CBRE’s Todd Doney on LA market, Warner Music lease and checking his bank balance

Dec.December 16, 2016 12:15 PM
Todd Doney

Todd Doney, the vice chairman at CBRE’s headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles, is the no. 1 office leasing broker in L.A., according to CBRE. So far this year, he has closed more than 6 million square feet of transactions, including a 13-year, 257,000-square-foot lease for Warner Music in the Arts District.

He also recently brokered a deal for Cedars-Sinai hospital, a long-time tenant of 6500 Wilshire Boulevard, to purchase the property for $295 million, or $646 per square foot, from Morgan Stanley. His clients include Northern Trust Bank, Nestle, CIM, Wells Fargo and AT&T.

The Real Deal sat down with Doney to talk deals, poaching and the bottom line.

Are you an LA native?
I grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois and moved to Southern California in the sixth grade when my dad got a promotion. I was happy to move because my parents said our new house would have a pool.

Was your dad in the real estate business?
Not at that time, but eventually he went into the mobile home park business.

Did you always want to be in real estate?
I went to Arizona State University and got my real estate degree and I’d planned on working for my dad. But my older brother, who worked for my dad, gave me some advice. He said, ‘If you work for dad right now, you’re basically just going to have his opinion on life for the rest of your life. Go work for a big company and get broad experience.’ I ended up contacting a neighbor who was working at Cushman & Wakefield. I got hired in the summer of ’84. I was there for a few years and then moved over to Cushman Realty, where I spent the next 13 or 14 years.

Do you remember your first deal?
I remember my first significant deal. A company called Beverly Enterprises leased an entire building we were marketing in Pasadena at 99 Oakland. After that, I would go to the ATM and take out a couple of dollars just so I could see my balance.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The harder you work, the luckier you get [from John Cushman III].

Do you have time for hobbies outside of work?
I’m pretty boring, actually. I get up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. and am usually one of the first in the office. For the most part, I work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In a typical day, I’d go home and spend a little time catching up with the family and then start working again by 9 p.m. I’ve got to read a lot of leases and proposals, so I’ll catch up on that. If I’m not going home, I’m typically going to a business function.

That’s a lot of work…
It’s by design. The good thing about our business is you don’t punch a timecard, but I like what I do. When deals finally close, there’s still a thrill.

You recently signed the deal with the Warner Music at the Ford Factory in the Arts District…what was that like?
We were working on it for about a year. People used to never give Downtown any credit. Nobody thought that type of entertainment or technology company would ever validate the market. Over the years, we’ve had tenants like a Yahoo or a Buzzfeed explore downtown, but ultimately [they] didn’t commit to it. The fact that we could finally get a significant entertainment player to make that type of commitment is a validation of everything I’ve been saying about this market for a while. We can finally point to a testimonial from a big guy that did it.

Do you think that lease will be the beginning of a larger trend?
I think people will look at what they’re doing and think there must be something to it. Like in Burbank and Santa Monica and Playa, a lot of these companies like to aggregate around each other.

You’re working on a property in Beverly Hills for Jeff Worthe. What’s that like?
He’s starting the renovation now. It’s going to be a really neat creative office environment with high ceilings. It will be sort of an iconic building when it’s done.

What’s your secret to scoring clients?
I think of myself as this experienced, knowledgeable real estate resource. Clients will want to get me on their side before the other side does.

How did you end up at CBRE?
I was recruited by Steve Siegel and Mitch Rudin, who were with Insignia in New York. They were trying to expand their presence on the West Coast. We were there about four or five years when Insignia got bought by CBRE.

What do you make of all the high-profile broker moves recently?
It’s not a really a new phenomenon. It’s been going on as long as I’ve been in the business. There are always a couple of companies that are looking to grow their business. A lot of the time, they want to acquire smaller companies so they can get a critical mass going quicker, but it’s hard to find those companies and negotiate a price that’s reasonable. So, they’ll try to attract rainmakers in markets where they think they’re deficient. My move to CBRE [in 1999] was reported by the Wall Street Journal at the time because the amount they’d given me was sort of noteworthy at the time.

It was reportedly seven figures…
It was a good amount. There was a pretty good monetary benefit to making the move.

What is your attitude towards money?
As a broker you take a lot of risks. The reality is that there’s no salary and no guarantee you’ll make any money the next month. For those of us that do okay, it’s usually a product of working hard and smart.

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