of building profitable businesses,” said Bill Krouch, CEO, Americas Markets at Jones Lang LaSalle, in announcing his appointment. “Brett brings these qualities, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit, to the role.”
Miller remains optimistic about the prospects for commercial real estate and is prepared to be surprised on the upside. “Even at the start of 2012 we had fairly conservative projections as to how the year would perform both on the leasing fronts and on the investment sides. I think most people in commercial real estate are still pinching themselves, asking why is it so robust given the challenges of the global economy.
“The prudent thing going forward is to look at some of the challenges outside of Canada and say it should be a modest year of positive growth,” he said “ but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another extremely robust year.”