CEO Interview: Peter C. Roberts, Jones Lang LaSalle

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Peter Roberts, CEO, JLL

Peter Roberts, CEO, JLL

Peter C. Roberts is Chief Executive Officer, Americas for Jones Lang LaSalle (NYSE: JLL). Jones Lang LaSalle has more than 30,000 people in 750 locations across 60 countries. What better person to interview on topics of leadership and commercial real estate than the CEO of the firm that has been recognized as the best overall provider of corporate real estate services by the Watkins 2009 Survey of Corporate Real Estate Service Providers. Of the 19 providers evaluated by the largest users of commercial real estate services, Jones Lang LaSalle was rated #1 in every category, including delivery of results, adaptability of services, pricing, reputation and financial strength. On with the interview…

Mike Myatt: Peter, for our readers who may not be familiar with your background, would you please share a brief summary of your career history?

Peter C. Roberts: My first experience in the real estate industry was a summer job with Trammell Crow in Houston in 1985. I learned during that experience that I liked real estate but I didn’t want to start my career in development. I joined what was then LaSalle Partners in Chicago in 1986, starting my career in Capital Markets. After 61/2 years, I moved to New York and spent the next eight years in Tenant Representation before moving back to Chicago in 2001 to become Jones Lang LaSalle’s global Chief Financial Officer. I relocated again in 2002, this time to London, as the firm’s global Chief Operating Officer, and then returned to Chicago in 2003 in my current role as Chief Executive Officer for the Americas region.

Mike Myatt: How do you view the current commercial real estate market, and where do you see it trending in 2010?

Peter C. Roberts: The overall market is clearly suffering from the effects of the financial crisis and the recession. Activity levels are down dramatically, fundamentals remain weak and price discovery for assets is challenging at best. So, what happens from here?

We expect the growth we’re seeing in outsourcing to continue as occupiers seek to drive efficiencies and cost savings through outsourcing of functions such as facility management, transactions and space planning. The pressure on businesses to reduce costs to remain competitive will not abate.

Leasing activity may start to pick up during 2010. With increasing vacancy and continued pressure on rental rates, tenants could see a growing window of opportunity with regard to choice and cost. Just to cite one asset class – the office market – we expect overall vacancy to peak above 20 percent in late 2010 or early 2011. While sublease vacancies remain 38 percent below the peak level of the last recession, sublease availability is expected to rise well into 2010.

With the downward re-pricing of assets and continued slow demand for space, distress among property owners will usher in some of the industry’s most attractive investment plays in the next few years. The volume of distressed properties nationwide continues to build steadily, recently surpassing $100 billion. This total will likely continue to increase over the coming quarters as commercial mortgage maturities grow in 2010 and will surpass the $400 billion mark annually by 2012.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as JLL’s strongest competitive value proposition?

Peter C. Roberts: I believe that the best companies – the most competitive – are those that have the strongest alignment of their entire business: strategy, business model, culture, compensation philosophy, etc. I see a direct correlation between the degree of alignment of these elements and the success of the company.

Our strongest competitive value proposition starts with our culture, which is all about placing our clients’ interests first, teamwork, integrity and trust.

In our business, being able to deliver all the benefits of our firm through a single point of contact is key to our ability to align our actions with our clients’ needs. This alignment creates real value in our clients’ eyes because they trust us to be proactive and to exceed their expectations on a consistent basis. Our ability to exceed our clients’ expectations day in and day out rests on the strength of our culture.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your primary role as CEO?

Peter C. Roberts: My primary role as CEO is working with others. That may sound strange, but if the CEO is ultimately accountable for vision, strategy, performance of the organization (both financial and qualitative), and the long term, sustainable success of the organization, none of that can be accomplished alone. So establishing a vision, and working with the leadership team to shape it and mold it into reality, is an example. Working with the leadership team to establish strategic priorities to achieve the vision is another. Empowering leaders, and the organization, to execute the strategy is another.

I think another key role for the CEO is to ensure that the “voice of the customer” resonates within the organization. Bringing that voice, and the client’s needs, to the table for every major decision is important for a client-driven firm. Finally, I think the “tone at the top” is critically important for any organization, and that tone at the top starts with the CEO.

Mike Myatt: Do you have a mentor, and how important was that person to you in term of your professional development?

Peter C. Roberts: I’ve actually had so many mentors, I’ve lost count! I’ve always believed that you can learn more from others than you can from what you read. I’ve also believed that there should be no end to one’s personal growth and self improvement. So I look for every opportunity to learn from others either more experienced than I or simply with different experiences than I have had. I look for opportunities to learn from mentors every day.

Mike Myatt: What books are you currently reading?

Peter C. Roberts: Well, you’re catching me right after my birthday, and being a big Brice Springsteen fan, I received Runaway Dream: Born To Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision. So I just cracked that one. Also, Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings.

Mike Myatt: What would you say was your “defining moment” as an executive?

Peter C. Roberts: I really don’t view my career, or my work, as a series of “moments.” So the closest thing that comes to mind is really the last five years. Five years ago, we worked with our leadership team to establish several concrete strategic priorities. We also established a financial goal that we thought was achievable if we executed successfully on our strategic priorities and we had a favorable economic climate. Well, the end of the five year period is the end of this year. While we all know that the economic climate has not remained favorable, we have focused unrelentingly on our strategic priorities, and at the end of this year we will have exceeded our five year goal by 31%! It has been a fun journey, and it marks the beginning of the next chapter…..

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest leadership strength?

Peter C. Roberts: A combination of an innate belief that everyone can bring something of value to the table, and a focused commitment to connecting with, and listening to, people.

Mike Myatt: What is the toughest leadership decision you have had to make thus far in 2009?

Peter C. Roberts: As we, and most companies, have focused on cost savings this year, the toughest decisions centered around right sizing our cost structure – specifically involving staff and compensation. These are tough because they affect people, and people are our most important asset. It’s always hard to lose people and, as a leader, these decisions are the hardest to make.

Mike Myatt: If you could give one piece of advice to our readers what would that be?

Peter C. Roberts: I would share a piece of advice that I learned from one of those many mentors: Everyone else is at least as smart as you are, if not smarter. So, if you see something, you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone else sees it, too.

Conclusion:
I think it’s clear to anyone reading this interview that Peter’s humility, his commitment to the people he works with, and to his clients have served him well. It’s no wonder that under his leadership that JLL is consistently one of the most highly regarded brands in commercial real estate.

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1 Response to “CEO Interview: Peter C. Roberts, Jones Lang LaSalle”



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