CRE Midwest

MBRE's Ann Tomlinson: Integrity of relationships is what matters most

Ann Tomlinson

Ann Tomlinson, SVP of Leasing Services at MB Real Estate has 30 years of experience in commercial real estate representing 11 million square feet of institutionally owned office product in Chicago where she has closed transactions valued in excess of $1 billion.

Ann Tomlinson, SVP of Leasing Services at MB Real Estate has 30 years of experience in commercial real estate representing 11 million square feet of institutionally owned office product in Chicago where she has closed transactions valued in excess of $1 billion. 30 years prior to her phenomenal success in the industry, Tomlinson got her start in CRE during the first half of the 1980’s working in the planning studio at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (“SOM”).

“In addition to generating sky-high FAR’s for the firm’s commercial development clients by maximizing the bonuses derived from siting, open space, setbacks and amenities,” Tomlinson said. “I was involved in the firm’s work on major international urban development plans and local initiatives, such as a 1984 bid to host another Chicago World’s Fair and a 1983 Central Area Plan for Chicago."

She added, “But I would have to say that while those experiences established an approach to considering commercial real estate, it was the work I was involved with in creating the Design Guidelines for the development of the 73-acre Canary Wharf Project in London’s docklands that provided the bridge to commercial real estate.”

After 30 years in commercial real estate, Tomlinson said it is the life of a city and the impact the industry has in shaping the urban environment and ensuring its vitality that has driven her passion to remain in CRE.

“The dynamic nature of the business and the economic cycles result in continuous opportunities that can be capitalized on,” she said. “So there is always a role to be fulfilled. My husband and I have always lived in the city, and we have reared our two sons in Chicago and regularly traveled with them to world capitals as a way to broaden their horizons, and instill in them the valuable lessons learned from the successes and failures of those cities.”

Without doubt, Tomlinson noted, the strategic asset management that MB Real Estate offers clients as their exclusive representative differentiates them from the rest.

“The manageable size of our company complements the experience, depth of services and focus we devote to our clients,” she said. “In order to maximize the value of an asset, each member of our dedicated multidisciplinary team works in lock step with one another in holistically serving an owner. We maintain a relentless focus on the ownership’s objectives, are ever mindful of available capital resources and anticipate future hurdles and options, while simultaneously managing the technical and operational aspects of the building.”

“We have the ability and experience to masterfully anticipate the requirements of existing and prospective tenants, their sensitivities and needs. This enables us to provide our clients a personal service level that accommodates their specific real estate requirements. The integrity of those client relationships is of the utmost concern.”

According to Tomlinson, recently several of MB Real Estate’s leasing team members were nominated for a NAIOP award for completing a 207,000 square foot lease to the Board of Education of the City of Chicago “BECC” within the former Sears department store space at 1 N. Dearborn.

“The transaction was especially noteworthy in that our team created a viable opportunity by successfully negotiating Sears’ early termination, while simultaneously arranging a long-term lease with the BECC to back-fill the majority of the vacated space at enhanced rates. Additionally, 33,000 square feet of valuable retail space was created which has dramatically improved the building’s value. We have also secured several new and renewed management assignments this year, a testament to the strength of our professional and strategic management team.”

In Tomlinson’s successful career, she noted that there have been many mentors that she has learned from, and continue to learn from.

“A few noteworthy mentors would include Phyllis Lehmann,” she said. “A brilliant college professor, who courageously recovered from a debilitating stroke and relearned to speak inspiring so many students. Not only did she demonstrate the power of stick-to-itiveness, but she eloquently shared with us the profound impact of international trade in the development of ancient world cultures, art and architecture - a lesson that resonates today in real estate.”

She continued, “As a speech writer for the renowned architect Bruce Graham - architect of such Chicago icons as Inland Steel, the John Hancock Building and Willis Tower - I had a very personal window into his brilliant ability to take his giant ego out of the equation and to creatively address his clients’ needs. Ultimately his design creativity resulted in a standout product that enhanced the profitability of the real estate investment.”

“At Hines”, Tomlinson added, “While I benefited from my work with a cadre of professionals who instilled in me a financial rigor and qualitative viewpoint that remains with me today, I would have to say my greatest mentor was Pat Griffin who today is the Vice President of engineering. Pat’s leadership and his involved management style and humor continue to inspire me today in my interactions with clients, teammates, consultants, tenants and their representatives.”

Integrity of relationships. That’s the biggest lesson Tomlinson’s learned working in commercial real estate thus far.

“Our work relies on hard work no doubt, but especially on relationships,” she said. “Those relationships are not formed overnight, but instead develop over a career of consistent interaction and reliable performance. Remaining aware of the importance of those relationships is critical not only on a personal level but a professional level and is a constant focus.”

With Tomlinson there is never enough time to do all that interests her, so when she isn’t working, try to keep up with this busy woman if you can!

“In addition to engaging regularly with friends and family, exercising and contributing to my community, I am passionately interested in all aspects of Chicago’s cultural life. I have been involved with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since my earliest days in Chicago, serving initially on the now defunct Junior Governing Board where I worked with people who have become lifelong friends.”

She added, “The city’s museums, cultural institutions and theaters including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Oriental Institute, Hubbard Street Dance, Columbia Dance Center, Court Theater, Theater Wit, Timeline Theater, Red Orchid Theater, and Steppenwolf offer endless opportunities that often just end up being extensions of my work-a-day-world. For the time away from the office, that is spent traveling, usually to urban centers throughout the world, but occasionally to a lovely beach as recently as last month when my husband and I were in Sicily, or to the mountains for some skiing and yoga.”

One thing she’d like to do, that she hasn’t already?

“The first thing would be to complete and publish a project I am currently working on—the catalog of a significant private art collection of Flemish paintings,” she said. “While I enjoy cooking and the creativity of assembling a nourishing and attractive meal, I would like eventually to master a hard-boiled egg. And further down the road, I would love to take the 500-mile journey along the Camino de Santiago, as well as to learn Japanese well enough to read Haruki Murakmi’s 1Q84 in its original language. It’s a long list that continues to grow as I chip away at it.”

Film is of great interest to Tomlinson. Although she’s never attended Sundance, Toronto or Telluride film festivals, she notes that Chicago has some great venues for film as well.

“The Siskel on State Street, the Music Box, and Century City Landmark Cinema all offer great film experiences,” she said. “I’d be hard pressed to select any one favorite. Lately I have been interested in a number of documentaries. A doc I recently saw that sticks in my mind was “Finding Vivian Maier”. It's about a somewhat mysterious nanny whose street photography was accidentally discovered by a young man interested in historic preservation. Her work is truly remarkable and so much of it was shot right here in downtown Chicago.”

As for music, Tomlinson says her tastes are quite eclectic. “I continue to seek out new performers. Chicago rhythm and blues singer Mavis Staples is a favorite, as well as Brooklyn hip hop artist Talib Kweli. My husband and I are long-time CSO subscribers. I love all sorts of music!”