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RiverRock’s John Combs Honored with IREM ICON Award

By: Connect Media’s Dennis Kaiser

The Orange County chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) will award its prestigious ICON Award to RiverRock Real Estate Group Founder and Principal John Combs. The Signature ICON Breakfast will be held June 5  from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Center Club, located at 650 Town Center Dr. in Costa Mesa.

Connect Media’s Dennis Kaiser asked Combs to share a few insights and reflections from his career in commercial real estate, as well as what it means to him to be only the third recipient of the ICON award, joining Brandon Birtcher and John Kilroy, Jr.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed over the years in the CRE asset and property management sector?
 There is more institutional money and ownership in both the real estate (REITS, Pension, BlackRock, Brookfield etc.), as well as full service real estate companies, either already public or pre-IPO. This flood of capital has impacted transaction volume, capital improvements and consolidation of owners and providers. This has also had a significant impact on who does what, whereby the service providers not only have had downward fee compression, but have also had to increase the scope of services that were traditionally performed by ownership.

With jobless rates at an all-time low it is very tough to recruit, much less retain talent. This has proven to be RiverRock’s advantage point in the industry. One of the three KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) I measure our firm with has been to win Best Company to Work For. We have won for nine consecutive years. I believe happy people give better service. Another effect is that we have very loyal employees who others want, but they choose to make RiverRock their home.

Q: What are some of the key services owners now seek, and how do management companies like RiverRock respond to those needs?
 We offer property management, construction management, and accounting (both corporate and property) services for a fee. Clients can select from the menu of services or they can select all three. We do Corporate Real Estate work, renewal leasing, some shell construction management and some project management on a limited basis.

Consider all the new amenities in office or the farm-to-table movement in retail food. There are new unprecedented demands in addition to the already busy work loads of service providers. Most managers have not run food halls or managed gyms, ride share lanes or co-working facilities operating very long hours. Now, we even have pot tenancies and pets at work to manage.

Asset managers have been stretched with increased investments per person as well as increased reporting to funds. It takes time to be creative in strategies. More day-to-day tasks are being delegated to the property teams as well. We are managing more mixed-use major projects that could include housing, unique retail, and 18-hour facilities. These projects also involve heavy security demands, visitor traffic and community involvement.

Q: What does it mean to join such iconic CRE leaders as Brandon Birtcher and John Kilroy, Jr. for this elite recognition?
 I am incredibly honored to win this award. Five years ago, IREM asked me to develop a program they could become known for in CRE in OC. I created the ICON Award and presented it to the IREM Board of Directors who approved it. I worked with the committee and Board that year to present it to John Kilroy, who is absolutely one of the top pros in the business whom I admire greatly. When Brandon received the award I was there to congratulate him. He had a great presentation and is someone who has always been so kind and supportive of me.

Never did I think that five years later I would be given the award. I was picked last in PE in high school, so any award, and especially an important one, is a true honor and I am grateful for it. I have had the opportunity since 1981 to work with the brightest and best. Many of whom lead major real estate firms today. I have received amazing emails and letters from former colleagues and peers and it has been wonderful to read the comments on social media too. I have many lessons learned that I will share when I accept the award. I just hope it doesn’t mean I am getting old – like when they honor celebrities at the tail-end of their career. I have no hobbies, so I plan to do this a good while longer! I love what we have created with RiverRock. While we are celebrating our 15th year and are the youngest typically on Business Journal Book of Lists, we have really accomplished many things in a short time with amazing assignments and “RockStars.”