CRE Success: The Podcast, S01E10
james tyrrell, IFC Seoul
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melbourne, commercial real estate, business, landlord, leasing, asia, market, podcast, project, james, people, jakarta, office, success, years, korea, working, jll, asset, indonesia
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Welcome to CRE Success: The Podcast, where we help people working in commercial real estate achieve their professional goals. Check us out online at cresuccess.co/podcast. And now here's your host, Darren Krakowiak.
Hello, this is Episode 10 of CRE Success: The Podcast. We made it. Yes, I started this podcast to fill a gap I saw in the marketplace: a podcast all about success in commercial real estate. I hope that you've enjoyed the content that we've been able to bring you and that it's added some value to your career. As I mentioned on the last episode, we are going to produce another 10 episodes as part of this first season. So, if you haven't already, make sure you hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast player, so you keep on receiving the episodes in your feed.
Today my guest is James Tyrrell. James is from Melbourne but he has spent 25 years plying his trade as a leasing executive in Asia. It's a career that is seen him based in three countries working for agencies and landlords, and as the head of his own consultancy. Over his career has risen to the top of JLL Korea as the head of that business from 2004 to 2008. He's been involved in one of the largest disposition transactions to occur in the past decade in Asia, and he's managed to smoothly transition from working for the previous landlord that he advised on that disposition to the new landlord for the past four years via his own consultancy, which provides specialist services to landlords.
James Tyrrell, you'll hear is very passionate about real estate and he's a great case study in doing what it takes to arrive, thrive and survive as a professional expat. My interview with James starts in 30 seconds.
And now it's time for the interview on CRE Success: The Podcast.
James, welcome to CRE Success: The Podcast.
Thank you very much, Darren, pleased to be, pleased to be here today.
Well, James, the first thing that we do at the top of each episode is we ask our guests to step into the virtual elevator and to give us their 20 to 30 second introduction of who they are, their elevator pitch. So James, who are you?
I'm James Tyrrell, I'm an office leasing executive based in Seoul, South Korea, working I basically own and operate a small consultancy company that represents institutional real estate owners here in the Seoul office market and I present my team and I are working on the IFC Seoul project, a half a million square metre mixed use development with 350,000 square meters of office space across three towers. And our current owner and client that we report to is Brookfield Asset Management.
So just to put that in perspective for some of our listeners, for example, in Melbourne, the Melbourne CBD office market has around 5 million square meters, so the project that you're working on is almost 10% of the size of the Melbourne office market.
So, that's right. And it's It is the largest office project in Seoul and therefore Korea, we have some tall buildings here, but this is the largest because it's three towers. But there is a very large development opening next door as well in the coming months. So, we have a new competitor that will be competing with in the near future.
It’s alright, James, I don't expect you to promote the competitor next door. So, we'll just gloss over that.
Let's go back to the start. How did you get started in commercial real estate?
Yes, I started back in the mid 80s at RMIT so I went to university after I finished high school and was at the RMIT Doing the Bachelor of Business in property which is quite a well-known degree now, but it was very much in its infancy at the time. There was the valuation degree or diploma prior to that, but I went into that degree with some interest in real estate and property and that progressed into the third year of the degree, I was able to be virtually job placed three days a week, which I did in a building management, property management role with AMP, the big life insurance company stayed with them for a year, and then felt a sort of a pull towards the agency and marketing side of the business and was able to get a job at JLW as it was as it was called in those days and worked at JLW from 1988 to 1995, primarily in office leasing, a little bit of sales as well, but mainly with Office leasing, and that's there was a great ground, a great starting point for my career. And that sort of then took a turn when I the next part of my adventure was coming to Asia.
You find yourself in Seoul now. But I understand there was a couple of countries in between you leaving Melbourne and getting to Korea. So, tell us about that journey.
