- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

Transwestern Commercial Services scored one of the biggest real estate deals of the new year when it brokered a $113 million, 15-year lease in January for an Arlington law firm.

The lease thrust the agents who arranged the lease into the spotlight. But Tom L. Nordlinger, the Transwestern president who managed the deal, stayed behind the scenes.

And that suits him just fine.

In a town where big real estate deals are often dwarfed by the egos of the agents who broker them, Mr. Nordlinger is a refreshing change of pace. The soft-spoken president of Transwestern's mid-Atlantic division says his 550 employees deserve the credit for making the Chicago-based company's D.C. operation thrive.

"They're the real stars not me," Mr. Nordlinger says.

To prove his point, he rattles off the names of the Transwestern agents who handled the lease for Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, the Arlington law firm that signed the big lease for a new office in Alexandria

"I think the key to deals like that are the people behind them… . Our people really work hard [on those deals]," he says.

Transwestern president and chief executive Jack Eimer says Mr. Nordlinger is too humble.

"Tom's knowledge of the market, his knowledge of the industry, the passion he brings to the business … are unsurpassed. He is critical to the success of the company," Mr. Eimer says.

Just as important is Mr. Nordlinger's sense of humor, which Mr. Eimer describes as "very dry."

"He bring just an incredible amount of wit to the company. That makes it a lot easier to face some of the challenges that come along with the job," he says.

Making news

Mr. Nordlinger's division grabs lots of headlines for Transwestern.

Last year, the group landed a big coup when it found 224,825-square-feet of space in Reston for ETrade, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based on-line financial services firm.

The $75 million, 12-year lease was the sixth-biggest in the red-hot Northern Virginia office market in 2000, according to Delta Associates, an Alexandria-based real estate research firm that Transwestern owns.

The Oblon, Spivak deal put the company back in the news earlier this month.

The law firm wanted to be close to the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is moving from the Crystal City section of Arlington to the Carlyle complex in Alexandria in late 2003.

Marvin J. Spivak, one of the law firm's founding partners, credits Mr. Nordlinger with assembling a good team of brokers at Transwestern.

"He has put together a very good team over there. We're ecstatic with the deal they were able to put together for us," Mr. Spivak says.

Oblon, Spivak has used Transwestern for most of its real estate needs over the years, but the firm has been courted by other real estate brokerages.

At one point, professional football star-turned-real estate magnate Roger T. Staubach personally pitched his company's services to the law firm, Mr. Spivak says.

"We've always been very happy with Transwestern. We've seen no reason to change," he says.

Business changes

Mr. Nordlinger, 61, got into the real estate business when he joined D.C.-based commercial mortgage bank Carey Winston Co. in 1971. He became friends with the company's namesake and chairman, and was promoted to president and chief executive in 1985.

Over the years, the Carey Winston company phased out its mortgage business, eventually becoming a full-fledged commercial real estate brokerage.

In 1998, Texas-based Transwestern bought the Carey Winston company, essentially using the firm to start a mid-Atlantic division. The local operation was known as Transwestern Carey Winston until last year, when it became Transwestern Commercial Services.

Mr. Nordlinger says it was not difficult to make the transition from running the homegrown Carey Winston company to becoming a regional president for a national brokerage, which is now based in Chicago.

"[The two companies] needed each other. There was no way we could have accomplished what we have collectively without each other," he says.

Still, Mr. Nordlinger says he became "a little nostalgic" when Transwestern decided to drop Cary Winston from its name late last year.

"The Carey Winston name was very well known in Washington for a long time. But these branding decisions happen all the time in business," he says, noting other Washington institutions that changed their name after they were bought by an outside company, such as the Citizens banking chain, which eventually became part of the SunTrust conglomerate.

Transwestern is a private firm and does not disclose its annual revenue. But it is widely regarded as one of the largest brokerages in the D.C. area, along with New York-based Cushman & Wakefield and Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis.

Transwestern's local operation is based in Bethesda, with additional offices in downtown Washington, Vienna, Va., and Columbia, Md. Nationwide, the company has 1,350 workers in 28 cities.

"Between the four offices, I think we manage to do a pretty good job covering the D.C. area," Mr. Nordlinger says.

The firm's goal is to continue to grow and prosper he says, although it does not have any immediate expansion plans.

Mr. Eimer, Transwestern's chief executive at its Chicago headquarters, says the company has barely had time to catch its breath since the 1998 merger and other recent acquisitions. In addition, it has experienced organic growth, the result of the booming economy of recent years.

"After the merger took place, we had 400 employees. Now that's grown to 1,500 people. That kind of growth doesn't just happen," Mr. Eimer says.

More competition

Mr. Nordlinger says his job is to make sure Transwestern's D.C. operation to continue to thrive.

But that can be tough, he says, because the growth of the local real estate market has brought more competitors to the region.

"D.C. now has one of the largest office markets in the country. That would have been unthinkable several years ago," he says.

Compounding the problem has been a shrinking talent pool. In the D.C. real estate market's heyday in the 1980s, young people flocked to the industry because it presented lots of opportunities to make money. Now, Mr. Nordlinger says, young people have migrated toward lucrative tech jobs.

"I think it's important that young people know this industry offers opportunities," he says.

Mr. Nordlinger says real estate has been a fun career, but it is not everything.

Outside the office, he enjoys spending time with his family including his wife of 35 years, Mimi and he likes to read world history. He enjoys the occasional movie, but don't expect to see him in line for the latest blockbuster, "Hannibal." Mr. Nordlinger says he was one of the few moviegoers who "didn't get" the film's predecessor, "Silence of the Lambs."

He also volunteers for the Katherine Thomas School, a private school in Rockville for children with learning disabilities.

"When they approached me, I said, 'Tell me more about your organization.' I liked what they said they were trying to accomplish," he says.

Mr. Nordlinger says he also encourages his employees to get involved in the community by joining local civic groups. "It's part of our mission to be a good neighbor," he says.

When his employees aren't doing community work, Mr. Nordlinger tries to keep them happy inside the office. "We have worked very hard to create a friendly corporate culture here," he says.

For example, Transwestern employees are allowed to dress casually in the office, although many employees still wear suits, ties and other traditional business garb.

Over lunch at Jean Michel, a French bistro near Transwestern's Bethesda office, Mr. Nordlinger clad in a gray sweater says he is happy to ditch his dress tie.

"They do not seem to serve any practical purpose whatsoever," he says.

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