Spotlight Interview: Todd Justic President, ALJ Group, LLC

To know where the CRE Market is going you have to know where we are today…

1914103_181158138407_3281604_nA good way to gauge where the commercial real estate market is going is check who is hiring/ expanding, and/or who is downsizing, as it can foreshadow the good or bad times ahead for commercial real estate. Over the past 20 years Todd Justic, President of ALJ Group LLC has a 94% placement rate for senior employees in Real Estate Development, Construction, Engineering, and Architecture. Not only is Todd a great guy, but also he is a good guy to know when it is time to grow your company or time to look for a new employer.

LD: What career path did you want to take when you were in college?  What events in your career path brought you to establishing your own company?

TJ: I majored in Marketing at DePaul University and was very interested in joining the Advertising industry during College.  I interned with J. Walter Thompson in 1995; based on that internship and the interactions I had with JWT’s senior-level staff, I was convinced I wanted to work for a major Advertising firm after I graduated.  I was specifically looking at a career path into an Account Manager / Sales position with one of the larger Ad firms in Chicago.

A number of factors contributed to me starting my own company: Throughout my time in executive recruiting, before I started ALJ Group, LLC, I realized that many of the most successful and professionally fulfilled individuals I worked with and knew had started and managed their own companies.  I asked a number of them why they started their own firms and the reasons I received made absolute sense to me.  During the few years prior to launching ALJ Group, I began to realize that the only way I was going be able to fully implement my vision for executive recruiting was by starting my own company.

LD: Can you tell us a little what your “average” week of work is like?

TJ: My average week consists of the following:

  • Meeting with my team at ALJ to discuss our weekly goals and objectives.
  • Meetings with clients to discuss our current search assignments and/or new assignments.
  • Interviewing new candidates for open assignments / positions.
  • Networking with my sources as a way to generate new candidates and clients.
  • Presenting to potential new clients.
  • Making cold-calls to potential new clients and candidates.
  • Having breakfast, lunch or dinner with candidates and clients after a search assignment has come to a successful conclusion. 

LD: ALJ Group is based in Chicago and you are doing executive placements on a national basis.  How do you target what markets and placements make sense for you to pursue?

TJ: Prior to launching ALJ Group, LLC, I began procuring clients / search assignments in the Bay Area, specifically in San Francisco, Oakland, Silicon Valley and the South Bay.  I started ALJ Group in March, 2009, at which time there was very little hiring going on in the real estate development, construction, architecture / design, engineering and furniture industries in Chicago; therefore, I began building my platform in the Bay Area and down into Southern California, where the industries I served were thriving.  While I specifically targeted Illinois and California during ALJ’s first few years, we have followed our clients to other states, including New York, Washington DC, Milwaukee, Michigan, Indianapolis, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Arizona.  In terms of targeting placements / positions that make sense for ALJ, we continue to focus on the positions that align best with the individuals in our database.

LD: What do you think the next few years in commercial real estate development and construction hiring look like? Do you anticipate hiring will slow down, remain neutral, or increase?

TJ: Based on current economic conditions, such as the pipeline of many real estate development and architecture / design firms throughout the country, the buildings that have recently broken ground and will be breaking ground in the near-future, and the number of construction Field Superintendents that will be retiring in the next few years, hiring should increase over the new few years.

LD: Is there a cyclical nature in the types of development/ construction companies you are retained to do placements, in the sense one year you are working with a lot of multifamily developers/ construction, the next year hotel developers/ construction, and so forth?

TJ: There is absolutely a cyclical nature to my business.  For example, in minor and major downturns, much of our business will come from the commercial Tenant Build-out market with Architecture / Design firms, Furniture companies, General Contractors and Construction Management firms that specialize in this space.  When a company downsizes they’ll often times move into a smaller space or move from a Class A Building into a Class B Building, which results in business for a General Contractor, Design firm, etc., that specializes in the Interiors market.  When the market picks up, hiring in the Hospitality and Multi-Family (ground-up apartment buildings, condos) industries increases dramatically.  Because companies in this sector will downsize during downturns, there is a race for talent once the market begins to rebound.

LD: Everyone has a few transactions that stand out in the careers.  What is one deal thus far in your career that stands out to you and what is the significance to that deal?

TJ: I had a Chicago-based client approach me in the mid-2000’s about managing a search assignment in San Francisco.  While I had never worked in SF and had very few contacts there, I let this client know that I would throw myself into this assignment, learn the SF market quickly, and manage the search assignment in a timely and efficient manner.  The search came to a successful conclusion within a few weeks, this client retained us for a number of subsequent assignments, and I was able to leverage that account into a thriving presence in the Bay Area.

LD: What advice would you give a young Todd Justic just out of college and starting his professional career?

TJ: That’s an easy one: LISTEN, and do not be afraid to take chances.  If you are working for a firm with various departments, get to know everyone in every department.  Pick as many brains as you can.  You can learn a lot about where you want to and don’t want to take your career by listening to others talk about the career paths they have chosen.  Pay attention at all times and maximize each day at work.  Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and assignments, because one of those new assignments might one day be the reason you start your own company. 

LD: What advice have you received that has been instrumental in your success?

TJ: While I was fortunate to have a few great mentors early on in my career and received a plethora of good advice, the best advice I received was to be myself.  Early in my career I was overly serious and formal with my candidates, clients and sources.  The more my personality came out at work the more fun I had and more successful I became.

To learn more about Todd Justic and ALJ Group please visit ALJ Group’s website:

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