Mission: Success—Ed Sachse
- Jan 15, 2018
For Kennedy Wilson’s Ed Sachse, It’s All in the Ask
Though Ed Sachse never planned to be an accountant, the quantitative nature of the field drew him in. Since graduating with honors from Michigan State University in 1983, he’s parlayed his long-honed analytical skills into a 30-year career in commercial real estate. Currently president of Kennedy Wilson’s property services group, Sachse seems to have moved mountains over the past three decades, pivoting from balancing books in Detroit to leasing retail sites in Los Angeles, before taking an improbable leap to start his own commercial real estate firm at the height of the early 1990s recession. Still, Sachse remains grounded, humbled by his most vital victory yet: beating cancer.
In Sachse’s view, these experiences have aptly equipped him to navigate a rapidly changing industry. After shepherding his company—Sachse Real Estate Co.—through the global financial crisis, he pored over scores of contacts looking for someone to acquire the firm. “I learned early that if you ask for the business, you just might get it,” he observed.
His inkling was spot-on: In 2010, Kennedy Wilson bought Sachse’s company and named him an executive managing director of its property services division, overseeing property management platforms and brokerage teams in Northern California, Southern California, Seattle and Chicago and executing $383 million in lease and sale transactions to date. Appointed president of the division in September 2017, Sachse now manages 20 million square feet of retail, industrial, office and multifamily assets worth more than $3.7 billion, but he has recently sharpened his focus on L.A.’s Westside submarket, which has seen a surge in mixed-use development.
“He’s very strategic when bringing parties together for a deal,” noted Vic Montalbo, former principal of retail real estate services firm Epsteen & Associates, who first encountered Sachse in 1990 at a meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers and began collaborating with him soon after. “He pays a lot of attention to detail and respects everyone’s input. Most important, he knows his audience, which I believe is the reason for his success.”
By the bootstraps
Sachse has been enterprising since his childhood. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, his earliest gig was shoveling snow from his driveway at age 10. As a teenager, he became a self-taught guitar instructor, offering lessons to his neighbors. By the time he finished high school, he and his friend Larry were running a lucrative window-washing route and—at as much as $90 monthly per account—outearning their peers. “(Larry and I) would go door to door looking for business, washing windows at strip malls on the weekends,” he recounted. “We realized that we could get even more accounts—by being reliable, honest and kind—through word of mouth.”
After graduating college, Sachse joined the Detroit office of former “Big Six” accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP as a public accountant in September 1983. Soon after, tragedy struck: His father fell gravely ill, moving Sachse to take a sabbatical so he could spend time with his family at his father’s bedside at a University of Michigan hospital. Two weeks after Sachse’s arrival, his father passed away.
“(My father) was sick, but he was only 45 and I was 22, so it was a big shock,” Sachse admitted. He returned to Detroit and Arthur Andersen, and in 1984 earned his CPA license. He enjoyed working with a diverse clientele—including Ralph Wilson Industries, whose late proprietor counted among his assets the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and a thoroughbred horse-breeding business. But by his third year at the firm, he was fatigued.
He relocated to Santa Monica, Calif., after visiting his aunt in L.A. in 1986 and meeting a young woman named Julie, who would later become his wife and the mother of their two children. There, upon connecting with a fellow Michigander working in acquisitions at Douglas Emmett Inc., Sachse joined the company as a property accountant. Soon after, his pedigree caught the eye of company co-founder Dan Emmett, who offered him the opportunity to replace the outgoing CFO of the firm’s mortgage banking arm.
“I said, ‘Sure. What’s mortgage banking?’ I had no idea what it meant,” Sachse admitted, “but I was in my late 20s and thought it would be very cool.” In his new role, Sachse serviced portfolios on behalf of California Federal Bank (now Citigroup), but he yearned for something different. Catching wind of the profits that the firm’s analysts were reaping, he shifted gears to commercial brokerage, in 1989 landing a position supporting Jim Donnerstag, a retail leasing and sales agent in Coldwell Banker’s Beverly Hills office.
In his new role, Sachse soon proved that he was not only an adept broker but also a skillful property manager. “Many of my clients had operational problems with their properties,” he explained. One of them, Oakridge Development (now Steven Scott Management), was struggling to collect rent at its two-story, 26,000-square-foot retail property, Marina Center, located at 4240 Lincoln Blvd. in Marina Del Rey. Sachse asked if he could try his hand at collecting the past-due rent and leasing the vacant spaces. Twenty-seven years later, the company still retains his Kennedy Wilson division to oversee leasing and management of its Southern California retail portfolio.
With his CPA experience and retail background, Sachse next sought to carve his own niche. In 1993, he left Coldwell Banker to start Sachse Real Estate Co., a property management and brokerage firm focusing primarily on retail and office assets.
