Q & A;/37″/mike1st/mark2nd
By JOYZELLE DAVIS
As the new president of CB Commercial Real Estate Group’s institutional management services division, Jana Turner is responsible for the property-management portfolio of the nation’s largest real estate company.
In that position, she oversees the basic maintenance functions everything from negotiating lease transactions to collecting rents to making sure the bathrooms are clean for more than 211 million square feet of commercial properties nationwide.
Property management firms are increasingly expanding into more sophisticated services, such as providing risk management and due diligence.
Turner was promoted in February after serving as executive vice president and manager of the Western division of CB Commercial/Koll Management Services, the firm’s property management arm. She had been working for Koll, an Orange County-based property management firm, when it was purchased a year ago by CB Commercial.
She assumes her new post at a particularly challenging time for third-party property managers. Real estate investment trusts have been buying up commercial properties in record numbers and replacing many of the pre-existing outside managers with their own in-house management teams.
Question: How did you get into real estate?
Answer: By happenstance. I graduated from college with no idea of what I wanted to do. I was a marketing major, with a business administration degree. So I had the Procter & Gambles and the IBMs and all those people talking to me. And I thought I didn’t want to be peddling groceries for the rest of my life.
So I went into banking. I was in for six months, and I knew that was not for me.
I was at a party and a good friend of the family had gone to work for a company called R & B; Commercial Management. He told me they’re buying all these buildings and they need “leasing agents,” as he called them, and I thought, “Oh, that could be fun.” So I interviewed with them and got the job.
Q: What was your first deal?
A: In 1977, I started at an office-industrial project that was about 177,000 square feet. And my first day on the job, I leased space. The (client) had to help me find the keys. And once we found it, I thought it was a pretty good-looking suite for that guy. And it was fun. I liked dealing with the variety of businesses. I was exposed to every discipline, from manufacturing to service to hospitality. I learned a lot about a lot of different industries. You really have to learn about each business to accommodate their occupancy needs.
Q: Has it been difficult being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
A: I have never made gender an issue as it relates to my career. I might just be ignorant to the cause, but I put everyone on equal footing as it regards their ethnicity and gender, and hope that they do the same to me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been successful.
Q: What were you doing during the real estate boom of the late ’80s?
A: I went with a local developer in Long Beach, and I headed up its leasing department. It was about 1.5 million square feet of “spec” office development in 1987. We were very successful. Within two years we leased those projects up, and I basically leased myself out of a job. The premiere building was the World Trade Center in Long Beach. I was getting between $30 to $36 (annual) rents in the late ’80s.
Q: How and why did you join Koll Real Estate Services?
A: One of my biggest successes in life is that I’m a big networker. I meet everybody and anybody.
And that’s how I met Bill Rothe (former president of Koll). I probably first met him in 1985. I called him up and said, “I hear that you’re new in town, let’s get together.” And every year I’d call him up, and we’d compare (market) information, operational information.
So when it came time for me to go into a more-generalist position, I called him up. I said, “Hey, I’m looking for something else.” And we basically cut the deal over a bottle of wine. We knew each other, he knew what I was all about. And (that job) would have never happened for me had I not stepped out and made the phone call to him five years prior.
Q: Now you’re in charge of managing more than 200 million square feet of real estate across the country. How do you do it?
A: You’re only as good as your people. I have great intuition it’s a gut deal. It’s scary, but I have very good character judgment. I can tell if someone is hard working, ethical, bright, talented. So I think one of my key successes is hiring people. One of my strategies is to build a good team, and leverage people.
Q: What do you see ahead for the industry?
A: I think that public ownership of real estate (through investment trusts) is here to stay. I think that we need to create an opportunity where they are our best friends, and we’ll be working with them on a outsource basis or co-investment basis.
Q: So your outlook is different from those who see real estate investment trusts as a threat to the property management business?
A: Oh, everything is cyclical. REITs are very transaction-oriented right now. They are building their portfolios, and I don’t think that they’ve had time to evaluate the operational side. And we would love to have the opportunity to enable them to continue being transaction-oriented while we could help them on the operations side. I think it would make a wonderful complement.
Our business is very capital intense. Employees are a lot of money, technology is a lot of money. I’d like to see REITs stay with their core competency and outsource the rest.
Q: What do you see as the great challenge in your new job?
A: My biggest challenge is that I’m very results-oriented. I am really excited about a lot of the opportunities with the CB and Koll combination of talent. I tend to be really impatient, so my challenge is to be more patient in what we introduce. I need to look at the top three to five initiatives that we need to drive through the organization and into the market. Stay focused on top priorities.
The other challenge is people. Our intellectual capital is our strongest asset. So the recruitment and retention of people is very important.
Q: You describe yourself as a hard-core networker. How do you go about doing that?
A: As people say, I am never at a loss for words. I take the opportunity when I’m flying on a plane to make certain I know who I’m sitting by, what they do and what they’re all about. I met an organizational consultant recently on the plane flight, and we might be working together soon.
Q: How do you integrate that into your management style?
A: I’m a real relationship person. I believe in high-tech, high-touch. I think people need affiliation. I’m very rigorous about that in our relationship.
In the first few months on this job, I have been extensively traveling. I’ve been meeting with all of our employees and clients. I want to have very good internal and external conversations as far as what we’re doing right, what we’re not. What future needs might be, how we can create more client and employee intimacy.
Q: Outside of work, what do you do?
A: I work out a lot. That keeps my employees happy because it keeps my stress level down.
And I have a wonderful cat. It’s like my child. I’m single, and I have no children. Everyone has to have something, so I have my cat. And everyone knows about him: I have his picture on my desk.
He’s got a great name, Cash. He got his name because I’m such a paranoid mother. When I first got him, I’d take him to the vet every week. And finally someone said, “You’ve got to name that cat Cash, you spend so much money on that cat.”
Q: If you weren’t in real estate, what do you see yourself doing?
A: I started out as a journalism major, but this guy came into our class and told us how long it would take to get where I wanted to be. So I went straight over and signed up for business school. To this day, though, I’d love to go into broadcast journalism. It would be my dream to be the next Katie Couric.