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December 10, 2014

Bowles is back, this time to help Kidder expand further in California

Puget Sound Business Journal

Marc Stiles

Jim Bowles, a veteran leader in the Puget Sound area's commercial real estate industry, has a new gig that entails helping the region's largest brokerage, Kidder Mathews, get bigger by expanding in California.

Kidder is the fourth large real estate services company that Bowles has helped lead, and Kidder CEO Jeff Lyon said Bowles "has got the grand slam now."

Lyon told employees Wednesday that Bowles is the company's new president of the Brokerage Division.

In addition to hiring Bowles, Kidder is expanding the leadership role of company President and Chief Operating Officer Gordon Buchan, who will now also serve as the company's chief financial officer.

The move comes as part of management's succession plan for the company.

"Not that I'm going anywhere," said Lyon, who is 62.

Kidder is a privately held brokerage known for using commission structures and an nontraditional corporate structure to land top-producing brokers. The company will take this formula to California, where it will open an office in San Diego next month, and plans to open an office in the greater Oakland area by the end of the first quarter.

Lyon said the 450-employee company has doubled its size and revenue in the last 10 or so years, largely by expanding to Northern California, where it already has three offices. Today, the company has a total of nine offices and is projecting revenues of $90 million this year, up more than 8 percent over last year.

Kidder's expansion comes at a time of tremendous consolidation in the industry as national and global brokerages buy up local firms. A prime example in the Pacific Northwest is JLL's acquisition of Pacific Real Estate Partners in the Puget Sound area several years ago and Portland real estate company Cresa last month.

"For the most part the independents have gone away," Lyon said. "We have no intention of being absorbed by anybody... We get sniffed out every now and then, but I think at the end of the day [larger brokerages] don't understand our structure." He added that Kidder's long-term growth strategy to is be a West Coast company.

To expand, "I just couldn't bring in anybody from the outside," Lyon said. "To bring in Jim is really significant for us because of the breadth of his experience."

Bowles, 58, has worked in the industry since 1978. He led another large brokerage, CBRE, for 13 years until resigning at the end of June.

"I don't know quite what I'm going to do," the 58-year-old told the Business Journal at the time. He previously worked at Colliers International and Cushman & Wakefield, and from these experiences knew about his new employer.

"I've always been aware of how formidable they are, but different," Bowles said. Most competitors in the Northwest have had to tweak the structures of their commissions to keep brokers from jumping ship.

Lyon said that in the Puget Sound region, Kidder Mathews splits commissions 50-50 with brokers on the first $100,000 of a deal. After that, 90 percent goes to brokers with the housing taking the rest. Bowles estimates the splits at other major national and regional brokerages are 15 to 20 percent "less aggressive" in the favor of brokers.

Another plus that Kidder plays up is that it's not publicly traded. Those companies that are must kowtow to Wall Street's expectations.

"We don't have to do that," he said.

In addition Kidder, which three industrial brokers started in Seattle 45 years ago, doesn't have a top-heavy corporate structure. There are, for instance, no sales managers. And employees have a chance to become owners in the company that Lyon said hasn't lost money and has offered its 104 shareholders cash-on-cash annual returns between 10 and 40 percent.

"The long-term success of the company is our ability to bring up younger brokers who want to be owners," Lyon said.

For the full story, go to Puget Sound Business Journal.

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