Yeah, it was pretty interesting. Mid 90s. The office market in Melbourne was hit pretty hard in the early 90s. There was an actual recession in the early 90s. So, it was probably a slightly saturated market in terms of companies, consultants. So, I was looking for something new. And Asia was on the rise, you know, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, they were all emerging markets at that time. And so I actually just went on on holidays at one point in the mid-90s, and sort of door knocked a few companies, including JLW and had a round of interviews that ended up with me taking a position with JLW in Jakarta, Indonesia, so that so that was really the first stepping stone and that was in late 95. And I did two and a half years there in a landlord sort of driven market working in agency and marketing. And then we had the financial Asian financial crisis of 98, which then impacted everyone working in that market. But I was able to pivot to a landlord, landlord developer called Mulia Group who is quite a well-known company in Indonesia. They own the big hotel in Bali, a flagship Hotel in Jakarta, but they had also had an office portfolio. And so I worked as a portfolio leasing director for them for a few years and that that rounded been out for about five years in Indonesia. And then the next opportunity came
Interesting that you ended up at JLW as JLL was called back then after working for them in Melbourne, but it wasn't any of the introductions or links from your Melbourne colleagues that got you the job in Indonesia.
It was basically turning up. So one thing I would say to some of the listeners and people that might be interested to look at opportunities in Asia in the future: back in the 90s, it was get on the telephone… we didn't even have email then… it was get on the telephone and then get on an airplane. And so I actually did flying to Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Jakarta and KL. I did sort of five cities over a couple of weeks and door knocked a whole range of companies. And obviously there was a reference point there with JLW anyway, but it was really turning up and speaking to people face to face and expressing interest that led to my employment. The days of transfers and moving people around. It wasn't really that common back then, the countries were quite separate. So, there was certainly a lot of personal drive and ambition that was able to open some doors and that led to my first opportunity with JLW in Jakarta, where they were a market leader and a quite a quite a big practice back at the time.
So after Indonesia, I think I went to Hong Kong for a short period back with JLL?
Yeah, so we I worked for the developer and it was a good role. But the market was extremely flat after the Asian financial crisis in Jakarta, you know, the rupiah had been dramatically, dramatically impacted against the US dollar. I was working for a developer who was receiving rents in US dollars, it was all pretty challenging. And so I've always found in my career, some of these recessions and sort of these little circuit breakers in your career, that created a want to get out of Indonesia and move to the next adventure and of course, I kept in touch with JLL and they said: come up to Hong Kong. We're going to launch South Korea in the next 12 months. Come here, first set up there and then we'll forge ahead and open the business in South Korea. So, I did that in 2000. Moved to Hong Kong, just lived out of a hotel. Again, I was pretty nimble, I moved with the with a suitcase. So, it was it was all quite easy to sort of pull to pull it all through because I was just by myself didn't have a family or anything like that to worry about. So, it was it was it was a good move, went to Hong Kong and then we set our sights on establishing a fully operational firm in Seoul, South Korea.
Right. So you eventually became the country head of JLL Korea, correct?
That's correct. So look, I went in there virtually is the parachuted in first, started employing people, very much a startup environment in those first few years of 2001, 2002, 2003. And then we built a platform with some more experienced management from the JLL group. And then in 2004, I became the country manager, Managing Director of that office, and drove all the business lines for about five years.
You've been in Korea now for 20 years.
And some of the listeners may know I spent 11 years in Korea and I can remember when I would tell people I've been in Korea for 10 or 11 years, they'd look took me like I was, you know, not crazy, but like I was a real survivor. But you’ve survived for 20 years in Korea.
Yes, I have. And I sort of thought about the podcasts today and why were some of the reasons I stayed so long. But I look back through those years, every couple of years, just big opportunities came up. And so getting to Seoul, standing it virtually starting a leasing business, a tenant rep business, sales business or property management business, it was all without the rulebook, we just sort of went out at a million miles an hour. That was a very exciting period of, it felt like work for startups through those first three or four years. Then the opportunity for country management came into it so of course I was going to give that my best shot. I did that. And then in the second decade, we started to have some sort of international grade offers projects come out of the ground here in Seoul, and in 2009, after leaving JLL, I originally had what I called my half time I, I took a year off to being in Asia since 95 to 09, it was already 14 years, I took a year off it was 10 or 11 months, traveled the world, met my now wife, and really at that, that half time period really allowed me to reset and then set my mind to the next round of opportunities. And that was an opportunity with AIG Global Real Estate, who were the developer on behalf of a real estate fund for the IFC Seoul and got it on the ground floor with them when the project was a hole on the ground. And that opportunity then went for six years.
