At the time, it wasn’t true. Now, it is.
Johnson has acquired an interest in the company and is its new president.
Former president Steve Martens remains as CEO and also remains president and CEO of parent company Martens Cos.
“Tom has very unique credentials,” Martens says.
He says Johnson has management and strategic development experience guiding real estate companies and understands the business locally and nationally.
Before joining WaterWalk, where he worked from 2002 to late 2009, Johnson was president of CB Richard Ellis/Oklahoma in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and vice president and general manager of the commercial division of J.P. Weigand & Sons.
“With the talent we have in this organization, Tom’s going to be able to work with them and get them to the next level,” Martens says.
The company employs 25 people, 20 of whom are licensed sales people.
There are 40 employees in total at three companies under the Martens Cos. umbrella.
That includes the brokerage group, Martens Appraisal and Huffman Corridor Consulting.
Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group also has offices in Lawrence and Hutchinson.
The addition of Johnson frees Martens to focus more on business development and regional and national investment opportunities, though Johnson adds, “I’m sure he’s going to remain hands-on.”
Martens and Johnson have been friends — and friendly competitors — since the 1970s.
Johnson has owned Trinity Realty Advisers for years and says he “basically dusted it off” after WaterWalk and took Martens up on an offer for office space.
He did some consulting with Martens as well.
“I had an interest in doing something back in the brokerage business again,” Johnson says.
Martens says he hadn’t been looking for a new president, but Johnson’s availability got him thinking about possibilities.
Johnson acknowledges that the last two years have been some of the hardest ever in the commercial real estate business, but he wants to be in the business anyway.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
He says he and Martens are looking at a plan for growth over the next five years.
“The market has adjusted to this new normal,” he says. “We really feel that there are some great opportunities.”
They’re studying the company’s services — which include office, retail, industrial and investments — to determine where to expand.
Johnson says there’s an opportunity with consulting as well, given the company’s extensive database of information on real estate, the city, employment and population statistics. He says Grubb & Ellis’ national database gives the company an edge.
“We want to be able to leverage that,” Johnson says.
“The information we have is basically real time,” he says. “At any one time, it’s accurate and up to date.”
Martens says with Johnson on board handling day-to-day operations, he’ll be able to explore helping clients through Grubb & Ellis applications.
“We just have not had an opportunity to fully develop those and unveil them,” he says.
Grubb & Ellis has offices in 100 cities nationally. Martens says he can help clients diversify their portfolios with investments in other cities and help individuals with real estate needs if they have businesses in other markets.
Johnson says he and Martens want to spend the first quarter of this year analyzing and finalizing a business plan that they’ll begin implementing in the middle of the year.
The company’s commercial transactions were up 41 percent in 2010 from 2009.
Gross sales volume was up 34 percent.
Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group consistently ranks second behind Weigand in commercial real estate numbers in Wichita.
Johnson says rankings are irrelevant.
“Growing our business is what’s important to me.”