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Soft market, global leadership changes at Colliers see more talents leave for rivals

Four members of Colliers' retail team are moving to JLL, following a spate of resignations from industrial-services and office-services teams this year

Part of JLL's expanded retail team, from left: director Tom Hamilton, David Fernando, Ho Pui Shan, international director and head of markets Chris Archibold, Gary Nonis, director Lee Siew Ling and Shafiq Zulazmi. Mr Fernando, Ms Ho, Mr Nonis and Mr Shafiq are the new hires from Colliers' retail team.


FOUR members of the retail team of property consultancy group Colliers International have jumped ship to join JLL's retail agency team from July 1.

This comes on the heels of news this month that rival consultancy CBRE recruited five brokers from Colliers' industrial-services team.

In February, Colliers lost all three directors of its office-services department to Savills Singapore.

The industry is now abuzz about Colliers having become a poaching ground for brokers.

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But both Dennis Yeo, managing director at Colliers International Singapore, and Gary Nonis, the most senior of the migrating quartet, insist that the latest loss of the four is not a case of poaching. Rather, it is in some ways a function of the soft retail property market and instability stemming from leadership changes in the company at the global level, they said.

Last August, Piers Brunner resigned as chief executive officer of Asia; in February, Colliers named David Hand as its new chief executive for the Asia-Pacific.

Then on June 1, Colliers announced its completed spin-off from FirstService Corp, which makes it an independent, publicly traded company on the Nasdaq and Toronto Stock Exchange.

Soon after, global president and chief executive Doug Frye resigned without a reason.

Mr Yeo said: "There's some turbulence up there."

He added that while this doesn't have a significant impact on those lower down the food chain, it does - when coupled with a weak market - create ripe conditions for competitors to take advantage of the situation and poach its employees to fill their own expertise gaps.

"For our office and industrial departures, they were because of pull factors and the lure of money, rather than push factors. Our industry is an incentive-driven one," he said.

Colliers' greatest strength is its industrial-leasing capability, built up over two decades here, said Mr Yeo, disclosing that his industrial team had received several offers. "I wanted to retain them. We hate to lose them, but unfortunately, the offer to them was something we could not, and, as a corporate, would not, match."

Market sources told The Business Times that the three directors from the office-services department - Marcus Loo, Greg Marler and Ashley Swan - were offered sign-on bonuses of about S$5 million in total.

Brenda Ong and Rimon Ambarchi, among the five brokers poached from the industrial services team, were offered sign-on bonuses of "a couple of millions" combined.

For Mr Nonis, who is moving to JLL with brokers David Fernando, Shafiq Zulazmi and analyst Ho Pui Shan, it is a matter of going to where the projects are.

He said: "It's not a poaching exercise. JLL has exciting projects representing landlords at OUE Downtown, South Beach and Tanjong Pagar Centre, whereas at Colliers, we didn't have any landlord representation work. We did a couple of very boutique, non-mall projects in shophouses. There was no CDL (City Developments), no Pontiac, no Wheelock."

JLL is the leasing agent for the retail component of the mixed-use developments. The four new hires will contribute their specialist expertise in food and beverage - built from intellectual property that they earlier developed - and their strong client base.

Mr Nonis added: "It has nothing to do with the way Colliers is run. In fact, its structure is good. It's just unfortunate that it's like a triple whammy for them and we happen to be on the bandwagon to move to JLL."

Mr Yeo agreed that the four are leaving probably because they have found it difficult to perform at Colliers in the moribund market. He is not looking to fill the vacancies; he prefers to hire opportunistically, given that the current team of about four will be able to handle the workload.

He is also not planning to aggressively refill the 10 to 12 places for brokers on each of the industrial and office-services team for the same reasons.

To his knowledge, there are no other imminent departures after this.

Asked about staff morale, Mr Yeo replied that it has taken a hit more from the weakness of the market than the departures.

"Of course, we will have our own strategy. Our Asia-Pacific CEO just came on board, so give him time; he will probably respond.

"A lot is happening in Colliers right now, both globally and in Asia. Those who think they cannot wait out to hear what the management has for the company will choose to leave," he reasoned.

Over at JLL, the retail team, including directors Lee Siew Ling and Tom Hamilton, will be 11 strong with the four hires from Colliers. They will focus on covering all aspects of retail, with special emphasis on new-to-market brands, project leasing and food and beverage. (New-to-market brands and project leasing are JLL's hallmark strengths.)

The team reports to Chris Archibold, who is international director and head of markets.

Chris Fossick, managing director for Singapore and South-east Asia, said the move is in line with the firm's plans to strengthen its agency business in Singapore.

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