The sky still holds the pink glow of dawn this January morning, and commercial real estate investment broker Jack Fraker is in his late-model black Lexus, heading for his office, on the phone.
Sitting in Fraker’s corner office at CB Richard Ellis in Three Lincoln Centre, client services assistant Eleanor Wheat is on the other end of the line—perched on Fraker’s chair, in front of his computer, helping him dispose of a long list of e-mail messages.
The broker’s favorite word, it seems, is “delete.”
Fraker’s right-hand man Josh McArtor will later tell me that one of his boss’s big strengths with clients is that he’s “unbelievably meticulous—in his record-keeping and correspondence.”
“He doesn’t forget,” McArtor says. “I wish he did sometimes.”
Whatever the secret, Fraker seems at the top of his game at age 54, even in a down market for industrial real estate, his primary (but not only) area of specialization. He’s won the Dallas real estate community’s Stemmons Service Award (in 2003) and is a perennial presence on lists of Dallas-Fort Worth’s most successful commercial brokers.
Brokers keep score by the numbers, and Fraker, vice chairman with CBRE and a specialist in selling to institutional investors, boasts some big ones. He has leased or sold more than 475 million square feet and about 6,600 acres of development sites in the U.S., Mexico, and South America during his career, according to his CBRE bio.
I’m sitting in his cubicle, nursing the coffee Wheat handed me on arrival, ready to spend the day with Fraker in order to get an idea how one of the best in industrial real estate does his thing.
The man arrives a little before 8 a.m., grins, and stretches out a hand in greeting. He’s wearing pinstripes, white shirt, and conservative tie; he has a lunch engagement today with a nonprofit board he just joined, Girls Inc.
Eight o’clock is late for him, Fraker says, but he was out late last night at dinner with potential buyers—his second such dinner in a row this week. So, the first order of the day is playing catch-up.
One e-mail inquiry is from a potential seller asking whether—given the market today—it’s possible to unload some portfolio properties.
“Just reply,” he tells Wheat, “and say please send us more information on the properties. But I can tell you that for large multi-city deals, there would not be a premium. There’s also much more focus on the quality of the physical real estate location.”
Fraker’s team is currently marketing the 9 million-square-foot Texas piece of a large national industrial real estate portfolio. Yesterday’s tour and dinner were for buyers interested in seeing the Dallas properties.
“This market is challenging,” Fraker says, “given the credit crisis and investors uncertain as to where we are in the cycle.”
His team did a whopping $4.8 billion in sales for 2007, but last year’s totals were just under $1 billion. Still, his team’s morale had an early boost in 2009 with a deal they just closed to sell the office building that houses the FBI’s Midwest headquarters in Chicago.
Back to the e-mails, which Wheat continues to handle while Fraker listens to voicemail and gives her direction.
“The reason I like to multi-task is that we all get hundreds of these e-mails,” Fraker says. Some people don’t know how to handle them, he says, wrongly engaging in endless back-and-forth chat.
I can’t help noticing that he’s got an unusual memory for the details of these messages and the deals they reference.
“I’m like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man,” Fraker jokes. “Did you see that movie? What was he—an idiot savant? Actually, having a memory for details like that is good in this business.”
When he takes clients around town, Fraker says, he does a running commentary on the real estate they pass—whether it’s in his line or not. Says McArtor: Clients will “almost fall out of the car, because they don’t expect him to get down to the ground level in industrial real estate.”
This day, it turns out, will be full of telephone time. It will also be a newsworthy day. The first bit of news is sad—an e-mail that Dallas real estate giant Trammell Crow has passed away. “He’s the father of our industry in many respects,” Fraker says.
Nine o’clock, and financial analyst Heather McClain gets orders for Starbucks. Straker’s stuffed croissant will be his breakfast. Half an hour later, Wheat remarks that he hasn’t gotten to it.
“Yeah, I need to eat that. “
Ten o’clock, and it’s time for a weekly conference call among CBRE’s 30 or so industrial real estate brokers around the country.
Fraker knows there will be a longish introduction, so he asks McArtor to start the call while he quickly places another one. There’s a lot of fluid teamwork in this office as the day goes along, and Fraker says teamwork is at the heart of his success.
In addition to McArtor, senior vice president, the team includes senior associate Conor Feeney and is backed up by financial analysts McClain, Jonathan Bryan, and Jeff Hackmeyer. Lisa Nolen, who puts out the group’s glossy offering portfolios, rounds out the team with Wheat.
The call Fraker’s hurrying to place is a favor to his daughter, Jaclyn, new to CBRE at age 22. She has the inside line from a boutique commercial firm on a relatively small deal in Hungary.
Fraker will introduce the brokers in that firm to CBRE’s top European sales team. He’s hoping the small firm then will turn the deal over to CBRE for a referral fee. It’s the only way the deal makes sense, given CBRE’s international team.
Then papa will bow out: “I’m not going to run that deal.”
