Correction: FirstService’s Investment in GVA Williams a Good Fit for Both Firms, Say Execs

Toronto-based FirstService Corp.’s acquisition of a 65 percent interest in GVA Williams is a natural pairing and will prove to be a truly symbiotic relationship, according to executives involved in the deal.Terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of the month, were not disclosed, but GVA Williams executives will retain the balance of the company’s equity and will continue to run the firm, which will be re-branded as Williams Real Estate, a FirstService Company.One of the leading full-service commercial real estate providers in the New York City and tri-state region, Williams Real Estate will become the New York hub for FirstService’s global commercial real estate services platform, which will now operate from 147 offices in 36 countries and generate revenues of about $1 billion. Williams Real Estate, which has more than 160 professionals, advised on more than $3.4 billion in commercial real estate transactions in the last year. Douglas Frye, president & CEO of FirstService Commercial Real Estate and chairman of Colliers International, told CPN it was “a nice marriage” because both companies found what they were looking for in the deal. “We were looking for a strong New York presence so we could get a very strategic, important piece of our puzzle, which is obviously the New York market,” Frye said. “They were looking to find a true global platform.They see what’s happening in the industry.” Frye described the GVA Williams management team as very strong. He added, “They are an old-line, New York firm that is very well established and connected. There were no other firms with their track record that were in a position to merge or or work with a company like ours.” GVA Williams, which manages more than 16 million square feet of commercial property, generated approximately $70 million in revenue in the last 12 months. In addition to its New York City headquarters at 380 Madison Ave., the firm has offices in Boston; Chicago; Des Plaines, Ill.; Stamford, Conn.; and Parsippany, N.J. GVA Williams’ leadership was also optimistic about the deal. “The strategic investment FirstService has made in GVA Williams will help us turn that steady growth into exponential growth,” said Robert Freedman (pictured), GVA Williams executive chairman, in a prepared statement. “Not only does this transaction give us the financial resources to offer new lines of service and expand the services we currently offer, but it enables us to open numerous new offices in areas where a physical presence will help us establish dominance.” Asked about the current market conditions, Frye said, “We’re looking for opportunities now and looking for opportunities to work with our clients to help them take advantage of the market. FirstService is very well capitalized. You never want to see a bad market, but at the same time, it does present opportunities if you have a strong balance sheet.” Under the new ownership, eight senior Williams executives, including Freedman, will share the majority of the equity in the firm: Mark Jaccom, who becomes CEO; President Michael Cohen; and the following vice chairmen, Andrew Roos; Brian Given; Cory Gubner; Eric Witmondt and David Simson. Both companies have grown through acquisition. GVA Williams was founded as Williams Real Estate Co. in 1926. Cohen and Roos are both third-generation members of the firm. In 2000, the firm acquired Associated Realty Inc. in Parsippany. Three years later, the company expanded its reach into New York City’s northern suburbs with the acquisition of Chase Commercial Real Estate in Stamford. Last year, GVA Thompson Doyle Hennessey & Stevens in Boston merged into GVA Williams. For FirstService, the investment in GVA Williams continues its strategy of growth through acquisition and its philosophy of giving partners ownership interest and local control. “Our proven partnership model continues to be our key competitive advantage in building our global real estate services platform in concert with high quality management teams like those of Williams Real Estate,” Jay Hennick, FirstService founder & CEO, said in a release. Allowing the Williams management team to remain in control was an important part of the deal, a Williams spokesman told CPN. “They believe that is important for their clients so there is absolutely not a skip of a beat in terms of service,” he said. The Williams spokesman said the deal was “huge for both companies.” The infusion of capital from FirstService will help Williams grow the company on a global level, attract new talent and “allow them to service a client all the way from beginning to end no matter where they are.” The investment gives FirstService, “a very, very strong regional player in the tri-state marketplace.” Last year, FirstService made a similar acquisition in Boston, where it acquired an 80 percent interest in Meredith & Grew, a well-respected New England commercial real estate services firm now known as Colliers Meredith & Grew, according to a Sept. 6, 2007, CPN report. FirstService grew the commercial real estate portion of its business in late 2004, when it merged with CMN International Inc., also known as Colliers Macaulay Nicolls Inc., a member of Colliers International, following two years of talks, CPN reported on Nov. 1, 2004. At that time, CMN had 80 offices in 20 countries. A year later, Colliers Macaulay Nicolls, purchased an 82 percent stake in Los Angeles-based Colliers Seeley International Inc. A Nov. 29, 2005, CPN story noted that deal had followed a series of others the same year that had allowed CMN to add offices in Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto and parts of Asia. FirstService is now a diversified property services company with over $1.8 billion in annual revenues and more than 17,000 employees worldwide. In addition to Colliers International, its other platforms are FirstManagment Partners, the largest manager of residential communities in North America, and TFC, North America’s largest provider of property services through franchise and contractor networks.