Meet Jonathan Keyser, the founder and thought leader behind one of the largest independent commercial real estate tenant brokerage firms in the country, Keyser. Named “The Commercial Real Estate Disruptor” by USA Today, Jonathan also is a #1 Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author with his book: “You don’t have to be Ruthless to Win”.
Jonathan’s firm exclusively represents Tenants and Corporate users of space, eliminating the inherent conflicts of interest that exist in traditional broker/tenant relations. Including his international partners, his organization has over 570 people worldwide. As a globally recognized advocate for Corporate Tenants of office, industrial, healthcare and retail space, Jonathan is extremely passionate about helping Tenant’s avoid the pitfalls of poorly negotiated leases, and
Jonathan is a regular guest on broadcast news shows discussing commercial real estate topics, and he is a top-rated speaker on how to create a culture of selfless service within business today. Known for a quick laugh, a huge smile, a ton of energy and a big hug for everyone, Jonathan loves people and people love him back. It is really special to see.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, Jonathan is a personal turn-around story. Raised by Christian missionaries parents in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Jonathan was raised to love and serve others by his caring parents. However, when he returned to the states, he came to the realization that his parents were poor, and decided he wanted to do something about it. He poured himself into his education and ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude from UCLA. He stumbled into commercial real estate through a friend’s recommendation and learned quickly the ruthless nature of the industry. He became ruthless. And he had success. But he was miserable. He was miserable because he was misaligned with how his parents had raised him and his core values. But he felt trapped because he didn’t know another way. And then 25 years ago a speaker at a conference planted the seed within Jonathan of discarding his ruthless behavior and focusing on selflessly helping other…and the rest is history.
In discussing his former self, Jonathan holds no punches, describing himself as a Ruthless Jerk” who “would do anything to get ahead”. Fortunately, Jonathan underwent a radical change of heart, reinvented himself through the principle of selfless service, and has since created a world-class commercial real estate brokerage firm built upon a simple mission, and that is: “To change the business world through selfless service”.
I sat down with Jonathan recently to have a fireside chat, and I have shared some of the highlights below.
Below are the highlights of the interview.
Q) Please tell me your story. Or how did you get your start?
Jonathan: As Keyser just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, it seems it’s the perfect time to be asked about our beginning.
While it’s hard to unpack 10 years of successes, failures, and course corrections into an interview, I can tell you that in 2013, we founded Keyser with the belief that selflessly serving our community was the best way to create lasting business relationships. Now, eight figures later, I can prove that the strategy worked.
Keyser was built off of fifteen core operating principles that keep us aligned daily to the mission that we set out to accomplish— to change the business world through selfless service. These fifteen principles are the standard that we use to make cultural decisions like who to bring on, who to let go, and how to interact with our clients. Every single person on the Keyser team was brought on for two reasons: they are exceptional commercial real estate advocates, they are hard workers, and they fully believe in the Keyser mission.
Q) What motivated you to establish Keyser?
Jonathan: As I talk about in my book, I started Keyser because I was tired of being ruthless and I really wanted to find a better way. Before Keyser, I felt I was doing things to make the most commission, not to create lasting relationships. That type of behavior is common in the commercial real estate industry, and unfortunately, it is why the profession has a poor reputation. That’s why we started Keyser— to give tenants a ferocious advocate on the commercial real estate front that didn’t exist in the industry to date.
Q) How are you differentiating Keyser from its competitors?
Jonathan: Keyser’s main differentiators are that we only represent tenants, never landlords or developers, and we all operate under the principle of selfless service. It is embedded in our culture. It is who we are. We are the best and we honor ourselves, our partners and our clients by being our best.
Q) What are the primary challenges of the industry?
Jonathan: It is a tough industry dealing with constant change. Knowing how to help your clients navigate the uncertainty is paramount. It is also filled with conflict of interest and back door dealings. There is a lot of money to be made, so there are many that are in it who care solely about how much they can profit, rather than how much they can serve. We are changing that.
Q) What are your thoughts about the post-pandemic commercial real estate market? What are the key trends driving the sector?
Jonathan: In 2023, the commercial real estate industry is feeling the full effects of the pandemic— but not in the way you would expect when considering other recessionary periods. Hybrid work is causing rising vacancies. Traditionally, when vacancy rates rise, rental rates fall, but not this time. Why? Tenant improvement costs are almost double today than they were in 2020. When landlords have to cover those costs, they also have to find a way to recover those costs.
If commercial real estate trends are something you’re interested in learning more about, I recommend you check out Keyser’s Tenant Resource Center: https://keyser.com/tenant-resource-center/
We have a new 90-minute webinar chock-full of best practices and advice about the current commercial real estate trends.
Q) What are your priorities for 2023?
Jonathan: 2023 is a milestone for us here at Keyser; not only are we celebrating a decade of exceptional tenant-only representation, but we’re also undergoing a brand upgrade. We have gone back to our roots by asking ourselves the following question: if we were a start-up again today, would this __________ (process, person, tool, or technology) help get us to the next level? If the answer is no, we take swift action to course correct.
Q) As a source of inspiration for many, what would your advice be for entrepreneurs who are planning to enter the business world?
Jonathan: To new entrepreneurs, when choosing your company’s values, make sure they don’t just become words on a wall. A huge reason why we attract and retain top clients and talent is because we don’t just have principles, we have a thriving culture built upon solid core principles, and it’s something that flows through every member of the team. Get that right, everything else is easy. Get that wrong…and I have done it…and everything is hard.