The connections successfully made, Fraker jogs around the corner to Josh’s desk and the national conference call, which is just getting around to discussing the team’s current big project. (I’ve promised not to disclose names and details because of the confidentiality agreements surrounding these deals.)
The conference call over, Fraker talks about his lunch date—a board orientation for Girls Inc. He just got off the Metropolitan Dallas YMCA board and onto this one at the invitation of a friend. He’s also active as a parent in the Young Men’s Service League, where his 18-year-old son is a member.
Then there are the various industry organizations, like the North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors and the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors. “I should do more, right?” he says, smiling.
Yesterday, Fraker recalls, he gave a speech at a real estate forecasting event—“I tried to be optimistic”—and picks up a copy of the day’s Dallas Morning News to check out the coverage of his talk.
McClain, meantime, is tweaking Fraker’s talk from yesterday for another presentation that’s coming up soon. During the day, they’ll go over various drafts.
While he’s optimistic about the future, Fraker doesn’t mince words about the current economy. “Right now, in fact, it’s disastrous—of almost Biblical proportions,” he says.
Working The Room
Driving in his car to the Girls Inc. lunch, Fraker talks about his early days cold-calling. Twenty-five years ago, “I took a Dale Carnegie course—which is so corny—but it teaches you how to overcome rejection,” he says.
Fraker has an open face that always seems about to break into a smile. At the meeting of the Girls Inc. staff and the new board, he works the room. He’s attentive during the orientation about helping girls to be “strong, smart, and bold.” He compliments the staff and the board chair at the end of their presentations.
Striding quickly toward the parking lot at 1:45, he says, “That was intense. I guess you noticed I almost teared up a couple of times there. They’re so passionate about their program.”
Then, back in the car, it’s on the BlackBerry—complete with earpiece—to Eleanor Wheat and more e-mail duties.
Back at the office, Fraker returns a call to the representative of a large financial firm. When he reaches the man in Manhattan, the New Yorker has just witnessed major news: “This big airplane landed in the Hudson River right outside my office window.”
His client had called to let Fraker know that he’s moving to another job, and that the firm is going through a massive restructuring, including layoffs, as they speak. “I saw this bottle of wine on my desk and I thought, ‘I’d better call Jack,’ ” the client had told him.
(Fraker had sent his customary bottles of holiday wine to clients this year despite the tough economy; many others didn’t, he tells me.)
The big financial firm has a huge real estate portfolio for sale and knows it may go at a loss, Fraker has said, wanting nonetheless to time the sales for advantageous financial quarters.
The caller has something else on his mind, however, and his need to confide illustrates the relationships Fraker has with his institutional clients. The caller’s 35-year-old brother has advanced cancer.
“It gives you perspective, you know, Jack?” the caller says. Fraker agrees.
About half his business comes directly through established relationships like this one, Fraker says. The other half comes through formal requests for proposals.
Fraker gently leads the caller into a conversation about selling some, but not all, of the properties in mind. “Maybe we shift strategy and talk about selling [just] some of this stuff,” the caller volunteers—which brings a thumbs-up from a silent Josh McArtor, who’s in on the call by now. “Let’s make sure, to your point, that we don’t leave any stones unturned.”
Fraker talks to me about an upcoming hiking trip with a client who likes “active” meetings. They’re planning to descend the Grand Canyon and hike back up one day in later January. “Now we’re finding we need crampons.”
Feeney has just returned from a tour of the Houston properties Fraker’s team is marketing as part of the big package. While he proofs another version of his upcoming talk to the real estate industry group, Fraker pumps Feeney for details. “Tell me some more,” he says. “Tell me some more things.” And Feeney does.
The final conference call of the day is to a colleague in Chicago that the Dallas team will help sell a very specialized group of industrial buildings. The big issue is finding a buyer for this niche.
Feeney and McArtor both are in on this call. As in all their conference calls, there’s silent communication within the team and often a quick calculation by one of the financial analysts, handed smoothly in a note to Fraker.
“Our goal,” Fraker says, “is to convince a large pension-fund investor that the pricing may need to be lower for specialized real property. We could talk about timing considerations.”
The team is also preparing a one-page timeline of the current credit crunch for an upcoming meeting.
Fraker says he’ll wrap it up for today right after this 4:30 conference call, an early night home following his two late nights out.
“Did we make any money today?” he asks the team. Everyone knows the answer is negative. “We did all right,” Fraker says.
On the way to his underground parking spot, he says he’ll head to a fitness club near his Plano home for a 30-minute stint with the weights, then meet a client near that address. “We’ll probably have a glass of wine.”
“You know, I’m at the age where I’m in danger of losing muscle,” he says. After an analysis at the Cooper Clinic, he added strength training to a fitness regime that also includes jogging.
Now we’re at the stairs to the underground parking. “Hey,” Fraker calls out as he turns to leave for the day. “Did I give you one of my cards?”