by The Wilbert Group
From practicing law to leading a business line of JLL in Atlanta, we spoke with Cullen about his career highlights, biggest challenges and his continued appreciation for the power of ULI.
When Scott Cullen sees a parcel of vacant or under-used land, he sees a blank canvas and potential. As the executive vice president in JLL’s Land & Development Services Group, Cullen’s responsibilities include overseeing the practice, analyzing market research, valuing land and underutilized assets, searching for sites and transacting acquisitions and dispositions — just to name a few.
His introduction to the real estate world, however, came from the other side of the table. After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University, Cullen began his career as an attorney. While working at a boutique law firm in New Orleans representing local developers, the Louisiana native discovered his true calling was actually in the real estate industry.
A FOCUS ON ATLANTA
To make the transition from practicing law to managing land, Cullen earned his Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, with concentrations in real estate and finance. After graduation, he stayed in Chicago and started working with JLL in 2003 before another opportunity was presented. Following a venture with the St. Joe Company in the Florida Panhandle, Cullen came back to JLL in Atlanta, where he has been for 12 years and counting.
In his current role, Cullen leads a team that sells land and development sites with a focus on the Atlanta market and infill urban sites. “That’s really where my passion lies,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to do a lot more of that work here in Atlanta over the last few years.”
This approach marks a significant shift from JLL’s strategy just three years ago, when more attention was geared toward selling large land sites across the Southeast. According to Cullen, the redirection has been one of the biggest successes and the biggest challenges during his time with JLL.
“We had to go from knowing how to transact on large land sites to really understanding the Atlanta market much better than we did,” he said. “It really was a challenge to understand the market, understand the players here and really know the details about various development transactions — and we’ve had success in that world.”
Cullen credits catalysts of change both within the walls of JLL as well as the rapidly increasing densification of Atlanta. “We could look in our own backyard and see all this activity,” he said. “The thought was, ‘Why are we doing these deals in other parts of the Southeast when we could be doing a lot of work right here?’”
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Cullen’s journey with JLL is intertwined in his involvement with ULI. In fact, his first recollections of the organization are from seeing Urban Land magazine in JLL’s Chicago office early in his real estate career.
After moving to Atlanta, Cullen become more involved in the local chapter level. “The first real big activity for me was the Center for Leadership,” he said. “I had been to ULI events beforehand, but CFL was when I really understood the power of ULI.”
In the CFL class of 2012, Cullen first met his now-business partner, JLL Senior Vice President, Mark Lindenbaum. “We were not only in the same class, we were in the same mTAP Group,” said Cullen. “We got to know each other through that process. When we had an opening here at JLL and Mark was looking for his next move after working with Shops Around Lenox, we teamed up. It just shows you that ULI, and CFL in particular, can lead to really meaningful business relationships.”
After CFL, Cullen continued to volunteer with ULI in various capacities, including joining UrbanPlan in 2012. Currently, he serves as the chair of the UrbanPlan Committee and participates in the Young Leaders Group Mentor Program in Atlanta, as well as serves on a national product council and on an advisory panel for UrbanPlan nationally. “I still love the UrbanPlan program and being able to go into the classroom at high schools and colleges and teach a little bit about real estate development and the trade-offs associated with it,” he said.
Overall, making connections is Cullen’s favorite aspect of remaining an active member of ULI. “The beautiful thing about ULI is that it includes people from all walks of real estate,” he said. “It’s people like brokers, lawyers, accountants, developers, engineers, architects — you name it. Anyone involved in the real estate world tends to be involved with ULI, and you can create a really broad network of contacts through that process. ULI has been instrumental to being able to grow our business locally and knowing the players involved through those ULI networks.”
Cullen stays on the go. In addition to his work with JLL and ULI, he is a member of the Land Use Committee for the Midtown Neighbors Association, a nonprofit that represents the residents of the community where he lives. He’s also involved in the local alumni association for his alma mater.
When he does slow down, Cullen has been seeking a different kind of blank canvas. “My wife has become an artist over the past few years, and I dabble in oil painting a little bit too,” he said. “It’s a great way to express some creativity and to sort of tune out the world for an hour or two and just focus on what you’re doing with the canvas, the paint and the brush. It’s almost a meditative exercise that I’ve found to be really enjoyable.”
Curious to see one of Cullen’s pieces? Stop by The Atlanta Artist Center in Buckhead between November 6, 2018 and January 4, 2019, where his work has been selected for inclusion in their “2018 Reality or Abstraction” exhibit.
In his free time, the pacesetter also enjoys exploring the Atlanta restaurant scene, sampling recipes for Homebartendr.com, a cocktail blog he created with his wife Beth, or lacing up his running shoes and taking off through town, sans headphones. Cullen said he enjoys listening to the sounds of the city on his runs, whether in Atlanta, vacationing with Beth in exotic destinations or traveling on business. He’s also completed several marathons.
“Running is a great way to actually see a new place and really understand what it looks like from the street level,” he said. “I was in Boston this month for the ULI Fall Meeting and did a little bit of running around there.”
Back at home, Cullen can be spotted racing through some of Atlanta’s most beloved spaces. “I love the BeltLine,” he said. “Fortunately, I live close enough that I can run that, and I just love running on Peachtree Street.”
The buzzy corridor from Downtown to Brookhaven tends to be Cullen’s go-to run on Saturday mornings. “Peachtree is always interesting, and there’s always something new,” he said. “Running is also good for real estate, because you can see what’s happening, what’s being torn down and what’s starting to develop.”