Greg deWitt’s history degree doesn’t necessarily come into play during his day-to-day leasing of office space, but it speaks to his early-on fascination with the built environment and the movers and shakers who helped to create it.
He remembers fondly growing up in his father’s church in Kingstree, S.C., and interacting with members of the congregation who were in the real estate profession. His allurement with the field continued when deWitt moved to Memphis with his family in his teens, when figures like Ron Hickman became lasting role models.
“Ron was one of the guys that I thought, ‘I want to be like that guy’ when I was kid,” deWitt said. “I always thought people in real estate had neat lives. As I got older, I wanted to see why people built things where they built them and to really understand that. Why is Poplar and 240 main and main? It’s a lot of reasons. Some of them are easy to understand, some of them not so easy to understand. That was an interest of mine.”
DeWitt, now vice president with Grubb & Ellis Memphis, joined the firm in 2006 as Joe Steffner and Scott Pahlow were getting the local branch of the nationwide commercial advisory company off the ground. He came with 10 years of industrial brokerage experience from Colliers Wilkinson Snowden, as well as some life lessons.
“I learned how to treat people truly from Dan Wilkinson,” deWitt said. “I’ve looked up to him for not only how to treat people in the general public, but how to treat people in your industry.”
Recently elected by his peers as 2013 president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors Commercial Council, deWitt attributes his professional success to those he’s worked with along the way.
One of those mentors is Wyatt Aiken, who gave deWitt his first job at age 24 with Commercial Tennessee, the predecessor to Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors LLC.
“He’s the guy that brought me into this business and gave me the opportunity,” deWitt said. “At that time, those guys were blowing and going with a bunch of FedEx work and I was just some kid (thinking), ‘Wow, you guys are doing big business here.’ It was a great entrée into commercial real estate.”
Professional relationships drew deWitt to the field and continue to propel him today – from the brokers he’s known since his college days like Pat Gamble, Patrick Burke, Tim Moore and Mike Driscoll to the business acumen of the tenants he gets to work with and learn from.
“I think the thing that I enjoy the most is finding out how so many different people make money,” deWitt said. “It’s amazing – I have worked with people that make money making 3D glasses – how does somebody come up with not only the idea, but all of the different things that you have to do in order to sell a widget, to sell a service, all of that background. To find out about how people are creating businesses, creating jobs – to listen to their stories, it’s neat.”
“It’s important that we show as a group that it’s not just about Poplar and 240 or big industrial boxes, but it is about building community and helping people that are less fortunate.”
He’s also enjoyed watching the 300-member Commercial Council blossom in its more than a decade of existence and his three years serving on the board.
“Other cities are using Memphis’ Commercial Council as an example of how to create a Commercial Council,” deWitt said. “It wouldn’t have worked if Highwoods or Boyle or CBRE, the really big companies, hadn’t said, ‘We’re going to come along and we’re going to make our guys be involved in this because we think it’s important.’ And it is important because we have a face, we have a say, specifically about political issues at the local and state level.”
DeWitt’s goals for next year’s Commercial Council are to continue to grow its events, such as the Commercial Property Forecast Summit, Make-A-Wish golf tournament and community redevelopment projects in Binghampton.
“It’s important that we show as a group that it’s not just about Poplar and 240 or big industrial boxes, but it is about building community and helping people that are less fortunate,” he said.
But a large part of leading the Council will stem from inspiration of those around him, what drew deWitt to his career in the first place.
“What I really enjoy are people who are in a second career in commercial real estate,” deWitt said. “They did something else and they’re 40 something years old and all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go and do this.’ I don’t think that the entry barrier is that high. If you show a willingness to work, a willingness to learn, a willingness to prospect, meet people and to ask for their business, I think the sky is the limit for anybody who wants to get into this business.”