Front and Center with James Huang
By Daniel Coats, California Business Journal – James Huang, president of Irvine-based Sperry Commercial Global Affiliates, is among the first Asian American executives in the commercial and multifamily real estate sector, which is at the forefront of a transformation in the Southern California and broader Pacific Rim economies. Huang looks at the mission, culture and vision of Sperry Commercial and how business leaders can effectively engage with today’s Asian markets.
Times are good in the Southern California commercial and multifamily real estate sector. As the region’s metropolises emphasize infill development and urban revitalization efforts, the field is expanding further with an unprecedented connection with the East Asian business community. It is a new frontier that is front and center for Orange County commercial real estate firm Sperry Commercial Global Affiliates.
“A big benefit for the Southland market is that more money is coming in from Asia, especially China, even though there is a big slowdown in money going out,” says James Huang, the company’s president. “Chinese laws have changed, requiring their citizens to report where they are placing their cash and buying real estate, but China has no such agreement with the U.S. So America is a good path from China, because they don’t have to report the assets that they buy to their country.”
Thanks to Huang, Sperry Commercial has emerged as a go-to source for inbound and advisory services for international clients from throughout the Pacific Rim who are seeking to invest in U.S. real estate, especially in Southern California.
“The international companies that invest heavily in the U.S., especially those from East Asia such as China, Korea or Japan, and now Southeast Asia and India, are pumping in a lot of money into the U.S.,” he says. “Through our large network and the experience of our partners, we can get them advice as good as they could get from any large firm and give them the value add, the valuation and the property management proposal. We believe that with what we have right now we can provide everything they need for transitioning into the U.S.”
The Sperry Commercial footprint currently includes presences in China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and the United Kingdom, with outreach in Canada and Mexico forthcoming. At present, the company is developing franchise agreements with international companies and the best financial structure for international offices.
Creating a Versatile Model Through the Shared Economy
The Sperry Commercial model is focused on three points: technology, entrepreneurship and global operations. The synergy of these, particularly the entrepreneurial mindset of most Sperry Commercial agents, translates into distinctives that provide a unique value-add when clients and partners work with the company’s team.
“Most of our agents are entrepreneurs, because not only do they have our commercial operations, but many have their own businesses, such as valuation, property management or other business services that are add-ons to their operations, particularly in the larger offices,” Huang says.
Franchisees in the Sperry model fall into three categories: single practitioners; small groups, such as families business or complimentary industries, who plug in to the Sperry model as a team; and traditional brokerage models.
With the recognition of the decline of the older model of a large company with many corporate offices, Sperry Commercial provides a network based on the shared economy.
“We are offering a platform to plug into so that you get all the bells and whistles plus the large network of brokers for cross-referrals to support each other. We are creating this without a lot of the legacy formats of the old models that are not as efficient with technology,” says Huang. “We believe in the shared economy, as the model of commercial real estate is changing drastically. The new way of doing business is more collaboration, referral sharing and transparency. We are building the new Sperry model on the pro-sharing model and using technology to bring us together so that our clients get the best service and whoever can best handle our clients for the best price is what we are looking for.”
New entrants to the Sperry team are welcomed into a collaborative, fast-paced and friendly culture focused on discipline, tenacity, attitude and accountability. Huang describes the ideal team members: “On the affiliates end, we are looking for people who are entrepreneurial minded, who have high integrity, are willing to collaborate and work as a team, and share knowledge for the betterment of the company. We want to help enhance anyone who joins our firm,” he says. “For those seeking to work for our corporate side, we are looking for people who want to grow and help a thriving company that we hope will be a top 10 commercial real estate firm.”
Developing a strong network of affiliates, committed to the company’s mission and culture, is integral to Huang’s vision of establishing Sperry Commercial as a one-stop shop for real estate advising and services, providing the best affordability and customer service. “With enough dots on the map of our affiliates, there will be a lot more referrals being sent around,” he says. “We are sharing and having the company as one brain cooperating and sharing intel and best practices all the time. We are not trying to bottleneck, as some other companies are, trying to control the flow of information. We are endeavoring to keep an open platform of communication. Our affiliates are stepping up to set up meetings and networking without corporate telling them to do this, which I believe is a sign that we are creating a strong culture.”
Huang also seeks to develop proactive and mutually beneficial relationships with enterprises outside of the Sperry network, as the company is seeking to share referrals and expand its diverse global footprint.
“If you have offices, we could probably put a Sperry office there or you could put some offices in our locations, so we can build our networking function, working together to share resources and share referrals,” he says. “My goal is creating other income and lowering expenses, thus increasing revenue for each affiliate.”
Tapping the Power of Asian Markets
For Huang, a commitment to empowering the Asian-American community has been at the heart of his involvement in professional organizations and volunteerism. The commercial real estate executive has been elected national president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), having previously served as the organization’s national commercial real estate chair and vice president and board member for the Los Angeles chapter.
Huang encourages business leaders, in all sectors of the economy, to understand the potential of domestic Asian communities and the East Asian markets and to be informed to build partnerships with this demographic, which is growing both numerically and in economic clout.
“Especially on the West Coast where there is such a large Asian presence, there needs to be more collaboration and understanding of this culture,” he says. “I know, especially in California, that this is happening, but we should dig deeper to expose the opportunities. In real estate, many of the big firms are losing out to the residential firms with a strong relationship to these communities. If we reach out and put more effort into it, through organizations such as AREAA, we can build relationships that will develop into successful business opportunities over many years. Many of these cultures are relationship-built.”
The Sperry Real Estate Story
While Sperry Commercial was founded in 2016, the company’s roots go back to 1987. After co-founding additional real estate investment and management companies, Sperry tapped Huang, then president of BRC Advisors Inc., to launch a globally-focused and technologically-adept franchise-based commercial real estate platform that is today Sperry Commercial Global Affilaites.
Huang looks up to Sperry as one of his chief professional inspirations. “I respect Rand Sperry a great deal because he went through many challenges and he could have retired. When he reached the top, he kept on giving back,” says Huang. “It just amazes me that someone who doesn’t need the money is doing it again truly because he has time and wants to help and make more people wealthy and give back to the community.”
Developing relationships with mentors has been essential for Huang and Sperry Commercial and is emblematic of the company’s collaborative focus. “It is always better to have a mentor than a consultant,” says Huang. “Because you have to pay a consultant, but you can’t pay a mentor. A mentor wants to give their time and advice to you when you can’t buy it.”
Creating opportunities for women and minorities through commercial real estate is one of Sperry’s goals and one of the focuses for Huang, who has served as an advisory or board member for the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) and the Real Estate Associate Program (REAP) from International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) organization at a local and national level.
“I am proud that Rand chose me, as a member of a minority, because I want to be one of the first minorities to run a top 10 commercial real estate company,” says Huang. “I want to empower minoities and women to show them the path of commercial real estate as an option in business and grow a pipeline of other individuals to fill in these spaces, whether they are for-profit, nonprofit or executive roles.