Chicago’s Paine/Wetzel TCN Worldwide: Putting clients first leads to 40-plus years of success

Jeff Girling

Jeff Girling

by Dan Rafter

Chicago-based commercial real estate brokerage Paine/Wetzel TCN Worldwide celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015. Succeeding for four decades in easy business is a challenge. Thriving in commercial real estate for that long is truly a feat. Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with Jeffrey Girling, managing vice president, about what has made Paine/Wetzel so successful for so long. 

Why do you think Paine/Wetzel has been able to succeed for four decades? What are some of the steps that the company has taken to continue to grow its business?
Jeff Girling: We’ve enjoyed a track record of success because we continually put our clients’ interests ahead of our own.   While it sounds like a no-brainer maxim that every firm in any service based industry should employ, it strangely doesn’t always hold true.  I’ve always felt that our brokers are well-supported with the latest technology and tools.  There is a commitment to providing excellent resources to our brokers, which in turn allows them to provide excellent service to the clients of Paine/Wetzel.

Commercial real estate is extremely competitive, how has Paine/Wetzel managed to set itself apart from others in this business?
Girling: For us, everything starts with the users of commercial real estate.  Whether it’s a sale, lease, build-to-suit or an investment, regardless of what side of the transaction we are on, it all comes down to accomplishing the objectives of the users.

Another differentiating factor is that we’re strongly independent and take pride in having individuals who want to stand on their own, generate their own business.  That’s one thing in our industry that has changed significantly.   There are far too many deal processors rather than people creating value.   Like many of our competitors, we believe in a team structure to leverage the time and strengths of different individuals.  But we tell people contemplating a career in commercial brokerage to be an individual who develops the skills and talent to stand on their own two feet.  If you can generate business, you have a lot of options in this industry.  If you can only process deals, you are extremely limited and dependent on those who are generating business.

How does Paine/Wetzel keep its long-time clients continually coming back?
Girling: They understand the value we add to the transaction process, and that every resource at our disposal is there for them.
What are some of the most important changes that Paine/Wetzel officials have seen since the earliest days of the company through today?
Girling: I’d say we are more strategic.  We’re really pushing the development and integration of systems rather than the cowboy mentality of the ‘70s through the ‘90s.  Beyond that, we’re a very consistent firm.  When I started 15 years ago, Paine/Wetzel had many, if not all of the top industry tools and support staff to foster the success of their clients.   That’s still the case today.   The speed at which we can deliver meaningful content has changed, the amount of information we have available to deliver has increased, but at the end of the day we consistently deliver results for our clients.  We’ll always have some of that cowboy mentality, but we’re more strategic and efficient cowboys.
What are some of the biggest challenges of succeeding in commercial real estate?
Girling: I strongly believe that on an individual broker level, the most difficult thing that impedes the success of commercial real estate brokers is the failure to consistently execute a method or processed-based business plan.  This industry is largely made up of type-A personalities.  Words like process implementation and consistent methodology frequently don’t gel with brokers, and frequently that’s to their detriment.
What are the biggest rewards of the commercial real estate business?
Girling: I’ve had this conversation with many people.  It’s funny, but getting a deal done or receiving a commission check is anticlimactic.  By far the biggest reward is the “win” for the client.  Sometimes that win comes during lease negotiation. Sometimes that win comes in identifying that needle-in-the-haystack building.  I’ve even got the win by finding a significant fault with a property and not doing a deal at all.  Very rarely does the reward come at the closing table.

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