When George L. Lippe began his career at Trammell Crow Co. in 1978, the company was one of the largest development firms in the country. Lippe was one of more than 100 leasing agents.
Some 21 years later, both Lippe and Trammell Crow have gone on to bigger and better things. Trammell Crow Co. (TCC) has transformed itself into one of the largest diversified commercial real estate services firms in North America. As for Lippe, he is no longer leasing space but serving as president and CEO for the-based firm.
"It's been challenging and exhilarating," Lippe says of TCC's journey from real estate owner and developer to real estate provider. "Today, the Trammell Crow Co. offers five primary real estate services - property management,, outsourcing, development and construction, and retail services - to hundreds of clients. We are a truly diversified real estate services company."
With about 150 offices in North America, the company manages and/or leases some 494 million sq. ft. of space. TCC has also added an additional 17 million sq. ft. of facilities management work as a result of its acquisition of Phoenix Corporate Services LLC.
Performing in the public eye TCC is no longer the closely-held, private company it once was. TCC tapped the public markets two years ago and now works under the watchful eye of investors and analysts, turning its attention from its somewhat freewheeling development days to the button-down world of Wall Street.
TCC has responded with a host of real estate services, says Robert E. Sulentic, national director of development and investment. "We're not just a development services company or just a brokerage firm," he says. "We have five core businesses. They help alleviate cycles. If you look at any given point at time, one may be doing terrific and another may not be doing as well, but over the long run, it will all even out. Our businesses tend to complement each other."
The strategy appears to be working. Lippe notes that, for the second quarter of this year, revenue increased 32%, to $149.7 million, compared to the same period in 1998.
"While a portion of our growth is due to our 1998 acquisitions, a majority of this growth was generated internally," Lippe stresses.
Since going public, TCC has reported seven back-to-back quarters where results have met or exceeded analysts' expectations. That has caught the attention of Wall Street.
"Trammell Crow Co. is one of the premier real estate service companies in the country," says Kit Case, vice president and senior equity analyst at Southwest Securities, a Dallas-based investment bank. "The company is still at the early stages of a wide and encompassing business plan, and they have a pretty good growth strategy."
Lawrence Raiman, senior real estate analyst at New York-based Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, agrees. "Trammell Crow is a top-shelf real estate company, with a good base of clients and a diversified base of revenue," he says.
That's music to Lippe's ears, who has sought to transform the company - founded by the legendary Trammell Crow in 1948 - which had been private for 20 of the 21 years he has been with it.
"There is lot of public scrutiny by investors and analysts who really want to understand the company, so you spend a measurable amount of time just explaining not only what your company is doing but what the industry is doing," says Lippe.
Realigning corporate interests Many in the real estate industry recall that the 1980s were go-go years for TCC, but later a recession dealt a severe blow to the firm. A reorganization ensued, with most of the realestate assets going to the Crow family. In 1991, the company decided to forego development and ownership to focus on offering services to help complete real estate transactions. Today, TCC does development as a service for a number of capital partners who are building investment portfolios.
TCC now concentrates on its lines of business and is especially excited about outsourcing. The company boasts a critical mass of 16,700 properties, and 71 corporate customers and is positioning itself to be the dominant player in the real estate services field.
"We seek to be No. 1 or No. 2 in each of our five businesses," says Lippe. "And we hope to provide our customers different services as their needs and the real estate industry change."
Infrastructure management has become one of the bright spots in today's real estate industry, notes William F. Concannon, president and CEO of Trammell Crow Co.'s outsourcing business.
"It has a huge upside for players willing to commit to being a world class provider," he explains. "We estimate that outsourcing involves a $35 billion market at Fortune 1000 companies alone, with most of those services done in-house today."
Higher education is one of the outsourcing markets TCC has mined. At the University of Pennsylvania, the company oversees 10 million sq. ft. of space and performs a variety of tasks including transaction work, development and property management.
"Outsourcing will continue and accelerate because businesses are retrenching and refocusing their capital and the attention of management," says Sulentic, adding that, in outsourcing, customers not only want to lower costs but also to understand the process.
Lippe says TCC also expects growth from its retail sector. The company opened a New York office earlier this year, for example, to find locations in The Big Apple for its national clients such as Borders Books & Music, General Cinema and The Body Shop.
"We've slowed our acquisition appetite now because we're looking to the future, and we want to make sure we have dry powder ready," says Lippe, pointing to TCC's acquisition of both Faison & Associates and Doppelt & Co. "We'll be a little more patient because we feel there will be more acquisition opportunities in the months ahead. Even without acquisitions, revenue for the first six months of 1999 vs. 1998 grew a healthy 18%."
Case of Southwest Securities agrees. "TCC has a very good management team, with home grown TCC people and they've got a reputation for hiring bright, energetic people," says Case. "At the senior level, Trammell Crow Company has people who have been with the company for 20 years, and been through a downturn before. They're ready for the future because they've been tested and they are seasoned."