Member Perspectives

Our NAIOP Colorado members share subject matter expertise focused on improving the commercial real estate industry through personal stories that inspire enthusiasm, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

NAIOP Colorado Perspectives: Mary Sullivan, Living Your Life Intentionally

August 4, 2022
Submitted by Shane Mahoney
 

Mary Sullivan was dubbed “Denver’s Queen of commercial real estate investment” by the Denver Post in 2011. A conservative estimate attributes her with $10 billion in career transaction production while working in Denver for firms such as Coldwell Banker, Trammell Crow, Cushman Realty, Cushman & Wakefield, back to CBRE, JLL and HFF. Mary spent 35 years in CRE investments before retiring in 2016 to focus on her grown children, fly fishing, travel, skiing and cycling. Mary was gracious enough to share a salad with me at her kitchen countertop for this interview this last Spring.

Shane Mahoney: Thank you for sitting down with me Mary. Some advice attributed to you is the Importance of Reputation “At the end of the day that is all you have.”
In one of your largest transactions – the sale of $770MM of CBD assets – you mentioned a point where you were asked for honest feedback about a deal. You provided what you knew to be the best information at the risk of losing the listing. Tell us about it.

Mary Sullivan: I was in the process of selling a large portfolio for a client. The deal was ready to award when Jon Gray and Blackstone bought the client and the sale went silent. I ran into Jon at a lunch and suggested he look into the sale – not because I had the listing, but because Blackstone didn’t want to own the underlying assets. After meeting with Frank Cohen I sent them my analysis with the advice to sell whether or not I kept the listing. They agreed with my analysis and advice and the sale went through. That was the prelude.

So later I’m selling three CBD assets for Equity Office Properties – the sale was awarded when Blackstone came in and bought EOP. Frank Cohen called and told me that Blackstone would go through with the deal. Frank also asked if the current deal was leaving any money on the table. I said, “Yes you are, and here is where. If they come back and ask for anything at all, flush the deal.” I’m under contract and I could’ve pushed forward on the deal but instead I suggested killing it. Blackstone did kill the deal and came back to me and said, ‘We’re adding the two other office buildings, take them to market.”

Shane Mahoney: That goes along with another concept I saw in multiple articles/interviews – your ferocious, tenacious representation of your client’s best interest at all cost.

Mary Sullivan: When I retired, I had clients call me and say, “I don’t know if you know this Mary, but you aren’t like everybody else.” That was very rewarding. I’d worked in a bubble and didn’t interact with other brokers. I’d list the property and source the buyer. In representing my client, my client one time might be the seller, but the buyer in that transaction might be my client next time. They knew I was not at all confused about who I represented in the transaction. So you look out for their best interest.

Shane Mahoney: In 2006 (I believe) I had the opportunity to see you speak on a CREJ panel about investment real estate. Your comment to the crowd was something along the lines of “Denver’s CRE Investment market had arrived." I know you’d worked hard making investors on both coasts aware of Denver’s potential. What changes to the Denver marketplace and economy helped make it possible?

Mary Sullivan: I’d like to say I had a hand in it, but I was simply recognizing Denver’s position and sharing that with clients. Tom Clark with the Denver Metro Chamber worked very hard in the late ‘80s and ‘90’s and made a concerted effort to tout Denver’s physical attributes and recent infrastructure investments. The convention center, library, stadium, DIA, TREX and others were all investments that gave us advantages that helped us diversify the economy. All I did was recognize what was going on right in front of me and bringing it to my client’s attention.

Shane Mahoney: So lastly, you are nearing 6 years since your retirement, what have you learned about yourself so far that you didn’t expect?

Mary Sullivan: I knew myself really well my whole life and career. What I did learn about myself happened after Sherman died (her husband, Sherman Miller, passed in April 2015). I knew that when the kids were gone and it was just to be Sherman and me, we would be just fine. We wouldn’t have skipped a beat. But with him gone, I had a void that I had to intentionally fill.

I learned I had to live very intentionally. I no longer had my best friend who I did everything with – absolutely everything with. Half of me was gone. I had to put myself into activities I really didn’t want to do. When people asked, I just started saying yes.


NAIOP Colorado Perspectives: Wayne Barrett, President of Sterling Road Properties

March 29, 2022
Submitted by James McGill
 

Prior to his position as president of Sterling Road Properties, he served as the Vice President and Market Officer for the Denver Market of Prologis. He was responsible for the management and expansion of operations through facility and land acquisitions. Prior to joining Prologis in 2003, Mr. Barrett worked for various industrial real estate companies including Lincoln Property Company, Equitable Real Estate Investment Management, Inc., Compass Management and Leasing Inc., Catellus Development Corporation, and most recently, Trammell Crow.

