How JLL has transformed the Brazilian real estate market with integrated solutions

We interviewed the foreign executives who brought a new culture to the real estate sector in Brazil.

June 18, 2021
  • Agência Tecere

A business plan made in New York, designed by two foreigners who hadn’t been to Brazil, based on research in books and local press publications. This is how JLL started in the country more than two decades ago. Responsible for this rather daring mission were Christopher Penn and Eoin Slavin, who were then employees of Jones Lang Wootton in London and New York, respectively.

Not knowing the market and the language were just some of the challenges they faced in establishing the operation in the new country. But the main thing, according to the executives, was to gain the confidence of the local market and introduce something new, especially in the sale and leasing of commercial properties.

“We wanted to offer a new and comprehensive range of client orientated real estate advisory services to the market” says Penn.

To develop this new culture, it was necessary to find the right professionals and train them according to the company's ethics, internationally recognized since then and also to this day. This was one of Slavin's tasks, and he is proud of the legacy he left with some of the contractors who remain at JLL to this day. One of them is Fábio Maceira, who started as an intern in the US and is now JLL’s CEO Brazil.

“I met Fabio at a talk I gave at Columbia University. We were already starting the operation in Brazil and I asked if there were any Brazilian students in the room. He was the only one, we went for a coffee, I thought he was very good and referred him to the New York office. A few years later, he joined the team in Brazil and collaborated a lot in the development of the business," says Slavin.

Breaking new ground 

Despite being an unknown country for the executives at the time, the business plan drawn up at a distance worked, with the necessary adaptations and some contribution from the circumstances.

One of the first actions was to join a small local real estate agency, which had concepts similar to what the executives were looking to implement. But international movements also contributed to the expansion in Brazil, such as the purchase of Compass by LaSalle Partners in the US. With the merger between Jones Lang Wooton and LaSalle Partners in 1999, Compass Birmann, which was already active in property management in Brazil, was incorporated into the portfolio.


Notes taken from the Estadão, on December 29, 1998, published in the Cidades section, and on July 28, 2001, in the column by Sonia Racy, respectively.

“Our idea was to have a multidisciplinary approach. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Compass, recently acquired by La Salle Partners, was already active in property management in Brazil, thus expanding our scope of activities in the country”, says Penn.

According to Slavin, it was encouraging to start a business practically from scratch, even with the setbacks of unfamiliar territory. The two executives were responsible for structuring the operations also in other South American countries, such as Argentina and Chile. 

"The bureaucracy and the difficulty of understanding labor laws were a bit frustrating. But we found great people that were very helpful and willing to receive us. The economic volatility in the region was a concern, as what happened in one country affected the others, making planning difficult. It was especially difficult after the merger with La Salle Partners, listed on the Stock Exchange, when we had to account for all the foreign exchange difficulties”, says Slavin.

But he found motivation to continue, especially when he married a Brazilian woman, with whom he had three children, who have Brazilian and American nationality. Even after leaving JLL, Slavin remained in Brazil, where he lived with his family until 2015. The move was to give his children the experience of living in the USA.

Slavin currently lives in Connecticut and continues to work in the Brazilian property market, at VBI Real Estate. Penn has changed industries and now works with artwork in London. "I loved my time in Brazil and am very grateful for the opportunity. Latin America continues to offer incredible business opportunities,” Penn concludes.