West Coast transplant Emily Jones is blazing her own trail selling New York City to tomorrow’s tenants.
In just eight short years, she’s gone from leasing cubby holes lost in midtown landmarks to filling space in groundbreaking developments that are redefining the city’s skyline.
Fresh off her latest deal at SL Green’s glittering new One Vanderbilt for the entire 51st floor, Jones is taking her first steps into international territory with new assignments to assess global locations for major clients.
“I have been given terrific opportunities to work on amazing projects, city-altering projects people only ever read about,” said Jones. “I never thought I’d get to work on such huge ventures, never mind so early in my career.”
Jones got here via CBRE’s Wheel Program, a 14-month rotational platform that gave young professionals a foundation in commercial real estate. “I applied online, flew out here for the interview and got the job,” recalled the 30-year-old, now an executive vice president in CBRE’s Midtown Manhattan office specializing in both landlord and tenant representation.
“What was great about the program was the cushion it provided. Coming to New York to be a broker was a big leap. It’s a commission-based job, I didn’t know the city – the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were the only two addresses I knew. The Wheel program gave me time to get my feet wet, to learn the buildings and the market, to meet new people and also to decide if brokerage was what I really wanted to do, or whether I would rotate into another field and do something different. But I loved brokerage right from the start. I loved that it was entrepreneurial and allowed me to be creative with ideas to bring tenants in and make deals happen.”
Jones said it was her father, then an office leasing broker with Grubb & Ellis, who started her on the path to commercial real estate when he helped her land an internship at Cornish & Carey, now part of NKF, while she was studying urban studies at Stanford. “I really just wanted to make some money over the summer, but I ended up loving it.”
From there, she scored summer stints with an affordable housing developer in Foster City and a developer in Monterey, but her sights were always firmly set on reaching the skyscrapers of Manhattan. “Suburban real estate is all about being in your car all day, I wanted to be out walking around in a dense urban environment and I certainly didn’t want to be spending that much time in my car.”
However, any illusions she had about being on easy street were quickly dispelled. “It ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Jones. “There is a lot of leg-work goes into a single deal that may or may not close and there is a very high attrition rate.”
When the Wheel Program rotated her into a leasing position with Paul Amrich and his team, Jones saw it as an opportunity to prove her mettle when she was given a 2,000 s/f “cubby” at the top of 295 Madison to lease. She recalled, “Paul and his team were obviously focused on the bigger spaces, but this was perfect to give to ‘The Wheel.’ It was a small space that you had to take two elevators to reach. After over many tours and even more elevator rides, I finally managed to lease it.
“That’s really where you learn the most. No senior broker is going to let someone straight out of college work on a 20,000 s/f deal for one of their clients, but a small space that the owner has already discounted? They told me to go for it. That process gave me the taste and I started picking up small deals for startups. None of them were easy, but with every deal, I learned something new.”
Her first year out of the Wheel Program, Jones worked for Amanda Bokman, the one-time J. Crew CFO and former CBRE power broker now with JLL. “Amanda was very detail oriented and knew how to do a deal from start to finish,” said Jones. “I learned so much from her; how to pitch, read a lease, financial analysis. If your analysis was off one cent, she could spot it, so learning from her was incredibly valuable. I was always in the office late with Amanda, and a broker named Stephen Winter, who’d also started at CBRE through the Wheel Program, was usually there, too.
“What I learned most during that time was that there is no substitute for hard work, but you have to work hard and smart, taking the time to learn. Learn how to work the numbers so that you don’t need to lean on consultants, learn what the taxes are and what the variables are. I am always amazed by the number of people who don’t know how to calculate their own commission when they start — that’s how you get paid, shouldn’t you probably learn how to do it?”
Jones began to build a reputation for being detail-oriented and responsive herself and, when Winter left to work for Related Cos., he put in a word for her with the boss.
“All those nights he’d been here working late, he’d seen me here and, when he went to Related, he recommended to Bob Alexander [the firm’s tri-state chairman] that he put me on the Hudson Yards leasing team. After that, Bob brought me onto the Bank of America account and then One Vanderbilt — and it was all from Steven Winter noticing my work ethic and passion.”
Her pertinacity also played well into what was a long-game strategy at Hudson Yards. “It was just a hole in the ground when we started,” Jones recalled. “I would call brokers about leasing space and they would laugh at me. The 7 train wasn’t there, I’d have to walk from Penn Station in the winter along the long, windy blocks, a cab took forever in traffic. We couldn’t tour anyone through the property, only show them a marketing video and promise them it would be spectacular. Getting people to believe it was hard. But our team kept calling and calling and calling until, eventually, we got tenants to look.”
