Ask practically any real estate professional to enumerate the keys to success in the industry, and they likely will include "Build long-lasting relationships" on their list. Relationships with fellow workers, clients and business people can pay off in closed transactions. For proof, look no farther than Atlanta, where Alan Bullock, Joe Terrell and Jay Mannelly - all of whom already had established relationships with another in the group - teamed up in 1985 to create a full-service commercial real estate firm.

Nearly 14 years later, Bullock, Terrell & Mannelly (BTM) is a strong force in Southeast real estate circles and a leading firm in handling foreign investments. The firm, which recently opened offices in Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., expects to handle up to $500 million in investment sales this year and plans to expand its geographical presence.

Each of the three principals knows how important his ability to work with each other has been to the success of Bullock, Terrell & Mannelly. "One of the things we're most proud of is that, if you look around Atlanta, not many partners have survived 14 years," Terrell says. "We're pretty compatible." Their compatibility has helped the principals stick together during bad times that are part of real estate's cyclical nature. "All in all, we are very lucky that our personalities mix well," Mannelly adds. "That's the glue that has held it together, especially in tough times."

Mannelly's assessment rings true during the group interview for this article. The men, who have a combined 75 years in commercial real estate, joked, laughed, even ribbed each other as they told their story in a serious manner. The principals' common mind-set transfers to the business world, where the men are "fairly conservative," Bullock says. "We're all coming at it with a similar viewpoint," he says.

Bullock and Terrell had both known of each other at the University of Georgia, although they did not become friends at school. In 1974, Terrell started his real estate career at Atlanta's Northside Realty. The following year, Bullock also joined Northside. But it wasn't until both men left the company that they became good friends and talked about starting a business together.

Mannelly entered the picture in the early 1980s, when he worked with Terrell at The Myrick Co. "I kept twisting Jay's arm about going into business," Terrell says. By early 1985, Bullock and Terrell both had their own operations, which shared expenses and overhead in an Atlanta office. In May of that year, Bullock and Terrell officially teamed, with Mannelly coming aboard shortly thereafter. Mannelly, who had known of Bullock only by reputation, says the time was right to become a principal. "I think all it was, was the realization that working for somebody else isn't going to give you the same opportunity as working as a partner," he says.

The combination seemed like a natural one from the beginning. Bullock, with his financial background, heads the investment property sales group; Mannelly, who had development experience, heads BTM's development division; and Terrell handles the marketing aspects. As the firm grew and developed 3 million sq. ft. of industrial space, it created a management division, which today is headed by David Hume.

Although each principal has expertise in a particular discipline, they complement each other well. "There's a lot of cross-fertilization between the different disciplines," Bullock says. About five years ago, the firm created a chart that broke down revenues by discipline and found only minimal differences among the three, Terrell says. "We have a very open dialogue among the disciplines," he says. "Nobody has any hidden agendas."

As often happens, Mannelly and Bullock agree with Terrell, saying the major disciplines complement one another. Also, the relationships each principal has made benefit the others. "It's not four races going on; it's one race for the company," Mannelly says. Bullock adds that, "We want to be in each of those areas of business," he says. "It's not an issue of 'Who did best?' or 'Who did most?' "

BTM says one project, Buckhead Station retail center in Atlanta, epitomizes how the firm's disciplines can work together. BTM conducted predevelopment studies for the project, helped get the equity together, secured debt for the center, and the firm now manages it. Moreover, BTM was recently retained to sell Buckhead Station, and the firm is finalizing the sale of the retail project in a deal that will be syndicated through German banks. "You see every discipline we have utilized there," Bullock says.

BTM's investment sales group has had an incredible run. It handled $420 million in investment sales in 1996 and more than $300 million last year. With another $400 million to $500 million in investment sales expected this year, BTM will handle more than $1 billion worth from 1996-98. The firm recently arranged the take-out financing on Prominence in Buckhead, an office project Equity Office Properties Trust has agreed to buy from developer Holder Properties Inc. in an $84 million transaction.

A big chunk of BTM's investment sales business involves German companies that buy in the Southeast, Bullock says. "I don't know of any other city with this concentration of German investment," he says. "They were hot and heavy in the mid '80s, but I don't think it compares with today. On the management side, BTM manages more than 1 million sq. ft. of office space on behalf of German clients. In 1996, BTM opened offices in Charlotte and Nashville to manage buildings in those cities.

BTM's investment property sales group includes Stan Ashley, a 30-year veteran of Atlanta real estate; Scott Orton, who handled a $1 billion portfolio for Travelers; and Michael C. Zibilich, former president of condominium-converter Southmark Communities.

BTM's European connections also have afforded the firm new development opportunities. BTM recently announced an alliance with Fasseck Properties Partnership, a European investment group that's been active in America for more than 10 years. The alliance plans to develop nearly 800,000 sq. ft. in The Crossings, the latest phase in BTM's Riverside Business Park near Atlanta. The BTM/Fasseck partnership has begun construction on two buildings totaling 525,000 sq. ft. "We are excited about our new alliance with BTM," Fasseck Managing Director Jack Reeves says, "not only because of the quality of the real estate but because of the quality of relationships we have with the good people at BTM."

Looking ahead, Terrell says one of BTM's goals is to expand its presence through development and acquisitions in the several cities outside Atlanta where the firm manages properties. BTM will use its position as a founding member of The Core Network to expand its presence. "As a member of a national network, you can play on a broader geographic plane," Terrell says. As BTM prepares for the future, the principals know communication is key. "If somebody's unhappy with something that's been done, within 24 hours, you better tell your partners you didn't like what happened," Mannelly says, reciting a long-standing BTM rule. "State it, debate it and move on. You do have to speak what's coming from your heart."