Industrial Midwest

Transwestern's Justin Lerner on being a St. Louis sports fan and what it takes to make it in the business

Justin's first time on the ice at the local park with his son, Paxton.

From the start, Justin Lerner knew he wanted to work in the business field. But it wasn't until college that real estate sparked his interest. And not long after being exposed to the industry through a few internships, Lerner landed a job working in industrial real estate.

Now a principal at Transwestern, Lerner feels grateful to be in a business that gives him freedom to make key decisions, control over his destiny, and allows him to offer solutions to his clients, who he said are his number one responsibility.

In a recent Q&A, Lerner opened up to Chicago Industrial Properties about his work and home life and shares some of his personal experiences in the industry, including which one of his professional goals became a realty.


When at work: My responsibility is to my clients, first and foremost. Whether it’s an acquisition, disposition, or representing a tenant or landlord client, my goal is to educate them so they’re able to make the most informed decision about the future of their real estate. I focus on the Central/Eastern DuPage County, I-88 and O’Hare markets, but also represent clients on a national level. Since joining Transwestern, I’ve completed over 15 million SF in transactions valued at more than $280 million. In regards to working alongside other partners and brokers in my company, I view my partners as teammates—I’m a team player and do whatever I can to assist them.

The experience that led to him to industrial: Ever since college, I have been interested in real estate and the tangible nature of the business. Two college internships at CTMT (Colliers Turley Martin Tucker) and Delmar Financial took me on a path that ultimately landed me a job in Chicago in industrial real estate (I was hired out of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University).

On the goal he turned into a reality: Definitely becoming a partner in my firm. I remember interviewing in college and saying, “My goal is to become the youngest partner in the firm by the age of 30." I had zero idea if this was achievable at that time—but I will never forget the invitation to become partner at age 28.

No other business like this business: There are a few aspects that I could classify as my “favorite thing about working in RE.”  1) Having the ability to do what I believe will make me successful and deliver the best results for clients—although I’m part of a team, my job gives me the freedom and autonomy to make the key decisions. 2) I am in control of my destiny; I remember in other jobs I was offered, there always seemed to be a five-, 10- or 20-year plan to have a certain “title.”  This seemed counter-intuitive to me – I always believed that if someone worked hard, was smart and dedicated to their career, there should be an ability to “move up the ranks” at different paces, and that’s exactly what I was able to do in commercial real estate. 3) Every day brings new challenges, and the opportunity to come up with innovative solutions tailored to the needs of each client.

What this business has taught him: Persistence and integrity. Being in the business for 10 years has given me a new perspective – there are so many relationships and deals that “come back around.”  A call or introduction you make one day may lead to a transaction or new relationship many years later. Your word and reputation are your biggest assets – treat people the right way and typically things work out well.

On why there may be hurdles along the way: Industrial real estate brokerage is a marathon, not a sprint. I relay this same message to young people who are thinking about entering the business. As a society, we’ve grown accustomed to various forms of “instant gratification.” This is especially true for the next generation of real estate professionals, many of whom are still in school . In college, they play a sport and win or lose in the span of two hours; take an exam and get the results the next day; send a text and expect a response within minutes, if not seconds. In brokerage, the gestation period (as I call it) of a deal can be years – our gratification has to be making the call, getting the meeting, providing the knowledge and advice to clients. The deal will come as long as you take the right steps and have the patience to see it through. If you’re in it solely for the paycheck, this may not be the business for you.

Family life and how he's influencing his son : I have an amazing wife and the best 2-year-old son you could ask for. My wife and I like creating new experiences for our son and family outside of work.  Hockey, however, is a huge passion—now if only I can turn my son into a Blues fan! (I realize this is a very large obstacle nowadays).

On former career aspirations before RE:  I grew up in St. Louis watching my father and grandfather work together in a then 3rd generation family business. After the business closed, my goal of working with my dad unfortunately ended. As I got older, I desired to move to a “big city” and work in “business.”

You would be surprised to know that: I love playing tennis and taught lessons to pay part of my way through college.

Can't get enough of this place: London, hands down – I studied abroad the second semester of my junior year in college and fell in love with the city. The vastness, culture and history of London is like no other city I have lived in.

Dreaming of crossing this off the bucket list: Hoist the Stanley Cup—with my St. Louis Blues winning their first Cup—a guy can dream, right?