Executives who hire CBRE’s Cathy Delcoco and Meredith LaPier to perform a clandestine search for office space often have a few lessons to learn up front, particularly if they want their search to remain a secret to reporters, analysts and competitors.
When touring a building under consideration, be sure not to wear any company logos and only use your first name to introduce yourself to the landlord’s team (lest you be Googled).
Delcoco and LaPier may also want to give your company a nickname to help keep it under wraps; they referred to services firm Bechtel as ‘Project X’ when searching for its new local headquarters .
Oh, and you may not want to mention your company’s name even when leaving messages at CBRE’s office. When seeking a new corporate headquarters for Northrop Grumman, Delcoco kept her staff in the dark. “Northrop Grumman was a little difficult because I wasn’t even telling my assistant, so I was doing all my own documentation,” Delcoco said.
Working for some of Washington’s largest corporate clients including Time Warner, Gannett, Orbital Sciences, AOL and Cisco have put the names of the two brokers, part of CBRE’s Global Corporate Services unit in Tysons Corner, in headlines and on award plaques.
In 2011, the year after the landmark deal that brought Northrop Grumman from Los Angeles to Fairfax County, the pair arranged not only the largest private lease in all of Northern Virginia (188,000 square feet for Bechtel in Reston) but the largest lease renewal in Northern Virginia (337,000 square feet for Orbital Sciences in Dulles). The team aided AOL in leasing out a mammoth 666,290 square feet of the company’s Loudoun County campus to Raytheon in 2009, after which they held a massive celebratory dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Tysons.
But it isn’t the big deals that have put the two among the top money makers for CBRE, it’s the many small ones. The six-person team they lead typically closes 70 to 75 leases a year, many of them for clients who took years to cultivate. Delcoco and LaPier’s earnings put them annually among the ranks of the CBRE’s Top 225 performers among North and South America employees.
In many ways they are typical brokers, pitching their services, competing for clients and negotiating the best deals possible. Christopher R. Ludeman, president of capital markets for CBRE, said much of the tandem’s success is due to being, “first on the field and last off the field.”
Delcoco, 55, and LaPier, 52, confess to being infatuated with their work. Delcoco worked in sales at a spa and in residential real estate before taking a CBRE personality test to determine whether she would fit with the company in 1989. She failed. “The prototype was a fighter pilot, and I didn’t fit that model,” she said.
She began to build her business, but Ludeman said that in the 1990s Delcoco decided she needed to recalibrate, eventually leading her to concentrate on corporations with large holdings in the Washington area. In 2001, Delcoco won the firm’s William H. McCarthy Award, granted to the best of the firm’s 3,200 salespeople in the Americas.
“She created what I would call the ‘no-box,’ ” Ludeman said. “If something didn’t fall into a specific box of work she was pursuing, she had the conviction to say ‘no.’ ”
LaPier joined the firm in 1999 after working for CarrAmerica for 14 years, where she decided that despite an affinity for interior design she wanted to focus on leasing. Together they dig deeply into their clients’ companies — the real estate is almost an afterthought. “We have to be experts for each of them in their line of business,” LaPier said.
For a company like Bechtel, this was particularly important. Privately owned and based in San Francisco, the firm has more than 52,000 employees and offers engineering and construction services to the communications, energy, gas, mining, oil and transportation industries. Delcoco and LaPier negotiated a move for its government services business, its U.S.-based civil infrastructure staff and its investment arm from Frederick to Reston Town Center. The company’s power division, along with 1,250 jobs, remained in Frederick.
“They understood our needs as a global company, and their knowledge of the Washington, D.C. area commercial real estate market was valuable in helping us determine the best location for our operations,” said Charlene Wheeless, head of Bechtel corporate affairs, in a statement.
The down economy has had mixed effects for their business and their clients. Because of the slow leasing environment, Delcoco and LaPier said they believe conditions are improving for tenants to win concessions and that there will be even better deals to be had six months from now.
On the other hand, some of their clients — AOL, Gannett and the like — aren’t the juggernauts they once were, a reminder that if the brokers want to continue to grow their business they constantly need to be trying to locate the up-and-comer that could be Washington’s next corporate titan.
“A company that is looking for 10,000 square feet today might be the one that does the big deal years from now,” LaPier said.
With local jurisdictions straining to attract jobs, Delcoco and LaPier said they are more frequently negotiating for public incentives, as they did for Bechtel and Northrop Grumman’s relocations, even if the sweeteners aren’t likely to sway a decision. “Rarely does a company make a decision based solely on those incentives, but it’s in the mix,” LaPier said.
“I think for people in commercial real estate our first question is, where does the CEO live? ... I mean I go from D.C. to Tysons sure, but I don’t see many CEOs driving from D.C. to Tysons Corner,” Delcoco said.
In commercial real estate, Delcoco and LaPier stand out not just because they are successful but because they are women. CBRE’s Top 225 typically includes 10 to 12 women, according to the firm. Both Delcoco and LaPier are in the top 100. They both say that as more women work at CBRE and in the industry at-large, whatever disadvantages or advantages that come with their gender have slimmed.