Since Kemp Conrad, principal with Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors LLC, took the position as president of Commercial Advisors’ asset services – a leading third-party provider of leasing, property management and project management services – revenues have increased by 215 percent.
No small feat. But when you consider he took the reins in 2007, and much of this time was during a recession led by the real estate market, the firm’s growth is even more impressive.
Originally from Atlanta, Conrad came to Memphis to attend Rhodes College, where he played basketball and majored in history. He graduated in 1996 and, knowing he wanted to work in business, went to the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University for his Master of Business Administration.
He worked in the technology sector during the dot-com craze of the late 1990s. When that bubble burst, he was in his late 20s and did a “gut check” as far as possible careers to pursue.
“I had a couple of different criteria,” he said. “I wanted to become a subject matter expert in a community-centric field that was very entrepreneurial and you had the ability to build wealth. Commercial real estate was the industry that best checked all those boxes.”
Back in Memphis, he worked with Trammell Crow Co. for five years before moving to his current job.
Commercial Advisors’ main focus is business real estate services, a 25-year-old business begun by Larry Jensen, president and CEO of that side, and one that “has always been steady growth,” said Conrad who moved in to lead the asset services business representing landlords.
“The timing was just right when I had come over,” Conrad said. “That business was younger, they had started it about five years earlier. … We had the right people but we had to get the right people in the right positions. We did that and we recapitalized the company and just focused on our strategy, which is that we’re relationship-oriented, not deal-oriented, and just try to add value to what our clients are doing. It’s been a good run.”
On the tenant side through the Cushman & Wakefield relationship, Conrad acts as broker for large clients such as heavy hitters Smith & Nephew, Adams and Reese LLP and Five Below, those with a revenue of $50 million to $5 billion and total portfolio of approximately 20 million feet globally.
“We basically serve as their outsource real estate department,” Conrad said. “It might be a lease renewal in Chicago, it may be selling a building in South Carolina, it might be a transaction in China or Egypt.”
While trends in office real estate show a compression in the need for space as technology makes it possible to do more efficient work within a smaller footprint, Conrad is optimistic about the region’s distribution market and the infrastructure that is in place and being upgraded. There is a lot of activity in the industrial market with new owners coming in.
“Memphis is pregnant with potential, and I think most people think that and know that, and we always hear that, but at some point you’ve got to start to realize that potential or your window of opportunity closes,” he said.
Conrad sees a great shift of capital, talent and labor moving to other cities, and would like to see Memphis rise to the challenges and continue and increase the growth in the city’s commercial real estate market and economic growth within the region as a whole.
The recipe, he said, is “more efficient government, a strategy on better workforce, an early childhood strategy which rolls into (having) to lower our crime rate. As goes Memphis, so goes the region, so we have to think locally but act regionally, if you will. Everybody is dependent on Memphis whether they realize it, or they like it, or not.”
Conrad said he has felt called from his time on the Rhodes campus to work at making his adopted home better economically, civically and commercially. In later years, it was a goal, not just for community, but for his wife, Anne, son Kemp and daughter Elizabeth.
When it comes to civics and politics, Conrad walks the talk. Seeking to effect change on a larger scale than just the CRE landscape, he was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2008.
His parents were involved civically, if not politically, and it made an impression on him growing up. He was a page in the Georgia legislature and in college the impact of policies and the importance of business-minded people in government resonated.
He acted as chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party and, when the opportunity arose to run for council representing Super District 9, he said it was “an opportunity to really have an impact at the street level on making government work for people. City government is really a big business – it’s a $650 million services business.”