Our church recently began a survey to collect vocational information. We hope to establish a database for sharing opportunities for the intersection of faith and work. We know that our work is important to God, and we are to be good stewards of the opportunities He gives us in our daily lives. If you haven’t done so already, you can participate in the brief survey here.

One of our church members, Greg Spillyards, has a great testimony in this area. Recently, his story was shared with our entire community through an article published in the Daily Memphian. With their permission, we are reprinting that story below. If you want to learn more about Faith & Work, contact our Local Missions Director Grant Caldwell.

By Tom Bailey, Daily Memphian

Commercial Advisors elevates Spillyards, community service
Greg Spillyards’ mantra for real estate is different.

Greg Spillyards (left) & Larry Jensen
(photo from Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

“The biggest revelation to me is when I started to realize it isn’t ‘location, location, location.’ It’s about ‘people, people, people,’” he said. “What brings ultimate value is the people.”

Which helps explain why the 42-year-old was named this year as chief executive officer at Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors.

The East Memphis-based firm brokers property sales, represents tenants or landlords and manages properties for many of the city’s stellar businesses.

But Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors – the local Commercial Advisors is a partner in Cushman & Wakefield, a global commercial real estate firm based in Chicago – also is intentional about taking its expertise to struggling or under-served neighborhoods, far south and north of the wealthy Poplar Avenue Corridor.

So much so, the eight shareholders led by co-founder Larry Jensen selected Spillyards in April to take over Jensen’s role as chief executive and managing director. Jensen, 66, remains active as the firm’s chairman who oversees the rest of the shareholders. 

Spillyards is not just a commercial real estate professional. The longtime Christ United Methodist Church member left CBRE in 2010 to move his family to Kentucky where he earned his masters of divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.

That’s where he experienced another revelation: Instead of working as a minister, he would bring his passion for community service back to the commercial real estate world.

“Midway through seminary I realized the most important task is angling what we do in the private sector towards serving one another in the city,” Spillyards recalled.

Aware of Jensen’s reputation for community service and civic leadership – Jensen has chaired or served on boards including the Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Tomorrow, Methodist Healthcare Foundation, Shelby Farms Conservancy and University of Memphis – Spillyards returned in 2014 to commercial real estate in Memphis with a pitch to Jensen and Commercial Advisors.

Spillyards recalls that meeting with Jensen five years ago:  “When I explained to Larry my vision, he said, ‘I wanted to do this for the last 10 years but haven’t had the bandwidth to put it together or have the brokers walk away from their transactional flow to put it all together.’”

Commercial Advisors has engaged substantially with under-served neighborhoods since Spillyards came on board five years ago. 

Porter-Leath needed help: Where would be a good location for the nonprofit serving at-risk children and families to build a state-of-the-art Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy?

Commercial Advisors stepped in, identifying 17 vacant acres several blocks west of Pine Hill golf course in South Memphis. Shelby County Schools owned the unused land sandwiched between Alton Elementary and the closed Longview Middle. 

The quiet, residential neighborhood that surrounds the property created an ideal learning environment. Majestic oaks on the site were a bonus.

Initially, the school system was not interested in doing anything with the land, Spillyards recalls. But Commercial Advisors worked the deal and eventually persuaded the school system to sell five acres to Porter-Leath.

“We just had to walk with Shelby County Schools through the process of transferring the land,” Spillyards said. “… It was a small role, but it was a role that had to be played by someone.”

The colorful Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy opened there in spring 2017, serving children up to pre-kindergarten and providing social services to families.

“What’s important is the kids are getting something out of this every day,” Jensen said. “That brings you satisfaction just to think that they get something that benefits them as they grow to be prepared for life.”

The academy, Spillyards says, would be good enough for his own children. “If you can’t say something is good enough for yourself or your family then it’s not good enough for anybody,” he said. “And when we start to take that type of ownership mentality as Memphians, things will begin to change.”

Christ Community Health Services
Christ Community Health Services needs to replace one of its original clinics, Third Street Health Center at 3362 S. Third, as part of its mission to provide quality health care to under-served, low-income neighborhoods.

But Shantelle Leatherwood, chief executive of the 24-year-old nonprofit, has a bigger vision. Replacing the 9,900-square-foot space that Christ Community now leases at Third and Mitchell would be just Phase 1.

