Man of the moment: James Beckham

After brokering two of the biggest office sales in Europe this year, property ‘super-agent’ James Beckham has chosen to jump ship from Cushman & Wakefield to rival CBRE.

The word ‘super-agent’ is usually applied to the world of sport. But in the case of James Beckham, CBRE’s new head of London investment properties, the term has also been used and little disputed.

Beckham’s reputation as being a ‘go-to man’ for prime City of London property was already established before 2017, having worked for both major rival property services firms JLL and Cushman & Wakefield over a 30-year career. But since the start of the year, that reputation has been further enhanced following a series of record-breaking headline sales to Asian investors in London.

First up was The Leadenhall Building, aka ‘The Cheesegrater’, which was sold in March by British Land and Oxford Properties to private Hong Kong firm CC Land Holdings for £1.2 billion ($1.6 billion; €1.3 billion) – a record for a City of London property.

That was followed by the £1.3 billion July sale of 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, by UK developers Landsec and Canary Wharf Group to another internationally unknown investor from Asia, the Chinese food conglomerate Lee Kum Kee – another record, this time for the UK’s largest office deal.

While the sale prices were notable enough, the numbers look even more impressive when two other factors are considered: the heightened uncertainty surrounding London’s future as Europe’s internationally-favored investment market against the backdrop of Brexit; and the fact that both towers were not officially for sale.

Aside from those two record breaking deals, it is also understood that Beckham was involved in an unsuccessful bid to buy another, even higher profile London office tower, 30 St Mary Axe, also known as ‘The Gherkin’. Lee Kum Kee was thought to have made at least one offer, but the building’s owners, the Safra Group, rejected it.

“Obviously, it’s a big loss for them. He’s a well-known figure in the city and he’s very good at what he does,” said one senior executive at CBRE. “He’s been in that market for a long time and has a deep knowledge of it and the clients. Look at that market today and there aren’t that many people with that level of knowledge and experience,” the executive added.

While a former colleague at Cushman said: “It’s a double whammy for Cushman, not just a top broker but losing him to a rival.” The executive added that Beckham was considered part of an elite set of agents along with GM Real Estate’s Tony Gibbon and Franco Sidoli, also at CBRE.

Incidentally, Beckham’s move to CBRE is not the first time he has left to join a rival. Prior to his three-year stint at Cushman, he spent over three years at JLL where he was involved in several large London-based deals including the £472 million sale of Ropemaker Place for British Land and the £315 million purchase of 2&3 Bankside for UK property investor M&G Real Estate.