Beginning with just three clients, Sachse employed the same tactic he’d used as a teenager: “I knocked on a lot of doors and remained diligent, consistent and competitive.”
Over the next several years, he also brought in young talent, developed a recognizable brand in Los Angeles and grew the firm’s workload to as many as 40 projects at one time. “I was fortunate enough to have had clients for decades, so their mission became our mission,” Sachse said. “They trusted me, and I was invested in their success.” He’s counted among his clients major brands like Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Staples and Petco, as well as fashion brands such as G-STAR and Miu Miu.
Starting a successful company during a downturn gave Sachse the courage to tackle even more challenging obstacles. However, nothing could have prepared him for the sobering phone call he received one Sunday morning in 2001, informing him that what he’d thought was lower back pain were in fact tumors on his spine, liver and spleen. Reflecting on the diagnosis he received at age 41—stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma—he said, “It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I’m a lucky man to be clear of cancer today and back in business.”
His longtime friend, Appel & Henick LLP Founder & Managing Partner Brian Appel, marveled at Sachse’s unwavering optimism throughout his eight years in treatment: “He’s the single-most-positive person I know. Somehow, he kept in context what he could and couldn’t accomplish,” all while tending to his family, friends and firm.
During this time, Sachse managed to keep his company functioning—until the Great Recession halted operations in 2009. Again, he reached into his contacts to find a new business opportunity, and reconnected with Jim Rosten, a colleague from Coldwell Banker who had become president of Kennedy Wilson’s property services group. Sachse recalls his insistence at their meeting: “I told Jim, ‘We’re not leaving the table until we find a way to do business together.” Rosten’s response was to make Sachse’s company part of Kennedy Wilson, appointing him executive managing director of the property services group.
These days, Sachse is preparing his 165-person division for the next real estate cycle. Along with retooling services and consolidating accounting departments, he plans to add fresh talent so that his team can stay ahead of the nationwide trend toward urban living.
“We see (retail) tenants taking smaller spaces, as well as reducing inventory to be smarter at moving the right products more quickly,” Sachse noted. “Over the coming years, we’ll continue to see brick-and-mortar retail tenants come up with spinoff concepts, like CityTarget and 365 by Whole Foods Market, to serve urban neighborhoods. I think the companies that elevate their in-store experience will be the ones to survive in the future.”
Shaping the Skyline
Since taking leadership of Kennedy Wilson’s property management and brokerage teams, Sachse has cinched several notable lease and sale transactions in Los Angeles. In 2012, the firm was charged with selling 5601 Santa Monica Blvd., a five-acre, mixed-use redevelopment that was stalled by the recession. After three years of tackling entitlement, merchandising and pricing issues, Sachse’s division successfully sold the asset to urban developer CIM Group, which retains Kennedy Wilson as its retail leasing partner.
For the past several years, Sachse has also been following the impact of downtown L.A.’s expanding retail sector: “You can already see how the new supply is creating neighborhoods and boutique districts. Currently, there’s a boom in mixed-use development, and I expect that to continue at least through 2020.” To respond to steadily rising demand, developers have initiated a wave of new mixed-use projects, making L.A. the U.S. city with the most cranes after Seattle: 36 as of July 2017, according to Rider Levett Bucknall’s construction activity index. The South Park Business Improvement District includes in the downtown L.A. pipeline more than 22,000 residential units, 5,000 hotel rooms, 2 million square feet of office space and 2.8 million square feet of retail.
Sachse has also identified a growing appetite for transit-oriented urban hubs, such as Oceanwide Plaza, where Kennedy Wilson oversees 153,000 square feet of open-air retail space. When it opens later this year, the $1 billion, three-tower development will add nearly 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use space—including Park Hyatt’s first L.A. location—to 1101 S. Flower St., offering retailers prime frontage in a highly trafficked entertainment corridor that is home to LA Live and Staples Center.
“Somehow, Ed always finds middle ground between a landlord and tenant,” Appel remarked of his colleague’s ability to orchestrate complex deals. “I can tell he does his homework in researching both sides of the deal, based on his confidence in negotiating transactions.”
West of downtown, in Culver City, Kennedy Wilson was tapped to lease the 40,000-square-foot retail portion of The Culver Steps, a four-story, 115,000-square-foot mixed-use development that broke ground in November 2017. Abutting iconic production location The Culver Studios and the storied Culver Hotel, The Culver Steps is slated to open in 2019, offering 75,000 square feet of creative office space, along with a 35,000-square-foot public plaza anchored by a landscaped staircase with seating areas.
Originally appearing in the CPE-MHN Guide to 2018.