December 10, 2009
By Barbara Travers
Position: Founding Principal
Bill Pollard has been a market leader on nearly all sides of the commercial brokerage business. As co-founder of Pacific Real Estate Partners, a regional commercial real estate brokerage, he has exclusively represented major corporate tenants, landlords and many of the nation’s largest investors. In 2010, after 17 years at PREP, Bill resigned to co-found Talon Private Capital.
Talon is direct real estate investment firm focused on using private capital to buy institutional quality, stabilized income-producing assets for long-term wealth preservation.
Give us a brief background on Bill Pollard.
I grew up on the East Coast, New York, and went to an all boys’ boarding school in Connecticut. I was looking for a new adventure and found my way to Lewis & Clark College in Portland. I started several businesses on campus and met my wife of 22 years in college.
After school I sold gasoline pumps to distributors. My father-in-law was the president of Grubb & Ellis and he felt that wasn’t the career he had in mind for his daughter’s new husband. He got me a job at G&E and we moved to Bellevue to start this new career.
Who were your mentors then? Now?
I’ve had three great mentors through my brokerage career and I sought their counsel regularly. Tim Nelson, one of the best brokers I’ve known, made an early jump into the development/investor side and has never looked back. And John Black (Broderick) and Mark Flippo (PREP).
Mark and I started in the cubes together at G&E and (he) is possibly the nicest human being ever. He and I came up with the idea to start PREP. I knew Mark had the focus and discipline to make PREP a success. All I had to do was try and not screw it up.
I have always competed with John Black throughout my career. I always looked to his leadership. John doesn’t cut corners. He knows “how to do the job right” and is a true professional.
You’ve launched Talon in the midst of the worst real estate market imaginable, but you’re no stranger to low-water marks. PREP was founded at the tail end of the early ‘90s worldwide recession. Shrewd meets bold?
I love brokerage and will always love brokerage. The only way I could conceive of leaving brokerage was if two events occurred at the same point in time. One, the real estate valuations of 2005-08 would need to experience a major reset to pre-boom levels. Two, the brokerage business would need to slow to a point where I could justify stepping off a treadmill that had been an amazing income-producing machine for my family.
Those two events occurred and I began to seriously evaluate opportunities in investment. I had worked with, and watched, many clients in the previous market cycle low points acquire real estate, hold and operate through the upturn and sell near the top of the cycle. It’s a simple strategy only for those disciplined to stop buying when the market heals; be patient until it becomes overheated with capital and be willing to sell even though it might still keep going up. I feel this is the once-in-a-career opportunity to take advantage of my market position.
We’re intrigued by the name Talon. Before we read too much into the “clawness” of it, can you let us in on the genesis of your new venture’s name?
It’s very simple. My partner, Jim Neal, and I are neighbors in West Bellevue. We commute across the 520 bridge every day into Seattle and most mornings there is an eagle that sits atop a light pole near Montlake. We wanted a name that was strong, confident and firmly in control of its environment. That eagle represents that to us and we like the sound of Talon versus eagle.
The phrases “knowing when to invest also means knowing when not to invest” and “first mover” appear in your strategy statement. How does Talon approach investment opportunities?
We know real estate investing is a cyclical business. However, due to the syndication or fee-based investment model now popular by sponsors, there is a need or an incentive for most aggregators of capital to invest “throughout” the cycle. While this may be preached and observed by stock and bond investors, it is not the prudent real estate model.
If you have depth and experience in various markets, you inherently know when values are disproportionate to their relative risk. In the last peak, Class C assets were nearly being priced as Class A, marginal credit was being priced similar to top-tier credit and vacancy was seen as accretive to value versus a discount to value.
Looking back, what deal makes you smile?
The pinnacle of my career culminated in a 12-month stretch between 2006-07. I had a long-standing relationship with Safeco Insurance Co. doing leasing assignments. The new CEO, Paula Reynolds, determined that Safeco was holding too much real estate and needed to improve its corporate image.
Paula retained me to, ultimately, sell Safeco’s Redmond Campus to Microsoft for approximately $215 million; sell its University District headquarters tower for $130 million; and relocate Safeco’s headquarters into the Seattle CBD. We took advantage of another low in the real estate cycle and Safeco leased approximately 600,000 square feet at historic low rents. At the time, these were among the largest sales and leases ever done in Seattle.
Less than 12 months later, I was representing two new Class A developments in Bellevue; the Bravern and Advanta for Schnitzer Northwest. In a very short and highly confidential process, we were successful in completing leases with Microsoft for both projects, simultaneously, for a total of 1.35 million rentable square feet on a long-term basis. I think this is now the largest lease in Seattle.
These “once in a broker’s career” type deals, that occurred in a very short period of time, bring a smile to my face.
If you ran into 22-year-old Bill Pollard today, what advice would you give him?
It’s all about the people you meet. Industry leaders such as Larry Benaroya, Dan Ivanoff, Gary Carpenter, Douglas Howe, Jon Runstad and others have opened doors for me that wouldn’t have opened if it wasn’t for their support.
What will be your next career?
In 10 years I plan to be working full time with nonprofits oriented towards education and children. There are so many opportunities for the corporate world to get engaged with children and our educational community.
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