Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Brendan Greeley Charts a Course for the Family Business

The Next Chapter

Brendan Greeley, president of the R.G. Greeley Co.

Brendan Greeley, president of the R.G. Greeley Co.

Growing up, Brendan Greeley never thought much about going to work for his father at the commercial real-estate firm he started the same year Brendan was born — the R.J. Greeley Co.

But as his undergraduate work was wrapping up at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, his father, Robert Greeley, asked him to start thinking about it.

And there was a lot to think about. Brendan didn’t really know much about this business, or business in general, and his college work didn’t exactly prepare him for that industry.

“I was a sociology and anthropology major with a minor in religion,” he said. “I was a singer in a band … and I never really thought much about my career.”

After telling his father he’d think about his invitation, Brendan sought the advice of one of his uncles, who told him, among other things, that commercial real estate was a good business for meeting … well, all kinds of people in many different businesses, exposure that could lead to different types of career opportunities.

“He said, ‘at the very least, you can go work for your dad for a little while, get a snapshot into different kinds of businesses, and see what you like,’” he recalled, adding that he went to work for his father for more than a little while, and eventually determined that commercial real estate was something he liked.

Fast-forwarding a little (we’ll go back and fill in some details later), Brendan learned a lot from his father, gradually assumed more responsibilities for running the business, and eventually became its president in 2017. After what he described as a somewhat difficult transition process, he bought his father out in 2019 and steered the company through the difficult COVID years and their aftermath.

Now, just over a year after his father passed away at age 73, the younger Greeley is writing new chapters in the history of the 43-year-old company. The firm is smaller now, with a staff of just two, but “doing more with less,” as he put it.

He is continuing to build on the portfolio of properties the firm handles, which is anchored by the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College in a collection of buildings that were once part of the Springfield Armory and later home to a massive Digital Equipment Corp. operation.

“My father always impressed upon me, from the beginning, that you have to go out and establish your network, the people you’re going to be doing business with — the people, as my father used to say, that you’re going to be in the trenches with.”

The Tech Park, as it’s called, has been around about as long as Brendan Greeley has been with the family business (which calls the park home itself), and it has been a career-long focal point and passion, he said, adding that the company has successfully filled most of the space vacated by a Liberty Mutual call center and continues to work to fill remaining vacancies in the sprawling complex.

“We had a great year last year — we brought on the Department of Developmental Services with a lease for just under 30,000 square feet for 10 years,” he said, adding that the state agency and other signed tenants now fill most of the 55,000 square feet once occupied by Liberty Mutual.

Meanwhile, the R.J Greeley Co. continues to respond to changes and trends within the market — everything from growing inventories on the office side of the ledger (a byproduct of remote work and hybrid schedules at businesses in virtually every sector) to an extreme tightening of the industrial and distribution markets, a byproduct of rising interest rates that have produced an environment in which it is far more advantageous to buy or lease than build new.

Technology Park at STCC

Brendan Greeley continues to build on his firm’s portfolio of properties, which is anchored by the Technology Park at STCC.

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Greeley about the market and what the future might bring, and about what might come next for the company that was started by his father and still bears his initials, but is now being steered by his youngest child.


Right Place and Time

As he talked about his time with the company, and especially about life in a family business, Greeley spoke for everyone who has ever had that experience when he said, “it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, that’s for sure.”

Elaborating, he described his father as a great real-estate broker, teacher, and mentor — “I wish I had his ability to mentor people and bring them along” — but not the easiest person to work with or for, and someone who didn’t think much about succession planning, didn’t really want to think about it, and did so only when the matter was pressed.

Indeed, when asked when his father first started talking to him about succession planning, Greeley laughed and said, “never.”

“That was a painful process,” he recalled. “Succession planning was really hard for him. He never really thought about wanting to retire, it seems, and he was pretty reluctant to think about it.”

So much so that Greeley admitted to thinking about perhaps doing something else because of that reluctance.

“I had to impose some timelines to move things along,” he went on. Eventually, a successful transition was achieved, made easier by some very strong years leading to that changing of hands, punctuated by the brokered sale of the former Westinghouse property to one of the players trying to bring a casino to Springfield.

Flashing back further, Greeley recalled that, as he entered the business, he certainly learned a lot from his father, especially when it came to the all-important work of getting in front of people building and maintaining relationships — duties that he referred to collectively as the “grunt work.”

“Those first few years, I was going out and getting to know people,” he told BusinessWest. “My father always impressed upon me, from the beginning, that you have to go out and establish your network, the people you’re going to be doing business with — the people, as my father used to say, that you’re going to be in the trenches with.

“So the first few years were filled with inserting myself into circles of attorneys, accountants, bankers, insurance people — those we work with often — and just making friends with them and creating a network,” he went on.

“There was a lot of driving around, pulling up to businesses, knocking on doors and saying, ‘I’m Brendan Greeley with the R.J. Greeley Co. — I just want to let you know that we’re out there and that, if there’s anything you need with commercial real estate, give us a call.’ There was a lot of going to lunches, playing in golf tournaments, and just … being out there.”

This grunt work has certainly paid off over the years, as the Greeley company has continued its run of success, even during times of stress and duress for the commercial real-estate industry, which is still coping with many lingering effects from the pandemic.

“When I came into the business, a manufacturing building was $50 a square foot, and now, it’s commonly $100 a square foot or more. To build new would be $200 a square foot.”

Foremost among those is the sea change in the office market, which has definitely slowed since the pandemic and has seen vacancies increase as remote work impacts whether companies will renew leases, as well as how much space they take if they do renew.

“Firms are creating opportunities for people to work at home, and that has certainly created some shifts in the office market,” he said. “We have some big chunks of office space that are available or coming available; as leases expire, people are renewing for less space, and that adds up to more inventory.”

This shift is certainly countered by a tightening on the industrial and distribution side of the ledger, where fewer properties are coming on the market and those frequented by ‘for sale’ or ‘for lease’ signs are not on the market for long, and for obvious reasons.

“There are far fewer construction projects taking place in this market because of higher interest rates, and this obviously helps with the value of existing inventory,” Greeley said, citing the laws of supply and demand. “The alternative is to build new, and building new is going to be very expensive.

“When I came into the business, a manufacturing building was $50 a square foot, and now, it’s commonly $100 a square foot or more,” he went on. “To build new would be $200 a square foot.”

As for the value of commercial properties — a huge issue in most major markets and communities of all sizes in the wake of COVID — Greeley said that, by and large, most properties in the region are holding their value, but this ability is being sternly tested by rising interest rates.

“Someone can afford to pay less for an investment property if they’re financing some portion of the transaction,” he explained. “So I would say that investment real estate has deflated some, although the quality inventory seems to be holding value better than the lesser-quality inventory.”


Bottom Line

Looking ahead, Greeley said his company will continue to do more with less in terms of office staff, but continue to look for growth opportunities.

This could include hiring an additional broker or perhaps more, he said, adding that he is always looking for good fits. Meanwhile, the firm is looking at opportunities on the property-management side of the ledger and on the development side as well.

“I have an open mind for opportunities that may present themselves in the future,” he said. “I’m always looking at ways to grow.”

Not bad for someone who never gave much thought to working at the family business growing up — and is now the owner of the family business.