WILMINGTON — With a career spanning almost four decades, it’s hard to picture Jackson Cross Partners founder Pete Davisson as anything but the man at the heart of Delaware’s commercial real estate industry.But back in 1963 when he was getting his diploma from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, he had no idea what path his life would lead.“I honestly didn't know what I wanted to do. I feel so sorry for juniors and seniors today who don’t know what they want to do, because I was in the same position,” Davisson said.
[caption id="attachment_212838" align="alignright" width="435"] Pete Davisson, founding partner of Jackson Cross Partners | PHOTO COURTESY OF JACKSON CROSS PARTNERS[/caption]
Growing up in a southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, Davisson first started selling insurance. After 10 years, his friend Frank Menichini opened Delaware Valley Paper and Packaging, reached out and offered him a position.“I told him ‘I don’t know whether I’m a good salesman or not.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Trust me, Pete, you can sell,’” Davisson recalled. “I still get goosebumps thinking about that.”That old friend was right. To date, his career spans more than 1,000 transitions in excess of 3 million square feet of space and $700 million in sales and leases.But before all that success, Davisson’s first experience in the commercial realty realm was managing and selling Delaware Valley Paper and Packaging’s acquired manufacturing offices. Eventually, he decided to pursue real estate as a free agent after taking advanced real estate courses at Penn State University.He made a list of realty firms in the region and Jackson-Cross, a venerated firm that was formed in 1916 with the merger of two firms dating back to the 1800s, was at the top of that list.When Davisson was hired in October 1984, he was 43 years old and started handling clients in downtown Philadelphia and the state of Delaware. While the uncertainty was a little unsettling, Davisson already had contacts in the Delaware Valley who he could lean into for leads and deals. Just like doing business with a new name on a card or under a new flag, he said.But that does not mean it was a smooth start. One time, Davisson said he received a check “with nothing but zeroes” when Jackson-Cross expected him to start selling and earning commission. This was about two months into his new position.“That was a traumatic moment, but all that does is fortify you,” Davisson said. “The logic in my mind was that if I'm going to get into something new, I don't have time to experiment and take a chance on anybody.”But Delaware was at the precipice of an office boom, with sweeping reform of the state’s banking laws in the early 1980s bringing thousands of employees and driving the need for financial services firms to find room to work.Another thing Davisson learned quickly was when the press calls for a comment, pick up the phone and always return the message. That coupled with a head for numbers made him a favorite for newspapers to call for a quote.“They’re always looking for what’s going on in the business, and you just can’t replace your name or your picture on the front page of the paper,” he said. “Everything in this business is numbers, from how much the rent is, how big the building is to how many tenants it is. Somehow, I got lucky for having a head for numbers, and I knew the market.”As Davisson grew his contacts and brokered more sales and leases, Jackson Cross began to change around him. When the partners retired, the firm was sold to Insignia in 1998 which subsequently bought up smaller firms around the region. CRBE, the largest commercial real estate services company in the world, then bought Insignia in 2003.Once again, Davisson decided to strike out on his own. He was mulling over offers from 14 companies in the region when he got a call from fellow Jackson Cross alum John Morrissey to meet and talk about starting a new firm.“I thought I don’t need to be a national company, but I’m not sure if I wanted to be a three or four-person company. John said he understood that, but then he called and said we were going to have breakfast with Lou [Battagliese Jr.],” Davisson said.The three men hit it off, and with that began Jackson Cross Partners — paying tribute to the previous Jackson-Cross with that firm’s partners blessing. Today, the firm has around 30 employees and has added a fourth partner, Catherine Swift Sennett.In a sense, the three founders complemented each other from a geographical scale: Davisson knew the Delaware office space market, while Morrissey specialized in offices in southeastern Pennsylvania and Battagliese focused on the industrial market in southern New Jersey.“They’re younger than I am, but they’re so good at what they do, so we’ve covered every turret and region. That’s what made it work,” Davisson said.Looking back on a career with deals with industry giants like Bank of America, DuPont, AIG and Bloomberg, Davisson said that he approached every day at the office the same: giving it his best shot and being open to the opportunity.For example, he recently sold a downtown Wilmington building to a buyer from New York. Two properties next door were also available, and Davisson sold him those too.“You’re always talking to people you know, and you have to show up. That doesn’t mean being at your desk by 9 a.m.” Davisson said. “It means when you're at your son or daughter’s soccer game on Saturday and someone approaches you, are you ready to give your pitch?”If he could do it all over again though, Davisson said he would rather start his commercial realty career at age 23, not 43.“I’m very fortunate in my career. I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said.