By Sarah Trefethen
Josh Kuriloff’s office is full of mementos, including a framed Chicago Sun-Times headline from March of 2009.
“Sears Disappears,” it reads. The words below explain: “Sears Tower is no more, made obsolete by a company with an edifice complex.”
That company is Kuriloff’s longtime client, Willis Group Holdings. Kuriloff was responsible for that lease deal that included branding the Willis name on the exterior and interior of the building, where the company leased 140,000 s/f.
Willis Tower, until recently the tallest building in North America, serves as the company’s Midwest regional headquarters. Four years later the deal still isn’t popular in Chicago, but Kuriloff doesn’t mind.
“It’s one of those things you’ll never forget. It’s iconic. I can send family, friends to Chicago and say I was part of the renaming of that building,” he said.
Sears had moved out several years previously, Kuriloff recalled, and the ownership was surprisingly receptive when he suggested that the building could be rebranded.
“We literally walked around the building for a day, identifying everywhere in that building where the name Sears was written,” he said. “Bathroom doors, the doormats, the uniforms of all the security guards; outside, inside, you name it. And we must have identified 100 locations which ultimately got converted to ‘Willis Tower.’
“And part of the story was we said to the landlord, ‘Renaming the building to Willis Tower will help you lease this building.’ ”
Now he’s bringing his creative, holistic approach to his latest assignment, as part of the global team serving as exclusive leasing agent for Brookfield Properties’ Manhattan West development.The planned site will consist of 5.4 million s/f of Class A office and mixed-use space and a 1.5-acre public plaza.
“There are some great branding opportunities,” Kuriloff said. “We’re looking at monument signage, we’re looking at an electronic screen around the building where people can put their name on it in the lobby, and then we’re working on the zoning for other signage.”
And unlike the tower formerly known as Sears, the Manhattan West buildings have yet to be built.
“You have the opportunity to reinvent and recreate the way your culture wants to look like and feel like by going into a newly constructed building,” he said. “The user can have some input into the design of the building.”
New construction means an opportunity to work with cutting-edge workplacedesign, and Kuriloff – whose taste for real estate was first whetted when he helped his artist father build a small family vacation home in the Hamptons as a boy, and who later designed and built his own home – is enthusiastic about architecture and eager to push the envelope.
“Believe it or not, with the workplace and sort of creativity of how buildings get built and designed, places like Australia and Europe are actually ahead of New York,” he said. “I never always though New York, we were the smartest, we were the most advanced. But when you leave New York and go to a place like Australia, these new buildings are really cool.” new headquarters of a major Australian investment bank, he said, prominent place is given to a kitchen where employees can cook and spend time with the children without leaving work, he said. “They don’t have this uniformity of structure. They’ve created a more casual environment.”
He has hired a consultant from Australia to look at Manhattan West and the way law firms in particular are using space.
Kuriloff was promoted to executive vice chairman at Cushman & Wakefield in April, and is known for adding an extra twist to his deals.
“Josh is very passionate and is always driving for success on behalf of his clients,” Glenn Ruffrano, CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, said in a statement.
“Over the course of many years, he has delivered creativity and innovation on a consistent basis, adding meaningful value for our clients.”
Kuriloff credits his parents, both art teachers, with raising him to take a creative approach.
“I try to see things that other people don’t necessarily see,” he said. “I’m always looking for a big idea or something that has a wow impact for my clients.”
A graduate of George Washington University, Kuriloff is now involved in a mentoring program for GW students interested in careers in finance and real estate.
“We’re batting 100 percent,” he said. “Every mentee has gotten a summer internship.”
Kuriloff also is a past honoree for Saint Mary’s Healthcare System for Children and serves on the board of directors of the United Hospital Fund, which honored him in 2012 with a Special Tribute for his service to New York’s hospital and health care community and to the fund.
“The other thing for me is reputation and values,” Kiriloff said. “I was raised with very hard-core values of: your reputation is everything, and once you lose it you can’t buy it back. And so always be authentic, always be direct.
“I deliver good news to my clients, I deliver the bad news to my clients. I tell them what could go wrong.”