Tell me about the role that you've got. Now I know there's a new owner in place, but tell me about what you do with the IFC Seoul project.
So we took IFC, so under the AIG global real estate banner, we took it from a complete hole on the ground through a whole pre-leasing phase through to an opening phase through 2011 through 2012, then opened the tallest tower in 2015. So it was all hands on deck with my team working with the various brokers in the market like JLL, Savills, Cushman and Wakefield, CBRE, then all the various firms to take that first chunk out of the vacancy, and being 350,000 square meters and no ownership occupancy in the project, and remembering big groups like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, POSCO, SK, all the big Korean conglomerates, they normally have their own buildings. So, we had to set about a huge leasing campaign in a office district that also competes with two other office districts. So, it was essentially you know, you have to St Kilda Road your Docklands, and your Melbourne CBD or your Sydney in your North Sydney and your Chatswood. We were sort of one of those districts and it wasn't the central CBD, it was one of the other districts. So a lot of work to do, a lot of heavy lifting to get the space leased. And that was all set up on the basis of AIG then exiting the asset. And so that was another learning along the way, in that I got to work with AIG and they're appointed broker out of New York, Eastdil Secured, to work on the whole exit strategy and the exit of the asset, which was just something I'd never done before. So we worked through that. And then Brookfield eventually bought the asset at the end of 2016. And then the building was only 60 to 65% leased across the three towers. So, then I had to reset again with my team, we segued over to Brookfield to represent their interests. And we're now got the buildings cumulatively occupied in the mid 90% mark.
So you're a leasing an executive by trade and you've worked in an agency but now working for a landlord for the past decade. So, what's the difference between those two roles when it comes to applying the skills of being a leasing agent?
Yes, I've enjoyed both. I was just tapping up the years before the call and I've done 14 years on the landlord side and 19 as a broker or an agent, all focused on you know, getting space leased, and getting assets ready for sale or optimize asset optimization. So, I found on the brokerage side, and this is true to this day I'm sure, even though I haven't worked in it for 10 years. So a lot of hustle hustle, a lot of targets, a lot of fees to be chased, a lot of a broad range of clients, but very much living in the moment, quarter by quarter, I found more and more once JLL became a public company in 1997. So it was always quarterly results, monthly results. It was pretty high intensity. Now as a sort of working on an owner's behalf, we are much more into outcomes planning, looking at the valuation a real focus on optimizing the asset, improving occupancy and really being a little bit more strategic. You know, we have over 220 office tenants across three towers, the tallest tower being 55 storey high, there is always something to do, it's all about asset optimizing Now a little bit more strategic. Before that it was it was go, go, go.
Okay, so tell me about the leadership skills that are required to run a business like JLL Korea versus those that are required to be in charge of a dedicated leasing team that's focused exclusively on one project. I imagine there's some key differences.
Absolutely. I found leadership of a full firm, and again that was an emerging firm, it wasn't it was quite a young company in terms of the South Korean office market and the industrial market and the retail market, that was extremely challenging and I went at it head first you just got to dive in and and do the best you can I try as hard as I could. And I look I found on reflection, probably would have done a whole lot of things a lot differently. But as you get older, you mature more and, you learn, you have learnings and takeaways from lots of situations. So, I think that that five years of, firstly the start up period in the five years of running that company, just did everything possible to try and produce results. And you know, we did reasonably well. But it was just always a very, very challenging role I found. Now it's with a smaller team, we have very much our eye on the prize, we know what we need to do. We know we have to get the asset as close to 100% occupied on long leases, to credit tenants. When we deal with all the renewals. We deal with the downsizing upsizing. So it's just the playing field is different in that now there's probably less complication, there's less variables, because there's smaller amount of headcount. Whereas when I was leading a full-service firm with six or seven service lines, I think I was trying to be something to everyone. And if I if I did that role again, at my age now, I think I'd be a little bit more strategic in the role less, less sort of taking it virtually day by day as we did back in the day.