SAP, L’Oreal and Coach had signed on together early on, but after Boston Consulting Group (BCG) agreed to lease 200,000 s/f for a new headquarters complex at 10 Hudson yards in 2015, Jones said the floodgates opened as the industry realized that Hudson Yards was “real and it was big, really big.”
She said, “I had drunk the Cool Aid from the start. I believed in the project and I loved it. It was the type of transformative development I’d learned about in college and it was a tremendous challenge to figure out how to sell it to new tenants and to see Related in action, because they are so good at what they do. They had high expectations of us and exceeding those expectations was a challenge I believe we have risen to.”
Today, 55 Hudson Yards — the penultimate Phase 1 tower — is 94 percent lease with just three pre-builts available. Blackrock will anchor 50 Hudson Yards and rumors abound that Facebook is about to take a big chunk of that building, too.
While she couldn’t comment on pending deals, Jones said, “Now there is no need to sell Hudson Yards to anyone. You get there and it’s amazing. There is an active plaza, a flagship Equinox, impressive residential towers, The Shed, you get off the subway right there. It has been amazing getting to see that transformation.”
Like its trail-blazing neighbor to the west, One Vanderbilt faced similar obstacles in the early years of the CBRE leasing campaign.
“The initial hesitation was the rents,” said Jones. “For a lot of high-end tenants, those were Plaza District rents. Many people thought the project would never get off the ground, that we’d never find an anchor.
“A lot of brokers don’t want to be the first to bring their tenants and make that leap and it was a long and arduous process of going through many tenant lists and looking at every format with SL Green, but once we got momentum going and people began to see it, they saw it was an amazing building, like nothing else in Midtown.”
Set to open next year, One Vanderbilt (rendering top) is now 60 percent leased to a roster of tenants that includes The Carlyle Group, TD Bank, Greenberg Traurig and German financial firms DZ and DVB Banks. Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, has partnered with SL Green to create a signature restaurant experience in the building and there will be a 30,000 s/f tenant-only amenity floor with a club-style lounge and outdoor terrace.
“It is definitely a marquee project,” said Jones, who works on the tower leasing with Bob Alexander, Ryan Alexander and Alex D’Amario. “But it is also fun to do agencies, where there’s maybe a renovation, like 1411 Broadway, a building I’ve worked on for a long time that has a similar story of transformation. That’s what’s so great about New York City, things are always changing.
“1411 used to be the center of the Garment District. It was already a beautiful building and ownership [Ivanhoe Cambridge and Swig Company] put in about $60 million upgrading it, but a lot of tenants still didn’t want to come to the Garment Center. Then people started to realize that it’s below Times Square — you’re not going to run into Elmo on your lunch hour — it’s close to the shuttle and Grand Central, the BDF&M at Bryant Park are really close and everyone loves Bryant Park.
“The city has shifted west in many ways and tenants have realized there is great transportation around there. It’s no longer all garment tenants, there’s a huge mix of companies and restaurants and amenities and it’s a very dynamic area. Showing prospective tenants those positive aspects, what makes a building appealing and why it would work for them, is how you get those tenants in.
“Right now, I have a lot of tours at all of my buildings — 1500 Broadway, 730 Third Avenue — very different buildings in different locations, but the market is solid and businesses are on the move, everyone from tech to financial firms to large service corporations. Some are outgrowing space, others think it’s time for a change.
“But it seems no-one is so scared right now that they are just kicking the can down the road with a renewal, or holding tight and spending as little as possible. People are still pretty optimistic and willing to invest in space and employees that they want to be able to recruit and talent they want to retain.”
As she continues to build her New York base, Jones is adding more global work to her resume with big ticket assignments that have her scouting international locations for companies.
“I enjoy finding out about what’s going on in the London real estate market, or in Hong Kong, looking at lease differentials and how leases here differ from those around the world. Right now, I’m the boots on the ground here in New York, working with Scott Gamber and Craig Reicher on numerous projects, and I hope to continue absorbing their knowledge as I become more immersed in future projects. Learning about global markets is a really exciting way to grow as a broker.
“I have been really lucky to have found my place here at CBRE. The job certainly has its challenges, but CBRE is a great environment to grow and learn. I’ve learned to deal with the ups and downs of the business, like when a deal dies — I used to be devastated but, you know, it happens. But when I am working with clients, they know they will get 110 percent. It makes a big difference to people. If it’s important to them and you are on the same team, they need to know you are going to deliver for them.”
And she said she has never regretted swapping Bay City for the Mean Streets of the Big Apple. “I loved the Bay Area, but there is no place quite like New York. People say that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere and, after eight years, it feels like home.