Based in Chicago but boasting a global array of high-net-worth clients, Conlon & Co is a full-service strategic and financial consulting firm to the real estate industry. The company provides its clientele with a comprehensive range of services comprising asset management, real estate development, and a private equity fund.
With over 250 employees, Conlon & Co is the culmination of founder Sean Conlon’s dynamic, entrepreneurial career in real estate. An intense work ethic—often calling for 100-hour working weeks—made him one of the top brokers in the USA by 1999 and spurred him to leave to start his own firm in 2000, which he grew to a sales volume of $1 billion a year. He began investing in commercial properties and became one of the most active real estate entrepreneurs in Chicago, with Conlon & Co funding some $1.2 billion of development investment over the past decade. As a result, Sean is regularly interviewed by CNN, Forbes, and The New York Times as a real estate expert.
“Our team speaks 16 languages and even includes a non-Irish Gaelic speaker,” says Sean, who is now the Chairman of subsidiary CONLON: A Real Estate Company. Having arrived in Chicago from Ireland in 1990, the Gaelic connection amuses him in particular, but it is his staff ’s ability to relate on an international level that has been crucial to the success of his boutique residential brokerage. In fact, its long-term advisory relationships with investors from China, Russia, and the Middle East, among others, were part of the reason why CONLON: A Real Estate Company was the only firm in Chicago that Christie’s International Real Estate wanted to partner with in a collaboration sealed in 2013.
“They chose us because our outward-looking approach allows us to play a key role in the wider real estate market,” says Benjie Burford, CEO of parent company Conlon & Co. “In fact, while Chicago is at the heart of our operations, we also have significant interests across America, such as raising the funds for retail developments in fashionable markets such as Aspen, Colorado, as well as in many countries around the world.”
As CEO, Benjie provides day-to-day leadership and also heads up strategy and new business development at Conlon & Co after having spent five years with McKinsey & Company in Chicago working on global growth strategies. However, his international outlook was honed earlier in a very different way: by flying the world as an officer in the United States Air Force Special Operations Command.
Through their combined expertise, Benjie and Sean ensure that each advisory and financial element of Conlon & Co informs the other, with clear and rapid liaison between departments. Technology is also vital, keeping clients informed with relevant, up-to-date information.
“For us, high-tech is about customer service,” says Benjie. “For instance, when the iPad came out, we instantly adopted it so we could connect with our customers, especially those overseas. Technology is only part of it, though. We have boots on the ground in California; Austin, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Miami and Palm Beach, Florida; and Aspen, Colorado because one can never discount the importance of monitoring changes within the marketplace.”
Downtown Chicago is said to have a GDP the size of Switzerland’s, and with investors from around the world keen to establish a foothold, Conlon & Co is actively expanding its international advisory platform. “They come to us because we’re very diversified in real estate,” says Sean, “in terms of both location and types of property.”
With its open-minded attitude and global network of contacts, the language of US and international realty is one that the company has truly mastered.