Q&A: DTZ’s Robert Shibuya on rebranding, growing their presence in NYC

Company recently changed name from UGL Services

From left, Dirk Hrobsky, Robert Shibuya and Chris Helgesen
From left, Dirk Hrobsky, Robert Shibuya and Chris Helgesen

DTZ is one of the largest global property firms in the world, but one with a relatively small — if fast-growing — presence in New York City. The company took the name DTZ last month — nearly a year after UGL Services paid $119 million for the trading operations of DTZ, a financially troubled commercial firm based in London. UGL decided on the name change, given its British brand recognition; DTZ has roots going back to the 18th century.

Despite the long history of the DTZ name, it does not come without baggage. In 2006, it formed a joint venture with the Midtown-based investment-banking firm Rockwood. The U.S. entity DTZ Rockwood foundered in the recession, and filed for bankruptcy in 2009; the partnership was subsequently dissolved.

The new, combined DTZ, however, has annual revenues estimated at $2 billion, and is the property division of the public company UGL Limited, an Australian conglomerate with diverse businesses.

Locally, UGL has represented several high-profile deals in New York, including representing Zurich Insurance, which last summer subleased the 125,000-square-foot building at 105 East 17th Street to New York University.

DTZ Group President Robert Shibuya, who is based in Los Angeles, and the company’s co-managing directors of the New York office, Dirk Hrobsky and Chris Helgesen, recently sat down with The Real Deal to discuss the company’s local growth and how it seeks to distinguish itself among a handful of mid-market firms with ambitious New York expansion plans.

You have grown from eight people in 2008 to 60 today. Are you still hiring, and what is the goal?

Hrobsky: We are speaking with a lot of — and in fact Bob is here, helping us recruit — various people and teams from organizations that you know. This space has capacity for 121 people.

The New York office has leasing and capital markets brokers, but none in retail. Are you hiring there?

Helgesen: We have to have the right fit. But certainly retail is a focus of ours. We have probably spoken with 15 retail [brokers].

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Shibuya: Retail would be important given the fact that we have considerable market share in the European and Asian markets.

How do potential hires compare DTZ with other firms in New York that have said they are growing?

Hrobsky: They are very different opportunities, when you look at us versus the Lee & Associates and Transwesterns of the world. We are a wholly owned platform and some of the others are not. [In global revenue] we are just in front of Cushman [& Wakefield] and just behind [Jones Lang LaSalle], and those are the people who are looking to make moves to a new platform that’s got a lot of room to grow.

You have adopted the name DTZ, which has U.K. roots back to 1784. But more recently, in 2009, DTZ Rockwood filed for bankruptcy. What impact do you think that filing will have on the name in the New York market?

Shibuya: I have never been asked that question before. The DTZ brand had previously been present in the U.S. and in the New York area either as a strategic alliance or a joint venture, and over a period of time those strategic alliances or joint ventures ended. And now the company has returned to the market in a much more strategic way, with a 100-percent owned business.

Will you state how much money you have available to expand in New York?

Shibuya: No, I have seen other people making statements. We are prepared to make a strategic investment into the market.

What do you see going forward, globally?

Shibuya: I think in the next three to five years the landscape is going to change, and there is going to be further consolidation. We are going to get down to four global firms, and we intend to be one of them.