Colliers’ James Garrett: A sense of humor — and good barbecue — make it all work

Colliers' Columbus office does plenty of volunteer work. Here, Jim Garrett is packing food at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

Colliers’ Columbus office does plenty of volunteer work. Here, Jim Garrett is packing food at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

by Dan Rafter

James Garrett, managing director and executive vice president with the Columbus office of Colliers International, doesn’t mind poking fun at himself. When Midwest Real Estate News asked him why commercial real estate has been the right career for him, Garrett didn’t hesitate: “Well, I’m not good at much else,” he explained.

Attendees of Midwest Real Estate News’ Columbus Commercial Real Estate Summit will get the chance to sample Garrett’s self-deprecating sense of humor during the conference being held March 25 at Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph, the newest hotel in downtown Columbus. Garrett is one of the featured speakers at the event.

We caught up with Garrett before the conference to get his thoughts on real estate, life outside the office and, of course, barbecue. Garrett likes his barbecue.

The accidental real estate pro: Garrett’s leap into the commercial real estate business came about by accident. As Garrett says, his family owned a development company and a small bit of real estate. Garrett was working his way through school one summer at the family business when the phone rang. It was a tenant at one of the family’s buildings with a complaint.

Garrett dug out the paperwork and helped the tenant resolve the problem. But he also noticed – this was in 1984 – that his family members were still paying mortgages that were at 16 percent or 17 percent. Garrett was able to work with mortgage lenders to drop those mortgage rates to the 12-percent range. In the process, he found his calling.

“I was bitten by the business,” he said. “I loved working that out, and I haven’t turned away from real estate since.”

A fan of the ups and downs: Garrett has now worked in real estate for more than 30 years. “Thank God,” he says. “I can’t do much else.”

Garrett getting ready for a go-kart race with his Colliers colleagues.

Garrett getting ready for a go-kart race with his Colliers colleagues.

What’s kept him in the business? Garrett points to the variety in commercial real estate. It’s a cliché’ but no day really is alike in this industry. And Garrett likes it that way.

“It’s a little bit of a roller coaster,” he said. “I’ll ask people who interview with me for jobs here if they like roller coasters and merry-go-rounds. If they don’t, they won’t like this business.”

Making a difference: Commercial real estate also provides a chance to make a difference in people’s lives, Garrett said.

“That’s the one thing we often forget about,” Garrett said. “We look at an office building and see $17 a square foot. We fail to recognize the impact this building will have on people. People occupy these buildings. They work in them. Each of these buildings has a heartbeat to it. If not for the people in the buildings, we wouldn’t be doing much in the way of real estate.”

A relationship-builder: Anyone who succeeds in commercial real estate is skilled at building long-term relationships. Garrett is no different. He has formed long-term relationships with dozens of clients and industry professionals during his long career.

These relationships are the key to success, he said.

“It is vital from a business and professional development standpoint,” Garrett said. “You have to continue to identify those people who can give you guidance and coaching throughout your career. I know. I’ve obviously needed a lot of guidance during my career.”

You gotta’ laugh … sometimes: Garrett doesn’t struggle to find the humor in life. However, he’s careful not to overuse his self-deprecating comedic bits. There are some clients or industry pros who would rather not hear a joke during the business day.

Family time: Garrett with his family, wife Julie, daughter Lane and son Trey.

Family time: Garrett with his family, wife Julie, daughter Lane and son Trey.

“I’ve learned the hard lesson of when not to use my sense of humor,” Garrett said. “You get to a meeting with someone who is maybe more analytical, maybe an engineer or an accountant. There is no talking about the golf game or looking behind the desk at the picture of a marlin. It’s all about business. If a meeting starts at 11, it starts at 11, there is no small talk. Learning when not to use the sense of humor is an ongoing education for me. But a lot people do respond favorably to it. I use it, hopefully, when it is appropriate.”

Time to grill: Like most successful real estate pros, Garrett spends a lot of time at the office and an on the road. But during those moments when he’s not working? His first priority is spending time with his family.

“The question is, ‘Do they like spending time with me?’” Garrett asked. “That’s still up for debate.”

Garrett’s son, Trey, sells real estate in Tampa, while his daughter, Lane, is a freshman at college. So Garrett does take every opportunity he can to see them.

Garrett and his wife, Julie, like to entertain, too. And often that entertaining involves Garrett at the barbecue grill.

“I love to barbecue,” Garrett said. “I like the slow smoke, the real serious smoking. I like to spend 18 hours with a piece of brisket to make it just right. There’s nothing like it.”

Garrett is also an avid hunter.

“I love being outdoors,” he said. “I like to spend time hunting. Of course, loving what I do for a living makes the longer hours a little easier. But we all need to recharge our batteries. I do believe in the concept of working hard and playing hard.”

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