Tom Usher got his early start in the business with Gilley Co., which was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield in 1979. That’s when Tom officially joined the firm famously founded by his grandfather, J. Clydesdale Cushman, and great uncle, Bernard Wakefield—and he’s never looked back.
Our firm’s 100th anniversary has special meaning to Tom. As he puts it: “Cushman & Wakefield’s Centennial means a great deal to me, and I am of course extremely proud to be a member of a company that so many of my relatives built or have been part of and helped make so successful.”
Tom has been an active participant in that success story. From 1980 to 2000, he played a leadership role in the growth of Cushman & Wakefield in the Pacific Northwest, acting as Managing Director for our Oregon operations. Over the last 17 years, he has parlayed his skills into strategic planning and problem solving for clients with complex real estate needs, working in collaboration with his “very talented and successful brokerage team”, which includes Mark Carnese, Doug Deurwaarder, and Matt Johnson. Tom also operates in an advisory role for both expanding and emerging companies.
Tom takes pride in being the kind of person who “genuinely enjoys working as a mentor to young people in the firm”—an attitude shaped by the guidance and sound advice he himself received from others as he moved up the ladder.
Explains Tom: “I’ve stood on the shoulders of some really great teachers at Cushman & Wakefield, and will always feel a debt of gratitude to those who were such great mentors to me within the real estate industry and my life. Those who deserve special credit include my cousins John and Lou Cushman, my brother Kirk Usher, who retired from Cushman & Wakefield after a stellar career of over 35 years, and Ted Bruno, a former colleague who passed away several years ago, at the age of 90. Reaching back to the beginning of my career, I also want to recognize Steve Gilley who took a chance on me in 1975, and hired me at the Gilley Company, which was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield in 1979.”
Below, Tom discusses his experiences and views on Cushman & Wakefield and the commercial real estate industry:
How has the way you did deals in your early years changed to how they’re done now – and how have client expectations changed?
Tom: Expectations are all based on speed today. When I started back in the 1970s we relied on snail mail, which alone often took several days for transactional correspondence and, subsequently, deals took a lot longer to complete. Today, everything happens “right now” at lightning speed. We get a lot taken care of within a single day.
There is also a lot more velocity and we are able to handle more transactions at one time. Further, when I started in the business, we were typically engaged in just one-off deals for clients. Today, we handle numerous transactions in multiple U.S. and global markets on behalf of a single client.
What were some high points in your career?
One of my greatest achievements occurred shortly after being appointed Managing Director of the Portland office. We won the leasing assignment for the landmark 42-story, 800,000+ square-foot U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Portland, which is the largest office building in the State of Oregon.
I was appointed Managing Director in 1980 at the young age of 32, just five years after starting my career as a broker in real estate. That made me the youngest manager in the firm. In this role, I was proud to receive Cushman & Wakefield’s National Branch Manager of the Year Award on two occasions, which was based on professionalism, accomplishments, leadership, and the overall profitability of our Portland office.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be, and why?
Driven. Energetic. Hard worker. I suppose these qualities come partly from a fear of failure, and a need to rely on others to validate my work and my success. By nature, though, I am energetic and driven, and very much enjoy what I do, especially working with and helping others. Some of my most gratifying moments have come from watching young people mature and succeed.
If you could have dinner with any one person, living or dead, who would he/she be, and why?
Right now, it would be Sir Winston Churchill. I just read a book about him entitled Hero of the Empire, a story of this fascinating, inspiring man, who, at the age 24, was utterly convinced it was his destiny to one day be Prime Minister of England.
What do you like about working for Cushman & Wakefield?
In over four decades in the business, I have never worked for another firm other than Cushman & Wakefield (or merged firm). I think one of the key differences between our firm and others is our high quality of work. As a firm, we have always strived to be the best in all we do and deliver top-level service and results. We’ve survived 100 years and are heading into the future with confidence because we’ve always been the gold standard when it comes to exceeding client expectations.
Over the years, I’ve watched star brokers who I helped train leave our firm and then come back after a period of time. Their decision to return is always based on missing the unbeatable standards the Cushman & Wakefield brand offers — our great people, culture, values, and unwavering focus on delivering the very best services to our clients.
What are some of the secrets to your success?
My commitment, loyalty, work ethic, and the fact I am always strategizing and discovering new ways to stay ahead of the curve – whether that means applying the latest technologies or thought leadership, I constantly strive to sharpen my skillset for the benefit of my clients.
Equally, I love playing the role of a “coach”, which gives me an opportunity to help others learn and succeed, especially those newer to the business. When we help others, we help create a successful culture for everyone. Being a good listener is one of the most important skills in working with clients or in a team.
What’s one or two things that many of your colleagues would not know about you.
Back in the 1970s, I initially did not want to work for Cushman & Wakefield. At that time, I felt very strongly about being able to make it on my own and that having relatives in the company, especially at such a high level, might affect that. To my surprise and good fortune, the company I started with, The Gilley Co., was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield in 1979. Over the course of time my views changed as I realized I could have it both ways.
Today, our Centennial means a great deal to me and I am extremely proud to be a member of a company that so many of my relatives built or have been part of and helped make so successful.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
First and foremost, my family is my greatest joy. I have been married for 45 years to my incredible wife and best friend Ann and we love spending time with our family, and especially our three grandchildren — and with another on the way.
Some may be surprised to know that I am extremely active and passionate about my leisure activities, which include traveling, playing squash, hiking, biking, fishing, cross-country skiing, and more — despite being a master of none! Portland is an amazing place for the outdoors. I always joke that when I leave this planet, I would like to take with me items such as my skis, fly rod, road bike, and squash racket.
What do you see as the biggest drivers of change for our clients?
The biggest driver of change I see today has been the Millennials’ influence on office workplace design. In just the last five years alone here in Portland, I have seen greater changes happening in real estate than in all my prior years in the business.
This goes back to the incredible speed of technology and innovation. In the 1970s, a carpet that started out orange (a hip color in those days) may have taken several years to be changed to brown, or simple lighting could take years to be upgraded. Today, upgrades can be completed in mere months, weeks, or even days depending on the degree of change required.
How do you see property strategies changing?
Re-design, redevelopment, or repurposed projects are transforming the real estate landscape in Portland, as they are around the globe. Here in our market, we are seeing a spike in repurposed projects. Presently, we are engaged in a number of projects where older industrial facilities are being converted into higher grade industrial space, creative office uses, or even mixed-use.
Right now, workplace design, which caters to the modern workforce, is a major priority. Like other growth markets, our occupier clients in Portland are focused on being close to amenities and good transportation, including bike lanes, and offering a unique workplace “experience” for their employees.
E-commerce and the internet will continue to transform business, including real estate, and our lives in ways we cannot imagine. Driverless cars, for example, will be an enormous game changer for numerous aspects of business and life ahead.
What advice can you offer young people in the business today?
I think a young person should have a strong work ethic and be willing to make sacrifices to achieve success in this business. They need to find a mentor to help guide them and support their growth and development, and they should also always put their clients’ needs and goals first.