Real estate boss keeps his ear to the ground
Jones Lang LaSalle's Colin Dyer has a knack for listening to people and putting the message across
AS THE NEWLY appointed chief executive of Chicago-based property consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle, Colin Dyer had to get used to being asked: 'How can you do this job if you are not a surveyor?'
Today, 18 months after taking the reins of a company that now features on the Forbes Platinum 400 list, British-born Mr Dyer is tackling a different question: 'How have you been able to make a success of the job?'
For one thing, he is a good listener. And so, it seems, is the market, which obviously likes what it is hearing about the company.
In January, Jones Lang LaSalle announced a record net income of US$104 million for last year, up 62.5 per cent from US$64 million in 2004.
But the most telling sign of confidence in the company is the share price, which has soared about 50 per cent this year.
Mr Dyer attributes his success to advice he receives from his staff - 9,000 of them spread around the world.
'I listened to them at the start, and I still listen to them today,' said the 53-year-old executive, who is fluent in Dutch and French.
Interestingly, his only prior experience in real estate was running a 50-strong chain of retail stores in Holland, where Jones Lang provided him with property consultancy services. Before taking up his current job, he had formed a business-to-business internet site for a textile retailer. Still, it is a far cry from his dream of following in his father's footsteps and become a nuclear scientist.
'If you are a manager or a leader, one of the things you have to do all the time is listen to the people around you,' Mr Dyer said, sitting in the company's One Pacific Place offices after jetting in as part of a business trip to Asia earlier this month.
'And you have to have good people around you because you can't function on your own.'
Timing is also important. Mr Dyer said the company, formerly known as Jones Lang Wootton, had faced restructuring after a merger with LaSalle Partners in 1999. 'When I arrived, the time was just ripe to really look forward,' he said.
Last year, the company spent US$150 million to acquire Spaulding & Slye, a privately owned property services and investment firm operating in Boston and Washington.
'What I have done is to continue to strengthen our business in every city we have a presence in and develop our organisation to respond to the increasingly globalised tenant mix,' he said.
He said a robust worldwide property market allowed the company to grow. With prices surging in the US last year, revenue growth ballooned 17 per cent to US$435 million. In Europe, revenue rose 11 per cent to US$493 million.
The biggest growth was in Asia, where revenue soared 23 per cent to US$273 million, which helps explain Mr Dyer's swing through Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong. 'Asia is an integral part of our global strategy,' he said.
Today, the region accounts for only 23 per cent of revenue, compared with 41 per cent for Europe and 36 per cent for the Americas.
The company's core business in the region comes from Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, with contributions from China and Japan.
Rivals claim Jones Lang LaSalle's status in Hong Kong is diminishing.
'In 1970 to 1980s, Jones Lang Wootton was the leader in the surveying and property consultancy business,' said Shih Wing-ching, chairman of Centaline (Holdings), which owns one of the two biggest property agents in Hong Kong with a network of about 300 branches.
'They trained a lot of prominent property guys, such as Exco member Leung Chun-ying, who is now the chairman of property consultant DTZ Debenham.
'Today, Jones Lang LaSalle is still doing well, but its status in Hong Kong's surveying business is being threatened by another international property consultancy, Savills,' Mr Shih said.
The rapid growth of Chinese-run property agencies like Centaline and Midland Realty in the past decade has also taken a big bite out of the company's share of the brokerage business in luxury residential, industrial and office transactions, according to a senior executive of a property surveying firm.
'In the past decade, big companies seldom appointed locally run property agents to tender their properties, but nowadays locally run property agents, which have strong networks, are their favoured agents, resulting in competition with international property consultants like Jones Lang LaSalle,' the executive said.
Industry sources said Jones Lang LaSalle's strength in Hong Kong was in the office leasing market and the top luxury residential market, where quality clients include Hongkong Land and Swire Properties.
Mr Dyer said Jones Lang LaSalle was not neglecting its Hong Kong operations.
'We have a good business in Hong Kong,' he said, adding that there had been continued momentum across all business lines, with full-year 2004 revenue increasing 15 per cent in US dollar terms over the previous year.
With Hong Kong being such an international financial centre for Asia-Pacific, he said the company would continue its services in the city.
'I see Hong Kong as part of the Pearl River Delta. We have been in China for 12 years and have built a very good foundation,' he said.
The company has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
Mr Dyer said his company was also expanding in the booming economies of India and Russia.
'At the very high level, [China, India and Russia] are all growing very rapidly. But each country is a very different place and is developing in a very different way.'
Colin Dyer has been a director of Jones Lang LaSalle since 2004, when he became president and chief executive. From 2002 to 2004, he was founding chief executive of Worldwide Retail Exchange.
From 1996 to 2000, he was chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles, a clothing and fabric firm. He began his career at Courtaulds in 1982 as managing director of the Dutch retail chain GDL, holding various positions before being made chief executive.
From 1978 to 1982 he worked at McKinsey & Co as a client manager to firms in banking, chemical, retail and aerospace.
He holds an MBA from INSEAD and a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London.