From left: Art McWilliams, Andy Ghertner, John Coppedge, Lisa Bobbitt (current Operations Director), Bill Bugg, Mike Elting and John
O’Neill (current President, Southeast and South Central)
In order to know where a company is headed, it is important to understand where it came from. At Cushman & Wakefield Atlanta’s recent monthly All-Team meeting, we assembled a panel of the four founders of our office and former Managing Principal Mike Elting to share the history of the firm, the importance of culture and talk about some of their landmark deals.
Cushman & Wakefield’s Atlanta operations began when the firm acquired the successful local brokerage operation of Bugg, Coppedge, Ghertner & McWilliams (“BCGM”) on November 4, 1977. BCGM was comprised of top producers – Bill Bugg, John Coppedge, Andy Ghertner and Art McWilliams – formerly with Adair Realty Co., at that time Atlanta’s oldest commercial real estate firm.
“When we were first approached by Cushman & Wakefield, we asked to visit other offices and see what the people who worked here were like out in the field,” Coppedge said. “It was the smartest thing we did. When we visited, we saw that those employees were our people, and we knew when we came back that we wanted to make the deal.”
The acquisition of BCGM by Cushman & Wakefield was part of an overall trend in Atlanta during the late 1970s, as the city began to outpace its Southeastern peers in terms of population and office market growth. As Atlanta grew into its role as the region’s economic and business capital, other national commercial real estate firms also entered the market through acquisitions.
In 1977, Bugg played a crucial role in helping save The Fox Theatre, one of Atlanta’s most historic landmarks. Following the Navy, he spent two years with Southern Bell Telephone Company, which was planning to acquire and tear down The Fox for its new headquarters. Bugg reached out to the real estate director at Southern Bell about other options, and was part of a team that helped find the landowners of 11 parcels behind the theater for Southern Bell’s new headquarters.
“Having been at Southern Bell was invaluable – to learn the company and how decisions were made,” he said.
Another landmark project Cushman & Wakefield was involved with in the early days of the Atlanta office was Downtown’s Georgia-Pacific Tower , which delivered in 1982. The firm was engaged to oversee project management, working alongside architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The 1.57 million-square-foot tower contains 52 stories and was the city’s second tallest building from 1982 to 1987.
During the 1980s, Cushman & Wakefield Atlanta represented some of Atlanta’s largest tenants with their office space needs and became known as the city’s “go-to” firm for large, complex lease negotiations. The firm also established strong practices in the areas of investment sales, agency leasing, and property appraisals, and established new offices throughout the Southeast. Eventually, three of the original founders would go on to join Cushman & Wakefield’s Executive Committee.
“Cushman & Wakefield wasn’t much in the South in 1977, but we took that national name and grew it,” Ghertner said.
McWilliams added, “I opened the Nashville office in 1984 as a commissioned broker. We had one agency, got another and that was the footing to getting it all going.”
Mike Elting, who joined the firm in 1979, was named market leader in 1984 and served in this role for 27 years. Under Elting’s guidance, Cushman & Wakefield cemented its consistent position as one of Atlanta’s biggest and most successful commercial real estate service providers.
In looking back, each of the men has fond memories of their days at the firm, and contributed to creating the culture and spirit that is very much alive at Cushman & Wakefield today.
“We hired good people and had so much fun working hard and playing hard – all part of the Cushman & Wakefield experience,” Coppedge said. “Three of us from Atlanta being on the Executive Committee happened because of our camaraderie, what we built, and our recognition of what employees needed and how to make the business fun. I encourage you to do business, have fun and be so proud of the company you work for because the reputation is unbelievable.”
Bugg added, “When I look at Andy today talking about mentorship, that’s what it’s all about. The culture and what Cushman & Wakefield has established is wonderful, and that’s all because of the people.”