Lessons From a Father-Son Duo Serving Houston’s CRE Industry

Kevin Erck and his son John work for different companies, but they have something in common: a mission to advise developers and investors on the Houston industrial market. Here’s their story.

(From left to right) Kevin Erck, John Erck. Image courtesy of Lee & Associates
(Left to right) Kevin Erck, John Erck. Image courtesy of Lee & Associates

Growing up with a parent building a career in commercial real estate, John Erck knew from an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Erck joined Lee & Associates in 2016 as an associate, and now serves as the company’s director for the Houston area. He specializes in assisting owners and users of land and industrial properties with leases, acquisitions, dispositions, build-to-suits and design build projects

His father Kevin—now a vice president with JLL Houston’s industrial services group—has a background of roughly 30 years in the real estate industry and has had a huge influence on his son’s career. In the interview below, Kevin shares details about their relationship and how he feels about his son pursuing a similar career. John reveals the key lessons he’s learned from his father, and how his advice has helped him mature.

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How did you get started in the commercial real estate industry? 

John Erck: I have always had an interest in commercial real estate, having grown up with family members in various real estate fields such as brokerage, development, etc. The entrepreneurial and competitive nature of the business was appealing, as well as the ability to create and grow long-term wealth.

How did your father inspire you to pursue a career in CRE?

John Erck: Growing up I witnessed him displaying the grit it takes to be successful in the business. I learned that with discipline and continued focus you can capitalize on the multitude of opportunities that this profession provides. This industry has also provided him the freedom to be present outside of work at various moments in life, whether that was coaching, school events, family trips, hunting or fishing, etc. That is something I wanted to carry on with my family.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome at Lee & Associates in the past four years?

John Erck: I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome, like many people who are just starting out in the commercial real estate brokerage business, was the learning curve and the time it takes to become a market expert in your field. When you are calling people and procuring new business, the prospects and clients you speak to are relying on your market knowledge as the professional, and that wisdom takes time and experience to acquire.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?

John Erck: Surround yourself with veterans in the business and be a sponge—learn as much as you can from those seasoned professionals, then focus and grind it out. Be coachable and seek mentorship from people who you admire and want to emulate—you will grow and progress significantly.

Are persons entering the industry more likely to find success working individually or with a team?

John Erck: Some people find success individually, but I think it is crucial in this business to find a team to work with. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to team up with two young principals at our firm early on, and their leadership and guidance have been instrumental to my development in the business. People who go at it alone when they first get into this industry can get discouraged and burnt out unless they have a team there to support and encourage them along the way.

What strengths do you bring to the team as a director?

John Erck: A few key strengths I bring to the team are my grit and loyalty. This is a competitive business, and you need to have the grit to continue to show up and get after it, even when there are days when you just aren’t feeling it. I have a family, teammates and clients who are counting on me to give it my all every day.

What makes a great real estate professional in 2020, during these unprecedented times?

John Erck: This year has been a year full of uncertainty for many people. COVID-19, falling oil prices, financial struggles and social unrest have caused a lot of anxiety. In the real estate world, folks are looking for people who can be strong, consistent and available. Many clients and people we talk to don’t necessarily need to make a move right away, but need someone who will listen and talk through their current situation with them. The events going on in the world have caused many of them to change their real estate strategy, and our team is doing what it can to help put each one in the best position going forward, past all this uncertainty.

How and when did you start your career in real estate?

Kevin Erck: My career began in the early 1990’s straight out of graduate school, spending a couple of years as a commercial real estate appraiser for a small specialty firm before transitioning into the CRE brokerage world at Cushman & Wakefield. Initially, I focused on industrial real estate as part of a senior-led team for a few years, before moving to corporate real estate as an account executive. After several years in the corporate arena, I partnered with a senior broker and began my industrial career, later moving to the Staubach Co., and, ultimately, JLL.

What challenges have you encountered throughout your career?

Kevin Erck: For me personally, transitioning from a salary-base structure early in my career to that of a full-commission independent contractor involved growing pains and a learning curve to adapt. I’ve always felt that brokerage is not just an occupation or career, but a lifestyle, especially when it comes to life-work balance and raising a family. Many benefits come with it, but a whole host of challenges, too. 

Brokerage allows that freedom to be there for your family, to coach and be involved and be present for many of life’s events, but it also requires a dedicated discipline to work your business model, and stay focused and put in the time, not a 9-to-5 world. At the end of the day you want to be there for your family and your community outside of the office, but you still have a responsibility to take care of your clients and the business at hand. Balance and discipline are the keys, and it can be tricky sometimes.

How do you feel about your son following in your footsteps?

Kevin Erck: I am excited for John because I now understand and can appreciate the life and opportunity that this profession has provided for me and my family. I love the entrepreneurial spirit that comes with it. It’s like owning your own business. You get out of it what you put into it, and I believe he has the discipline, drive and creativity to make it anything he desires.

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What advice have you given him? 

Kevin Erck: Something I’ve tried to instill in John is to surround himself with leaders, those with the characteristics and habits that he admires. Regardless of how young or old you are, you can never have too many mentors. Those whom you surround yourself with will be the ones who shape you into the person you want to be, regardless of their profession. Also, being part of a team creates a sense of purpose, and John has been fortunate enough to be part of a great team of leaders who gave him a chance and mentored him, and are now teaching him the business. Stay humble and grateful to those who have helped you and influenced you along the way.

What are your predictions for Houston’s CRE market for the remainder of 2020? 

Kevin Erck: Well, obviously these are challenging times and I’ve seen many cycles in my career, but a pandemic like what we are facing now is definitely a new one for me. Coming at it from an industrial perspective, I think the greatest immediate change is on the supply chain side of our business. We are seeing a surge in e-commerce sales, with the demand for last-mile distribution on the rise.

With fewer restaurants and retail operators open, more people are eating at home and shopping online, which is driving retailers and food/beverage suppliers to increase efficiency and access customers faster. Demand for last-mile and e-commerce buildings is on the rise. This is forcing many tenants in this end of the business to place more emphasis on securing prime locations. 

Cold storage is another area with increased demand that has developers looking at key infill opportunities for this use. As some restrictions have begun to ease, I see more clients eager to move forward with space plans that were earlier placed on hold. Speculative delivery has slowed a bit, but not come to a complete stop. Projects that were previously underway are moving forward and deals are still getting done.   

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