Phase II would involve making the new clinic part of a bigger campus that provides comprehensive services for South Memphis. The idea is to add services such as youth programming, food resources, career development, mental health care and physical therapy.

Even entertainment could be part of the campus. For example, residents have told Christ Community that they would love a revival of a skating rink next door that closed as Crystal Palace in 2017.

Leatherwood turned to Spillyards and Commercial Advisors, who have been working with her on the project for a year now.

“He has a passion for redeveloping broken, forsaken areas across the city and bringing life back to them and joining together with community partners,” Leatherwood said of Spillyards.

“So he’s been instrumental in helping me think through what we can do in approaching property owners regarding the acquisition of property, giving me guidance on how best to accomplish this huge vision,” Leatherwood said.

Spillyards also has guided her in engaging with commercial lenders for the project. And she calls on him whenever anyone calls wanting to partner with Christ Community Health Services.

“He has walked this path with me for nearly a year,” Leatherwood said. “They haven’t charged me a dime during that time. I’m very appreciative of him and his knowledge and his counsel and look forward to working with him in redeveloping other areas we claim as target service areas.”

Alcy Ball
Former educator Seth Harkins has been on the job just about three months as the new executive director of the Alcy Ball Development Corp.

He needed help gathering and interpreting data that the organization could use in its mission to promote better jobs, housing and financial opportunities for the neighborhood bordered by Interstate 240 on the south, Airways on the east, Ball Road on the north and Elvis Presley on the west.

“When I was initially thinking about transitioning away from teaching and into community-focused work, somebody said, ‘You need to go meet with this Spillyards guy,’” Harkins said.

“Greg has taught me how to do more research on property history, how to read through and glean information from public records. And he helped me get oriented,” Harkins said.

So far, Alcy Ball Development Corp. has focused more on people and has not purchased property or done any real estate deals.

“We do have a building under contract now,” he said of an old corner store building that could be reborn for culinary and entrepreneurial training. “Greg has helped us think through a bit on the layout with that space and connected us to an architect.”

Many Alcy Ball families could easily save $200 a month by making small changes in how they eat and prepare food, Harkins says.

“And there’s a need for a commercial kitchen space for small and individual caterers who live in the neighborhood,” Harkins said. “You have to go pretty far out of our neighborhood to get a commercial kitchen.”

‘Continue the ethos’
Jensen co-founded Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors in 1992 with the late Wyatt Aiken.

Company revenue is evenly divided between fees for its management services and commissions on the deals it brokers.

“The ethos is we’re here to run a good business,” Jensen said. “But it’s not all about how much money you make. It’s about how people in their careers are fulfilled, feel valued, feel their work is important. We want to be givers, not takers.”

The company has long been giving 10% of its gross profits to charitable causes in which Commercial Advisors employees are involved. The cause “needs to be angled toward serving youth of our city and be a core city location,” Spillyards said.

The firm’s employees are involved with such organizations as Porter-Leath, Advance Memphis, Streets Ministries, Su Casa Family Ministries, Believe Memphis Academy charter school, Veritas College Preparatory Charter School and Bethany Christian Services.

When Spillyards arrived in 2014 with the idea of angling the firm’s service to the city’s under-served areas, Jensen saw it as an opportunity for the firm to “give of ourselves and our service” as well as its money, Spillyards said. “That is what ultimately we need to move toward as a city.”

Jensen turns 67 in November. Spillyards’ promotion to chief executive is a legacy move.

“We wanted to continue the ethos of this company,” Jensen said. “I’m not retiring, not leaving. I’m having probably as much fun as I ever have.”

For example, having Spillyards take over the chief executive role freed Jensen to accept an appointment to the state Board of Education.

Commercial Advisors has succeeded in its traditional business lines even as it has become more and more invested in lower-income neighborhoods.

“We’ve had the best years in the company’s history the last three or four years,” Spillyards said. “… We had a record-breaking year last year and are on track to match that this year. Business-wise, we have not seen any slowdown.”

Still, wealth is not the focus, Jensen says, adding, “I’ve met a lot of people with a lot of money.

“I don’t think money is the answer to happiness.”

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