Look at your team now. You've had an incredibly stable team, two of the three people who work with you have been with you every day for a decade. And I know that they're very capable and they probably get offers to leave from time to time and join other firms. So how is it that you have kept your team loyal and engaged on the task at hand?
I think that's a very good question. Because you and I have both worked here. And we've seen people gravitate from agencies to asset managers or developers. I found I never changed my global outlook or… even though I live in South Korean I live in work here, my wife is Korean; I'm still an international citizen. So I've gone about running this project, how I would run it if it was in another city in the world. And so that means, you know, things like work life balance and not being top down, but being more collaborative, and sitting down with the team and working through problems on deals and proposals and lease negotiations. It was just that's how I would have done it if I was in Melbourne or if I was in Hong Kong. Whereas the Korean corporate world is very top down, very sort of brutal in some ways. And so I deliberately went my own path and instead of trying to clone myself into a Korean management style, so I think that resonated with the team members; third key team members been here for five years as well. So I think that giving them more autonomy, giving them respective work life balance, and giving them a lot of responsibilities in handling their own deals. I really get involved with the major key tenants and they let them run their programs, day to day, week to week, month to month and I think that resonated with them, whereas if they joined a large Korean organization, you become another soldier in a Korean army and I that that doesn't suit those individuals.
Also, you've been working on this project for 10 years. So, I guess you know, the project inside out, but I'm wondering how do you keep things fresh in terms of your approach to the job and how you present the property to prospective tenants?
So I find that several things; there's always something to do. So there's key renewals. We have over 200 office tenants, there's de-risking the property as best we can for our client, making sure that we're ahead of the curve. If renewals are coming up that have a bit of risk with new supply coming to the market, we started early. Still love showing space, even if it's second time around. I've done several deals with companies in Korea where I've did a move 15 years ago for them, I did a move for them three years ago. So I've done I've done their office twice for the been in my time here. So, I find there's always something to do. We're always looking to be the most professional operator in the market. And I do benchmark the Australian property market very closely for best practice and learning. So when I'm in Sydney and Melbourne, I'm always visiting all the class A properties in those markets. And so we've you know, we've put a flex base model into play here at our property, we've done end of trip with a healthcare, it's a health club. But it's really sort of like an end of trip facility that you'd see in trophy buildings in Melbourne, Sydney, we did a convention space a year ago with even leasing. Now some built out tenancies is something different. So always trying to benchmark best practice. And I use Australia as my sort of bedrock. And then try and bring that best practice to South Korea, which is still, you could argue, an emerging market. It's…the multinationals love coming to our project, because we try and hit all those touch points that they need in their offices as the years go by.
So James, I'd like to move on now to talk about you, in your experience in Korea, and how it is that you think you have survived and thrived in the market. So, what are the specific skills that are required to be a long term survivor in a market like Korea?
It has to be underlying drive. I think that was what got me to Indonesia and then to Korea, and it's got to be that level of passion for real estate and passion for working with people and working for clients. And even though I'm on the landlord side, I'm still essentially a consultant working for a client, just one large client that we have to perform our duties for. So that whole layer of showing space, selling, selling space, negotiating deals, I've always enjoyed that. So I think that drive and tenacity is key. And I've been able to hold on to that, and two is resilience, got to tough it out some times. It's a foreign city. It's not foreign to me now, but it's still foreign language and different business customs. So I've been able to, sort of, adapt I think reasonably well in that respect. So I'd say I've pretty adaptable sort of personality. And I found as the years have gone on, and much more calm, a little bit more calm, a little bit more strategic. And I think that's that served me very, very well. And I suppose the final point for anyone that's listening that interested to move to Asia: you can bring lots of best practice from places like Australia, but you still have to blend in, you can't completely expect the domestic market in the city that you've moved to, to completely adhere to all your thought processes or way of going about things. So there really is an element of flexibility in how you tackle problems that's extremely important things in surviving. And you and I both have seen many, many people come and go over the years that haven't had that ability to adapt.
