Broker Tere Blanca has proved over the last four years that bigger isn’t always better.
At the height of the recession, Blanca left her job running the South Florida offices for Cushman & Wakefield in 2009 to start her own firm Blanca Commercial Real Estate. She started the firm with broker Danet Linares and their first major project: leasing the1450 Brickell office building. That first year, Blanca’s firm rang up $50 million in transactions.
Today, Blanca Commercial Real Estate has 11 employees, including six brokers plus Blanca. The firm’s focus is office leasing, with about a dozen listings in every major sub-market from 407 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach to One Park Square in Doral. Blanca also represented The Miami Herald on its search for a new home, along with other clients Discovery Latin America, Baker & McKenzie law firm and Compuquip. Last year, the firm exceeded $240 million in transactions, with a mix of tenant and landlord representation, as well as land and investment sales.
At time when most institutions typically prefer to deal with national firms, Blanca touts the advantages of a boutique approach.
“We are flexible to the point where we can turn on a dime and accommodate a client,” Blanca said. “Global firms can’t do that — they are bound to their corporate infrastructure.”
We asked Blanca to share some of her thoughts about starting her own business, the Miami real estate market and more. Here are her written answers:
Q: When you started your own company in March 2009 in the midst of the recession, many people thought it was a risky move. What drove you to make the switch?
I launched Blanca Commercial Real Estate in part because I missed being fully engaged in the day to day work with clients, be it developing marketing and leasing strategies on behalf of landlords, or advising tenants looking to match their business needs with the right space. That kind of relationship with the client has always fueled my passion for this business. I wanted to get back to my roots and grow a business from the ground up.
Q: Your company has taken accounts from many of your larger competitors, including your former employer. How have you managed that?
I have worked at global firms — they have huge resources and throw all kinds of services at the client. That appeals to some clients, but we have found that many users and owners of real estate want to know that their brokerage team has a deep bench, is experienced, knows the market, has access, is professional and delivers results. That’s what we bring to every client relationship, and that’s why we’re winning assignments and growing as a firm.
Q: You are known in the industry as being a tough negotiator and one who doesn’t share information with other brokers. Is that reputation fair or not?
I’d like to think I have a reputation for getting the most favorable result for our clients, and at the same time making sure that a deal is a win-win for both sides. I’m as hungry today as I was 25 years ago when I started. Negotiating is part of business, part of life. It’s in my DNA.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur and owning your own business for the first time in your career?
It’s a balancing act. There are simply not enough hours in the day. I have two awesome daughters and a loving husband. They always come first. But it’s true what they say about owning a business – it becomes your baby, and you have to care for it every single day. It’s my personal time that suffers the most.
Q: You took over the leasing of 1450 Brickell at a time when there were two other major projects and many considered yours the underdog. Yet, you have almost completely leased 1450 Brickell and the other two buildings both have significant vacant space. How did you manage to move so much faster than your competitors?
In this business — in any business — if you sit back and let the market dictate your message, you’re as good as dead. So with 1450 Brickell, we drove the conversation in the marketplace. We created a marketing campaign that touted our key assets.Today 1450 Brickell is 95 percent leased and the building has helped bring the surrounding area to life with restaurants, retail, nightlife, and residents.
Q: In your previous job at Cushman & Wakefield you focused more on management and got away from brokering. Which do you like more and why?
When I joined Cushman & Wakefield as head of South Florida, it was exciting to build a team and grow a business. But I missed the day-to-day engagement with the client. I used to get so involved with the brokers’ strategy development for clients, to the point where someone finally said to me “Tere, you can’t get the broker out of you.” That’s when I knew it was time to get back to what I loved doing.
Q: There is still a lot of vacant office space in Miami. Where do you think we’re at in the cycle?
We’ve seen positive absorption in the office sector in the past 24 months. Class B has the most vacancy, but we are now seeing stronger demand for this product. Our market is global, and we’re seeing more international investment and activity in Miami than at any other time in our City’s young history. I continue to be very bullish on Miami’s economic future. We’ve evolved from a Latin American gateway to a global destination. That raises all ships.
Q: How difficult was it building a reputation in an industry that for years had been dominated by men? Tell us about the challenges you faced.
Looking back, I was often the only woman in meetings. I’ve always had a straightforward approach to the business, and with clients. I think that helped. Gender was never an issue for me – I never let it become an issue.
Q: What do you do to encourage other women in real estate?
I enjoy mentoring and teaching. Women in particular I have found shy away from brokerage – they think it’s too risky, with no job security. I tell them about the freedom gained by being your own boss, the rewards of building relationships and trust with clients and working with a team to build a business.
Q: During your tenure as chairman of the Beacon Council you led an unsuccessful push for changes in the organization’s leadership. What was your goal?
. My intention was never to push out the management at the time. It was about bringing best private sector practices to a nonprofit organization. The CEO’s compensation and contract was negotiated to align with updated performance metrics and the current economy, and also encourage the Executive Committee to ensure that the organization had the right talent in place. It was the right decision and I would advise any organization the same way.
Q: When you are talking to companies considering relocating to Miami, what do you find is the biggest reason that companies decide not to come here?
If it is a domestic relocation, at times our public schools have been brought up in the discussion. We now have great public school options. We are fortunate to have Superintendent Carvalho leading in the transformation of our schools and partnering with top national organizations such as City Year.
Q: Tell us something that most people who know you professionally would be surprised to know?
I am from Cuba, and have lived in Venezuela and Puerto Rico. So Latin music is in my blood. I love to listen and dance to it...