Involved in the industry for over forty years, his diverse responsibilities have included marketing, leasing, development, and asset management of both speculative and build-to-suit industrial projects. Wayne Barrett sat down with James McGill to share his Commercial Real Estate background, what is his favorite development/project to work on and of course what’s next for him.

 

James McGill - How does Wayne Barrett get into Commercial Real Estate? Give us a rundown of how you spent your time during the 40 years in CRE? How much leasing were you involved in? How did you get to Denver? Tell us about the Norm Blum biking story?

Wayne Barrett - Went to college in New York (SUNY Oswego), and grew up in Armonk, NY (just north of New York City). After school I came home and was not ready to find a typical job, so ended up riding my bicycle with a high school friend (Norm Blum) to Colorado. Bounced around in various jobs (most memorable being the Spaghetti Factory) and found a temporary job with Coldwell Banker (now CBRE) in their data bank. This led to Development positions with Wickliff and Co, Lincoln Property Company, Equitable Real Estate, Trammel Crow and ultimately Prologis (for 18 years), which I left at the end of 2020. All told I have been in the business for 40 years, with over 30 million sf of leasing transactions.

 

James McGill - What was your favorite development/project to work on during your career?

Wayne Barrett - I really enjoyed developing two dynamic Business parks in the main industrial/distribution area of Denver along I-70. The Former Stapleton Business Center and Prologis Park 70. Ultimately, we developed over 8 million sf, and we began with vacant land (one being a former airport), and no utilities. These continue to be prime locations for a number of Fortune 500 companies distributing throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

 

James McGill - How has the industrial market evolved over the years you have been in the industry?

Wayne Barrett - When I started in the industrial market (w/Lincoln Property Company), the standard space was 22 foot clear with no more than 100-foot truck courts, no truck parking, and rail service. Obviously, this has changed w/36-foot clear heights (and going higher), 180-foot truck courts and plentiful truck parking. Rail service has become obsolete for most developers which lends itself to the cross-dock configuration that is extremely popular today. 

Another factor that has changed the market dramatically has been the flow of new capital into commercial real estate.  With Wall Street running many of these investments (and REITS), the analysis of the industry has become extremely sophisticated and scrutinized. There are many dynamics that are required by this capital to be considered when acquiring/selling/developing a property. I fondly remember the old days, where it was more of a "Gut" feel of the real estate, and a basic income/cost analysis of the property, was sufficient for most investors. This level of detail does not work today.

 

James McGill - Tell us a bit more about your “museum”? What are you up to today? 

Wayne Barrett - Since I left Prologis, I have been active in the purchase of small industrial properties in the metro area. Currently I am the owner/manager of over a dozen properties, which keeps me busy, but allows me some leisure time. 

One of the more enjoyable pursuits has been a collection of artifacts from my career. I have dedicated a space to house these in one of my buildings, whose genesis was cleaning out my garage, to my wife's delight, but it's been fun looking back on the last 40 years. When you see the number of cycles we went through, starting with the Oil boom/bust and the S&L crisis of the 1980's to the great recession of 2008, and beyond. New development has continued to change the landscape, from DIA to Coors Field and the rediscovery of the Rino/Lodo/Lohi neighborhoods to name just a few... It's truly astounding the changes we have seen.

 

James McGill - What are the three characteristics you think are most crucial to be successful in CRE?

Wayne Barrett - Perseverance is probably the best characteristic I can think of for a rewarding career. If you look around at the most successful brokers/developers during my time, they all went through hard times, but figured out how to stay in the business. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a colleague who summed it up with two words: "Low Overhead".  Do not put yourself in a position to make a decision based solely on the initial monetary gain.

The key is staying in the business long enough to be able to recognize the opportunities when they present themselves.

 

James McGill - What groups/associations were you involved with that you think were the most valuable to your career? What groups/associations would you recommend a young person getting into the industry join?

Wayne Barrett - Certainly, NAIOP has been a leader in the industry with relationships around the country. In addition, I try to stay active with SIOR and DMCAR who I believe are industry leaders in their respective areas. Being active in any of these will provide an excellent way of staying relevant and a great source of contacts.


 

NAIOP Colorado Perspectives: Ann Sperling, Senior Director, Trammell Crow Co.

December 17, 2021
Submitted by Jessica Ostermick
 

Celebrating an incredible nearly 40-year career in commercial real estate that has touched so many communities and property types including office, industrial, mixed use, retail, hotel and healthcare, Ann Sperling sat down with Jessica Ostermick to share her perspective on resiliency, stewardship, what defines a good job and of course what’s next for her. 

Jessica: First of all, congratulations! In addition to your many achievements, roles and completed projects, your community involvement within and outside our industry throughout your career has been remarkable. What value has such involvement brought to you and how might you advise others on engaging with industry groups and other organizations? Also, remind us how you’ve spent those 40 years in the business. 