What's one thing that you've done that helps you be successful, in terms of something that you've focused on and worked out to be the best that you can be?
I've got a great sort of grounding from my time in Melbourne before I came to Asia and there was two key parts to that there was working at JLL, which was JLW back then, you work with some of the best people in the business in the late 80s and early 90s. Because you know, they were number one, and so there was just a lot of that positive energy I think just rubbed off on me which I've been on to take that tenacity with me on my travels. The other thing that I thought was very important I picked up from university, we had a visiting professor from Canada that once said, “You've got to be niche”, you know, there's going to be lots of talented people selling buildings, leasing space and Melbourne, as you know, it's a very, very professional office environment, industrial environment, logistics. So I just thought, maybe if I step outside that arena and go to somewhere where I'm a much more niche player where I can represent multinational business interests, you know, in a very foreign country. Korea is still, like Japan, have very sort of strong domestic character. That has been something I think I've been able to use to project my career in the right direction, and sort of stay at the top of my game. So being niche and picking your target, I think, has served me very well over the years.
Well, James, I know you're a big Hawks fan. And in the time that I've known you, there's been four premierships, people from Melbourne who know about AFL will know what I'm talking about. Has the Hawks success ever made you think twice about coming back home and giving it all up to come back to Melbourne?
Very, very pertinent question given we have football on every night of the week. So when I first moved to Asia, I really missed footy and there was no cable TV there was no Fox Footy there was not none of the gadgetry that we have today. So I I really sort of missed it for those first sort of 5, 10 years. Now as you know, we were well set up from a technology standpoint, so I know just about as much as about AFL as anyone. So I didn't get to go to the games. I'm still a member of the football club, follow them very passionately every week. Always go and see a game when I'm in Melbourne. I've also stopped by Sydney a few times and seen games, but this is where the my bread and butter is still at the present time. So, I have to enjoy tuning in as I will probably tonight. There is a game on tonight as well.
I guess the funny thing is right now, even if you live in Melbourne, you couldn't go and see a game anyway.
Exactly. So crazy season, but yet still still love, love the footy. And technology has certainly reduced the divide that I experienced when I first moved overseas.
Very good. Well, James, it's been great talking to you. I want to say thank you so much for sharing your insights about what it takes to succeed in a market like career and thanks for being here on CRE Success: The Podcast.
My pleasure, Darren, it's been great. Thanks. Thanks very much.
For more information about our guest, visit cresuccess.co/podcast. And now a final thought from Darren Krakowiak.
Thank you once again, James for taking part in the show. We're currently beginning production on a further 10 episodes for season one which will take us through to the end of 2020. I will also produce a couple of bonus episodes as a bit of a bumper between this first batch of 10 episodes and the next batch of 10 episodes, where we'll be recapping some of the best answers that we've heard so far in season one, and also to preview what we've got coming up for the rest of season one.
Please don't forget to visit our website to find out more about CRE Success and also to claim your free ebook, The 5 P's of Commercial Real Estate Success. I really noticed throughout the season that whenever I ask the question of our guests, “What does it take to succeed in commercial real estate?”, a lot of the 5 P's came up: passion, persistence, positive thinking, preparation and professionalism. This is not just another generic eBook on success, by the way; this is specific to commercial real estate and based on my experience and observations in the industry over the past two decades. The point to get from this book is that you do not have to change who you are to succeed in commercial real estate. All that matters is what you do. In just 12 pages you will learn how to utilize your existing skills to prioritize your efforts and achieve the success that you are looking for. To download the eBook just visit our website and follow the prompts: cresuccess.co That is the website. cresuccess.co
That's all for today though. Thanks so much for listening and I will speak to you soon.
Thanks for listening to CRE Success: The Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe to us on your favourite podcast platform and be sure to leave us a five-star review. For more information about the show, just check the show notes on your podcast app or visit us online at cresuccess.co