Ethics, Integrity, Collaboration
CB Richard Ellis has a century-long history rich with client-focused expansion
By Debra Gelbart
This year CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the company’s founding in America. However, many may not realize that this commercial real estate giant began in San Francisco under another well-known corporate moniker, “Coldwell Banker.” Colbert Coldwell was just 23 years old in 1906 and wanted to help rebuild San Francisco after the catastrophic earthquake. When he started his real estate firm, he was determined to set a new standard for ethics. His professionalism attracted a loyal client base. Just a few years later, he hired a salesman named Benjamin Arthur Banker. The two became lifelong business partners. Their firm began to expand farther and faster than any real estate services firm in history.
Arizona’s profound impact on the company
In 1952, the company opened its first office outside of California in Phoenix, Arizona. The office was first located on the property of Park Central Mall at Central Avenue and Earll.
J. Daryl Lippincott directed the activities of the Phoenix office from its inception and helped shape the trajectory of the company for the next 30 years. He began working at Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles in 1948 and started learning the business of regional shopping center development in Southern California. Lippincott came to Phoenix to manage the leasing of Park Central, the city’s first mall and Arizona’s first regional commercial development. “Initially, the sole purpose of the Phoenix office was to focus on Park Central,” Lippincott says.
The list of retail stores that Lippincott brought to Park Central includes some legendary names: Goldwater’s department store (the precursor to Robinson’s-May and Macy’s), Diamond’s department store (which subsequently became Dillard’s), Leonard’s Luggage and Switzer’s.
By 1957, the Phoenix office offered an array of real estate services, including mortgage loans, appraisals, property management and a residential brokerage as well as a commercial division. “The Arizona office incorporated separately from California and I became president of the Arizona corporation,” Lippincott says. Later, Phoenix was brought back into the corporate family and became the headquarters for the company’s Southwest division.
In October of 1959, John Amory drove a car, belonging to a winter visitor, from Boston to Phoenix. “I really liked Phoenix,” he says. “I decided to look for a job here.” In December, Lippincott hired him.
Initially, Amory sold houses. “In 1961, I had an opportunity to concentrate on leasing. That’s when my career working with developers on office buildings began.”
His resume includes leasing activity for most of the premier office buildings in Phoenix in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s: the Greyhound Tower; the Del Webb Townhouse (a unique mix of hotel and office space); the Financial Center, the building on Central Avenue that looks like a 1960s-era IBM punch card; the United Bank Building; the 111 W. Monroe office building in downtown Phoenix; and the Phelps Dodge Tower at 2600 N. Central Ave.
“Our firm leased almost all the new office space in Phoenix,” Amory says. He enjoys leasing office property because “every deal is a new deal. There’s no cookie-cutter formula for leasing office space. You have to figure out how to be a matchmaker for the landlord and the tenant.”
Today, 47 years after Amory began working in the Phoenix office, he serves as senior vice president for CB Richard Ellis. He has the longest continuous tenure of any sales professional in the company’s history. “I have no plans to retire,” he says, adding that he commutes every day from Wickenburg. “I like to work.”
Until this year, Ben Cowles had held the record of longest continuous tenure of any sales professional in the company’s history. He started out in the company’s Los Angeles office in 1949 and came to work in the Phoenix office in 1961, retiring in 1995.
In 1980, Cowles was presented with the William H. McCarthy Memorial Award, named after a salesman in Los Angeles who had demonstrated “the perfect blend of motivation and cooperation,” according to the award plaque. Cowles was only the third recipient of the award in the company’s history and to this day, he remains the only Arizona recipient. The award is the highest honor given every year to a CBRE sales professional who emulates (McCarthy’s) outstanding career.
Just 10 months after Amory arrived at the Phoenix office, Lee Noble was hired. Today, Noble too is a senior vice president in Phoenix with CB Richard Ellis.
