William Lampley and James Pitts had been star brokers at the Atlanta office of Jones Lang LaSalle for about a decade when they decided to take the big leap — leave the air-conditioned comfort of a big corporate firm and venture out on their own.
After some serious soul searching and kitchen-table debates with their wives, Lampley and Pitts gave notice at Jones Lang LaSalle in May and formed Kellogg Partners, their own brokerage firm. The tiny company, named for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago where the two met playing basketball in 1993, is one of a handful of its kind in the country: an African American-owned commercial real estate brokerage firm.
It's no secret that the commercial real estate field is among the least racially diverse of the country's corporate service industries. In 2004, there were proportionally more African American accountants, lawyers and architects than blacks in commercial real estate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Of the 1.7 million U.S. accountants, about 9% are black. Of the nearly 1 million lawyers in the country, blacks account for 5% of that total. Nationally, the $5 trillion commercial real estate industry has about 100,000 professionals, but fewer than 1% are minorities, and that small percentage includes women, says Bennie H. Dixon, president of the Real Estate Executive Council. The group was formed in Chicago two years ago to recruit minorities to the industry. “You don't see America when you see the industry,” Dixon says.
Pitts and Lampley are trying to change that, at least in a small way. “After working for one of the largest real estate firms in the country for several years, we decided the time was right to start our own company to allow us to deliver focused service in a nimble manner,” Pitts says. “Also, we intend to open the door for more minorities to enter the tough-to-crack world of commercial real estate.”
Pitts and Lampley have represented clients such as Bank of America, Aetna, Xerox and Ernst & Young and participated in deals totaling more than 2 million sq. ft. of office and industrial space.
“We were known at Jones Lang LaSalle for client satisfaction. The way we did the leases, the economic benefit we provided, we were beating our competitors hands down. We plan to continue that, but in a more nimble and effective manner.”
The response to the new business has been tremendous, Pitts says. “This is a blast. I've met more people in the last three months than in my entire time at Jones Lang LaSalle. People are reaching out to us. We get e-mails all the time saying, ‘We're proud of you. Can we help you guys out?’”
And the climate is ideal for these two veteran brokers to strike out on their own, according to Dixon. Corporations are increasingly curious about the diversity of their service providers, he says, which is pressuring some firms to pursue minority talent.
What's more, the smart money is learning that diversity can be good business. “Businesses today must respond and react to diverse clientele simply because the customer base is changing,” Dixon says. “And if you want to stay in business, you must be able to identify and address your customer's needs.”