AnnI spent half of my career in real estate development – the business of the business – and the other half in leadership roles, of large public real estate companies. Most professionals do one or the other, but I had the privilege of doing both. While leadership and development seem like separate activities, they cross fertilize because the capital partners, stakeholders, brokers and communities are the same. My activities on both sides of the ledger have served to enhance my relationships and industry knowledge. 

Regarding community involvement and especially for those of us that develop or invest in real estate, I believe we should see ourselves as stewards of the community in which we live and work. Personally, I’ve been lucky to have worked in Denver -- a city I love! We have an obligation to engage with the communities we touch in a profound way. One’s involvement more broadly in both industry and civic activities enable us to be much more fluent in what’s important to the community. Lastly, such involvement affords young professionals the chance to develop leadership skills in a low-risk way. 

For example, I sat on the board of Children’s Hospital Colorado, as Treasurer and Vice Chair, and which enabled me to build relationships in the broader community with business leaders. It also enabled me to try on leadership skills within a very sophisticated organization and helped me grow as a leader. For those of us affecting community landscapes, community service is our obligation but also one that affords meaningful professional development and growth. 

Jessica: After 40 years in CRE, several market cycles, and hundreds of projects, is there a project or experience that taught you a valuable lesson and potentially impacted your outlook or approach going forward?  

Ann: There are so many to choose from, but Crossroads Commerce Park comes to mind as a project example. Crossroads Commerce Park was a brownfield industrial site that ultimately showed me the power of public and private sector collaboration. The City of Denver, Adams County, CDPHE and the EPA were all involved in this site that had a fence around it for 20 years in the middle of a neighborhood. When the public and private sectors are on the same side of the fence, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. The public sector was passionate about cleaning up the environmental contamination, the community welcomed the improvements such as the addition of lighting and landscaping, and Adams County sought economic development and job growth. Now a top-notch 1.0 million square foot industrial park, Crossroads has won numerous awards from NAIOP, ULI, EPA and the National American Planning Association; and we intentionally invited our public sector stakeholders to accept the awards with us because it was truly an example of public/private partnership.

Jessica: Resiliency and grit are two characteristics central to a long and successful career in our industry. Where does your resiliency and grit come from, and how do you cultivate it? 

AnnCertainly some is acquired. I’m the youngest of four and the only girl, so growing up with three older brothers prepared me to work in a male-dominated industry. I also lost my mother at a young age and had to “step up” in many ways. I developed an aspirational life view and found a way to engage with my family in a unifying and enduring way. We all have life experiences that help shape us, but it seems that sometimes the worst experiences can also fuel the best things in your life. 

Having great mentors, leaders and partners early in my career gave me a sense of trust and confidence that has proven beneficial while navigating our cyclical high-risk industry. Challenges are expected so being in the proverbial fox hole with the right people is critical to persevering. I have had the honor of being close business partners with several individuals who I respected and trusted which made all the difference in my career.  I took note early on of how people I respected faced economic downturns with integrity and compassion, and honored commitments to partnerships. Life is long so sticking with the relationships, partnerships and commitments you’ve made through hard times pays back in the long term. 

Jessica: Over the years, you’ve worked at Trammell Crow Co. (twice!), Catellus and JLL. What factored into your decisions to take on new opportunities, and how do you define a “good job?”

AnnI certainly didn’t join TCC thinking I’d spend two-thirds of my career there but began with an aspirational view of achieving everything I could at that company – including making partner and being the first woman partner at TCC and after only 4 years. I was constantly looking for opportunity within the firm, and as such had five different jobs or “reinventions” in the first 25 years. I sought out some of those opportunities and in some cases, others saw my potential first, which required me having the guts to go for a job that I didn’t immediately feel comfortable pursuing. You learn a lot about yourself in stretch situations, and I’ve found that being authentic in my identity - even if it looks different than the status quo - is a strength as opposed to trying to fit into a homogenous expectation. 

I evaluate job opportunities in the context of “what good looks like” and certainly the traditional elements of compensation, position and influence matter. What really matters most to me though is culture and a sense of partnership that are not always easily found but are deeply impactful towards your long-term success and overall happiness. 

Jessica: Tell us what’s next? 

Ann:  This is more of a pivot versus a retirement. I will stay involved with some important projects and commitments at TCC for a while, but ultimately, it’s good timing because our company and office are in such great hands. I want to be the person that steps aside so others can step up rather than being in the way of their growth. I have oodles of energy left and have so many things I want to do from skiing, hiking fly fishing, and travelling along with my civic passions of healthcare and regenerative medicine. I am also passionate about corporate governance and am pivoting my business activities to three corporate boards, including two NYSE public corporate boards.  I have been thinking about this next phase for a while and intentionally structured my next chapter to be as active as my last phase, just focused on new challenges.