T. Dallas Smith & Company is a Black owned commercial real estate services firm that specializes in Tenant and Buyer representation services for corporate users of office, industrial, and land.
The firm is Atlanta based, with offices in Dallas, TX, Los Angeles, CA and Trenton, NJ and projects across the country.
The members of the firm, in their combined CRE experience, have managed over $15 billion in transactions.
Part of that team is Cedric Michael, Principal and Vice President of T. Dallas Smith & Company. We caught up with Cedric to learn more about him and about the firm.
How did you get involved in real estate and why?
I was in high school having an obligatory meeting with my guidance counselor who had just asked me what I wanted to do with my life when his cellphone rang.
In the few minutes it took him to respond to the call, he closed a residential real estate deal worth more than some people bring home in a week. And real estate was his weekend gig.
My mind immediately started racing. If he could operate like that from a phone it meant flexibility. If he could close deals in a day it meant income. However, I knew I didn’t want to work weekends, so residential real estate was out for me.
But I thought, even at that age, I could be successful with commercial real estate Monday-Friday and in a way that did not plant me at a desk 40+ hours a week. I was sold and started mapping my plan to accomplish that goal immediately!
How were you affected by the 2008 financial crash and how did you overcome it?
Prior to that time, my life was G-O-O-D! I had just graduated from college with a Finance and Real Estate degree. While in college, I was working at Bank of America and was named the #1 Small Business Banker in the country. Still in college, I was promoted to Assistant Client Manager. I had my career path laid out and owned a little real estate myself.
The crash was truly a crash for me because the bottom fell out! Two weeks after graduation, I got laid off. Quickly, all of my investments went away. I was evicted from my apartment. I had to take a step back to an old job and move back into my dad’s basement.
It was like a Job experience for me because I lost all of my material possessions but I didn’t lose my faith. At one of my darkest points, a guy who I had only known in circles, Leonte Benton, invited me to hang out.
It was literally the meeting that changed my life. After I shared my story with him, he insisted on introducing me to this new firm he was working with called T. Dallas Smith & Company. I met Dallas and joined the firm a year later after getting my life in order.
Today, Leonte Benton and I are principals and owners of the commercial real estate firm under the leadership of founding principal, T. Dallas Smith.
How is the firm exposing more Black men and women to commercial real estate as a possible career path?
We cover it from almost every angle. We are the largest African American commercial real estate firm in the country focused solely on tenant and buyer representation so it’s in our DNA.
- In the community, we work with an organization called Next Generation Men and Women teaching them about commercial real estate; showing them how it applies to their lives and being the example of success they need to see.
- Because we can’t hire every minority in search of a career in commercial real estate, we partner with high profile organizations like the Atlanta Commercial Board on initiatives that keep diversity and inclusion on the table and at the table. This way, when young black men and women seek positions outside of T. Dallas Smith & Company, we ensure as many companies and firms as possible know their value and see them as positive additions to their workforce.
- We speak at inner-city schools and universities as often as we are invited.
- We fill our social media platforms with pictures, stories, tips and facts about the commercial real estate industry and our stake in it.
- And finally, we live the life we talk about when we don’t know who’s looking. The best exposure to any life is a living example of that life.
What advice do you have for an aspiring commercial real estate professional?
I would advise them to make sure they understand finance and to master Microsoft Office (specifically Excel). Establish relationships within the commercial real estate industry.
Find a mentor. Most importantly, live like a lion! The lion is our moniker because it’s the leader in the jungle. It knows if it doesn’t hunt, it doesn’t eat.
It’s nimble and quick. It patiently studies the terrain and makes its move at the right time and with the right pride (rarely does it travel alone). It’s bold and brave. Live life courageously, listen to your instincts and go for what you want!
What are some 2019 commercial market trends that you expect to continue through 2020?
Rising rental rates. Over the last 12 months, we have seen rates in Atlanta increase on average 12 percent. This trend is not isolated only to Atlanta, but across all major markets in the US. Companies are making decisions on how they use space differently.
While the bottom line remains significantly at the top, things like atmosphere, culture and space collaboration are also driving how businesses select spaces in preparation for a majority Millennial workforce.
Where do you see the firm 5 years from now?
The firm started from humble beginnings and has been a growing firm since. We have negotiated projects across the country valued at more than $15 billion. I think we will only be limited by our ability to believe in the next five years.
What I would like to see by the year 2024 is our expansion into international real estate, a greater representation of women of color and T. Dallas Smith & Company in the top 10 Commercial Real Estate Companies doing business globally.