On Firm Ground

A conservative approach helped NAI Hanson survive the downturn relatively unscathed and poised to take advantage of the next growth phase.

Talk about taking a hit—imagine being in the real estate business during the most severe downturn anyone in our generation has experienced. It might seem an insurmountable task to recover from such an event, but that’s exactly what Bill Hanson and his team at NAI James E. Hanson have done.

Overall conservatism is one reason NAI Hanson was able to pull off this feat. “We’re a company that is built for the long haul,” says Hanson, president of the Hackensack-based commercial realty. “We’re not immune to the economy, but the way we run the business helped us through this difficult time. We’re conservative in terms of spending, and we run things with a long-term perspective.”

Thoughtful strategizing was another big factor in NAI Hanson’s weathering of the storm. In the early 80’s, after seeing an influx of national realty companies to Northern New Jersey, Peter Hanson, Bill’s father sought out a partnership with NAI Global.

Says Hanson: “Our industry is going through a shift like so many others, changing from entrepreneurs like us to big corporations.”

The support of NAI Global is partly what led Hanson to open an office in Parsippany in December 2007. Although the timing was bad for the new office, opening just before the downturn, NAI Hanson stayed the course. They also acquired Schilp and Co. Realtors in 2009 to broaden their presence in northwestern New Jersey as well as eastern Pennsylvania.  The tactic paid off in the form of new, top-quality salespeople entering the organization. Moreover, the company is now perfectly positioned to take advantage of the economic recovery in the region.

Two other strategies are helping Hanson to look optimistically at the next few years. First, he and his team have focused heavily on growing their property management business, partnering with a closely related company and bringing in an expert to focus on growth. Second, they have expanded their investment group with several new hires. “These business lines are paying dividends already, and we’re in a good position to grow further,” says Hanson, who has been with the company for 26 years.

Putting down roots

The company was started in 1955 by James E. Hanson, Bill’s grandfather, and was run for many years by his father, Peter Hanson, who’s still an active member of the Hanson team. It was founded on the idea of performing extraordinary work and delivering remarkable client service. Today, the company prides itself on taking a highly personalized approach to commercial real estate, paying close attention to detail and never shirking from the hard work involved in commercial real estate.

Operating in primarily in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York, the company also does business in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Sussex Counties and Eastern Pennsylvania. It employs more than 50 people in two offices, providing commercial and retail brokerage services, corporate services, government services, logistics, property management, tenant representation, multi-family sales, and financing.

Says Hanson, “I was raised in the family business by a very smart man who taught me early on to always strive to improve. That’s what this company is about.” To that end, the company provides financial support to employees who want to further their education. “Our people are always looking to improve, to be able to learn things they can bring back to the company and make themselves better for their clients,” Hanson explains.   In fact, Hanson has eight employees with the distinguished SIOR designation, one of the highest in the state.

Benefits like that and a culture of people working hard together have made NAI Hanson the type of place people not only gravitate to, but stay at for long periods. Indeed, Hanson notes that a large number of employees have spent their careers at the company.

“I think that speaks to what this company is about,” he says. “We’re treating people right—that’s the only way long-term employment happens. For the company, there’s a consistency, which is what it’s all about. It’s the crux of the business.”

NAI Hanson’s employee support goes beyond education to include sophisticated software, robust marketing, and service-line expansion to give people room to grow. It also strongly encourages team members to work together. “We have a culture of good people doing hard work, and it matters,” says Hanson.

“People here like each other and do business with each other every day, and that’s not always true in this industry,” he says, noting that if someone’s expertise is in warehouse leases, it’s incredibly helpful to be able to walk down the hall to tap into the knowledge of a financier.

Growing the next generation

Interestingly, Hanson is responsible for most of the hiring at the company, rather than delegating it to an HR department. He says new hiring is one of his biggest concerns for the future.

The Great Recession has had a severe effect on the number of young people staying in and entering the real estate industry, says Hanson, adding that he plans to focus considerable energy on alleviating the effect this is having on the company. “Before the Recession, I spent several hours every couple of weeks interviewing potential new hires,” he says. “Today, we have to be much more proactive about finding people, often from other industries.”

It’s not just that young people fear another downturn, it’s that commission-only industries are especially tough for young people to enter. Hanson says he’s working to find a structure that will allow them to be successful, whether that means paying small starting salaries or arranging senior and junior people in mentoring relationships. “The industry doesn’t appear to be attracting a lot of young people. We need to figure out how to get people where they can learn and make money,” he says.

Spending considerable time on community projects and on trade-group leadership ensures that potential industry entrants are familiar with the NAI Hanson name. Hanson, his father, and many of the company’s associates are active in charitable organizations, particularly those related to children and to healthcare. “It’s a very important part of who we are,” he says, adding that the support involves people’s time, not just donations.

The Hanson organization is very involved in the local community, serving on boards such as HUMC, Boys Scouts of America, West Bergen Mental Health, Friendship House, ARC, Foundation for Free Enterprise, YMCA, the Community Blood Services and the Hirsh Foundation. They are also members of many chambers of commerce.

Hanson says giving back to the community has rewards far beyond growing the business. “If we happen to do business because of our presence in the community, that’s fine, but that’s not our motivation—it’s just good to do.”

Bright days ahead

Going forward, Hanson is optimistic about growth in the region and within his company. He is pleased that the relatively mature economy in the Meadowlands region helped it survive the Recession better than many areas. “These businesses were not immune to the Recession, of course, but the area was not as impacted as areas farther away from New York City,” he says.

Hanson is looking forward to the opening of American Dream Meadowlands, saying he expects it to have a positive impact on the local economy and that he is confident it will open.

For NAI Hanson, the future looks just as bright. NAI Global was purchased last year by C-III Realty, and Hanson recently returned from the larger entity’s annual meeting. “I’m excited about the future. I think NAI Global is poised for big growth,” he says. Currently, NAI Global manages an organization of 5,000 professionals in 55 countries. The company manages more than 200 million square feet of commercial space and recently completed transactions worth more than $45 billion. It has become one of the world’s largest commercial real estate service providers by providing technology, marketing, and corporate services to its network.

By continuing to combine careful spending with strategic development, and with the strong support of NAI Global, Bill Hanson and his team are excited to take full advantage of the economy as it swings back into positive growth. “This company is not about me,” says Hanson, “it’s about the people who work here going out and being successful. If they are, then we will be.”

—Jill Rose is executive editor of Meadowlands USA and principal of content provider Landscape Creative (www.landscape-creative.com).

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Meadowlands Magazine, the official publication of the Meadowlands Chamber and its affiliate organizations, has proudly served the business community of the Meadowlands region for over 40 years. We are among largest business magazine in New Jersey (second by circulation) and offer prime visibility opportunities for businesses to connect with potential customers.

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