Families in RE: Father and son find passion in commercial real estate



By Suzanne Heyn

Steve Corney just wanted his son, Chris, to select a career that made him happy. Of course, he’s ecstatic that Chris found happiness in commercial real estate, at Jones Lang La Salle, where Steve works as a senior managing director. But from the beginning, Steve wanted Chris to know he had options.

“You really have to love your job to stay in it,” Steve said. “You have to do it for the right reasons.”

Steve knows first-hand the importance of loving your work. After graduating from New York’s St. Lawrence University, he accepted a position in accounting for Johnson & Johnson. He loved the company, loved the people, but disliked the work.

“I had trouble making it to 5 o’clock,” Steve said. “As soon as I got a job I really liked in real estate, I recognized the difference. All of the sudden I would realize it’s 7 p.m. and I needed to go home. That’s something you worry about with your kids when they follow in your footsteps. Are you forcing them in the family business or are they following you just because they think that’s the only opportunity?”

Chris says he was never certain about entering real estate, although he always entertained the idea. He started working with his dad at 12 and continued through summers in high school and college. 

At the University of San Diego, Chris majored in business administration with an emphasis in real estate. “The more (real estate) classes I took, the more I realized it was something I had a serious interest in,” he said. “There’s no ceiling to what you can accomplish.”

Steve told Chris, “You can do whatever you want, and there are good opportunities here but if you don’t see it or don’t love it, then explore other options.”


Steve and Chris Corney.

“Chris really has a drive to make his way in the world,” said Steve. “He didn’t want to take a couple of years that a lot of the kids are doing these days to either work ‘just a job to have fun’ or to travel. He wanted to get right to it and start a career.”

Chris knows that real estate is a pipeline business, where leads and clients compound with every year of hard work. The reputation, relationships and skills that bring success take years to build, and Chris didn’t want to waste any time.

“He’s a 23-year-old kid and he’s interacting with CEOs and CFOs, and after a few minutes they forget about his age and look at him as part of the team,” said Steve.

Steve also received early exposure to the business — his mother worked in residential real estate. Originally from the East Coast, he worked for Coldwell Banker after leaving Johnson & Johnson. In 1982, Steve moved to Arizona and began working in property management with CBS Property Services.

Around 2000, Steve and his business partner, John Wyss, decided to narrow their focus and specialize exclusively in tenant representation. They had worked for a full-service brokerage and discovered they enjoyed representing tenants. Since, at the time, not many people practiced the specialty in Phoenix, Steve saw opportunity.

He and a few business partners investigated their options and identified Roger Staubach—who worked solely in tenant representation—as a good match. Steve and his partners teamed up with Roger, opening a Phoenix office for Staubach Co. in 2000. Soon after, they hired a fresh-faced college graduate, Pat Williams, who coached Chris in youth football. Now, Pat is Chris’ boss. “I think he’s used to calling Pat ‘coach’  which is what he really is to Chris once again,” said Steve.

In 2008, JLL acquired Staubach. “It worked out great for us and gave us a comprehensive global platform to handle our clients’ needs,” said Steve.

Chris, now an associate at JLL, is thriving in the role. “The more I learn, the more I enjoy the work itself,” he said. “At first, it’s challenging to not feel like you know what you’re doing, but it’s all on-the-job experience, which is really helpful.”

Steve is proud of his son. “For any dad, what’s his biggest dream for his son? Outside of health and happiness, it’s probably having the opportunity to work with his child,” Steve said. “It’s really neat to see your own son have that enthusiasm in his eyes, and to know what he’s feeling.”

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