“I was a student at ASU and one of my real estate professors got a letter from CB that said the company wanted to hire a young guy to do odd jobs,” Noble says. “I wanted to do it. So I became the ‘sign guy,’ putting up real estate signs all over the Valley. Then I began to concentrate on office building leasing, and several years later, on apartment building sales.” Noble was promoted to senior sales manager but found that he missed selling. “After seven years,” he says, “I went back into production. I wanted to focus on individual clients.”
“People ask me all the time why I’ve stayed with the company so long,” Noble says. “It’s because of the company’s ethics, integrity, the services we offer and the trusted relationships we’ve developed with clients that have lasted for years. The Phoenix office has, by far, the most tenured people of any CBRE office in the world. We have 26 guys who have worked for us for 20 years or more.”
In 1963, the company is incorporated after operating as a partnership and again expands, this time to Tucson. In 1968, Coldwell Banker became a publicly traded company.
Mic Williams, who went to work in the Tucson office in 1974 as a salesman, says the firm developed an innovative, more effective way to cover the commercial real estate market. “Typically in those days, real estate brokers were jacks of all trades, leasing office space one day and selling a house the next. But the company pioneered the concept of segmenting the market—having each salesman focus on one specific area, such as office, industrial, retail or residential income. By segmenting, we had a competitive advantage. Our people were better trained and better equipped to service all aspects of the market.”
Williams, today the president of an early-stage seed capital investment firm in Boston, remembers the Tucson location fondly. “We had tremendous camaraderie and esprit de corps in that office,” Williams says. “We all grew up together and had families at about the same time. Our social lives revolved around the office. We were a ‘work hard, play hard’ group.”
The segmentation strategy made CBRE a headliner in the real estate industry in Arizona. By the time Rich Rodgers arrived in the Tucson office in 1981, “I really didn’t have to sell myself or the company to prospective clients,” he says. “They already knew about the company’s reputation for ethics, integrity, knowledge and dependability.”
Today, Rodgers is still in Tucson, presiding over his own company that develops industrial parks. “The knowledge I gained while I was at the firm has been invaluable,” he says. “Everyone I worked with was so professional and knowledgeable.”
Growing, growing, growing
By 1980, the company ranked as one of Arizona’s top real estate brokerage firms, providing comprehensive local market knowledge backed by a solid reputation as a nationwide leader in business and real estate services. In 1989, employees invested their own money and acquired the commercial side of Coldwell Banker’s business. Immediately, it ranked among the largest real estate service firms in North America.
In 1991, the company changed its name to CB Commercial Real Estate Services Group. In 1996, CB Commercial completed an initial public offering under the ticker symbol CBG.
In 1997 CB Commercial acquired Koll Real Estate Services, the nation’s largest property manager. In 1998, the company acquired REI Limited, the holding company for all Richard Ellis operations outside of the United Kingdom, and changed its name to CB Richard Ellis. The same year, CB Richard Ellis purchased a London-based commercial property services company, expanding the company’s full-service capabilities to the United Kingdom. Also that same year, company revenues reached $1 billion.
In 2001, CB Richard Ellis successfully concludes its privatization efforts with an overwhelming 98 percent approval vote by the shareholders. The company continues operations as CB Richard Ellis through its growing service network.
In 2003, CB Richard Ellis merged with Insignia Financial Group, a New York-based fully integrated real estate services company.
In 2004, the company posted U.S. revenues of $2.4 billion. CB Richard Ellis’ property and corporate facilities management portfolio exceeded 989 million square feet. CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. completed an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2005, CBRE joins the Fortune 1000. And finally, in this, the company’s 100th year, CB Richard Ellis debuted on the Forbes Global 2000 list as the only real estate services firm to make the list. National Real Estate Investor has again ranked CBRE as the top real estate sales firm in the world, with sales and leasing volume in excess of $150 billion—more than double the nearest competitor. CBRE, with its partner and affiliate offices, has more than 19,500 employees in over 356 offices across more than 58 countries worldwide.
“This is a dynamic company that has continually expanded throughout the world,” says Daryl Lippincott, who today runs the Lippincott Family Foundation. “The company has never lost sight of providing quality, knowledgeable real estate services always focused on clients’ best interests.”