Jason Hughes

CEO of Hughes Marino

For 30 years, Jason Hughes has been a leader in leasing and purchase negotiations. His work on behalf of clients in his native San Diego, across the West Coast, and nationally has played a transformational role in the commercial real estate industry. In addition, his legislative work has helped to strengthen protections for leaseholders throughout California.

Jason Hughes is the chairman and CEO of Hughes Marino. The San Diego-based firm provides an array of services for tenants and buyers it represents. Hughes Marino services include:

• Tenant representation
• Buyer representation
• Lease restructuring
• Sale-leaseback transactions
• Program management
• Project management
• Construction management
• Planning and design
• Physical distancing analysis
• Portfolio lease administration and advisory
• Lease accounting
• Lease auditing
• Culture consulting

In addition to its first office in San Diego, today Jason Hughes’ firm has offices throughout the West Coast in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, Seattle, and Walnut Creek, California, as well as offices in Denver and New York City. Hughes Marino prides itself on its focus on customer relationships, client services, and superior results.

Jason Hughes earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1989 from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of San Diego in 1993. Jason Hughes has also participated in multiple executive leadership programs at Harvard University, the University of California at Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Business, and the University of California at San Diego’s Rady School of Management.

Jason Hughes began his career working for Cushman & Wakefield in the Century City region of Los Angeles. He moved to San Diego and began representing corporate, nonprofit, and municipal tenants in purchase and lease negotiations, which he has continued for nearly 30 years. He and his wife, Shay, founded Hughes Marino, which today is the largest exclusive tenant and buyer representation company in San Diego, and one of the largest in the nation. Over the years, Hughes Marino has become a key player in tenant and buyer representation.

Long recognized as an expert in his field, Jason Hughes has led lease and purchase negotiations for tens of millions of square feet of valuable space. His savvy approach and experience have made him a sought-after leader called upon to navigate complex leases, high-value leases, early renegotiations, office building and hotel purchases, expansion negotiations, contraction negotiations, government negotiations, build-to-suit developments, anchor high-rise lease negotiations, and project finance negotiations.

Jason Hughes has helped to transform San Diego, negotiating some of the largest tenant lease transactions in downtown San Diego, the University Town Center, Carmel Valley, Sorrento Mesa in addition to work along the West Coast. His expertise has been featured on numerous television programs and in various business publications seeking his insights as an industry expert. 

Where did the idea for Hughes Marino come from?

I had been in the industry for 20+ years and was disappointed with the lack of depth all companies provided to their brokers and in turn their clients – as well as the overwhelming focus on servicing landlord interests rather than tenants. The industry is essentially all just franchise companies with brokers getting no service other than a branded name. Similar to residential companies, commercial companies had solo brokers who had virtually zero support – but yet were expected to be experts in a multitude of different practice areas for their clients. For the most part, commercial brokers are the epitome of “jack of all trades, master of none” as they are expected to understand market nuances, negotiating, legal terms, construction pricing, operating expenses, lease audits, etc. The reality is that most of them become mediocre at everything. I wanted to change that to provide our brokers with a depth of expertise more along the lines of law firms, business consulting firms, accounting firms, and other true professional service firms. As such, we brought in top real estate attorneys, construction experts, lease audit experts, lease administrative experts, architects/interior designers, furniture experts, financial analysts, and other specialized experts to help our brokers provide unmatched service and advice to our clients. Coupled with that depth of service and talent, we are focused on helping companies who lease and purchase space for their operations – not professional landlords. This helps to eliminate the enormous conflict of interest associated with our industry.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts sometime between 4:30 to 5 am. I’ll read emails and a couple papers while having a cup of coffee and a small bite to eat before I head out to my gym. Then I’ll exercise (stretching and weights) for about 90 minutes before having breakfast – and then my wife and I typically walk the local trails for about an hour. Then it’s a quick shower and into my home office (by about 9 am). I’m a big fan of James Clear and his Atomic Habits book where he recommended that you itemize the top six most important things to do the next day the night before – in order of what’s most important on top – and then sit down and work through them. The old “plan your work and work your plan” adage is a secret weapon for productivity.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m fortunate in that I have an amazingly brilliant partner (who also happens to be my wife). I seem to have a knack for coming up with ideas – but that seems to be where my talent ends. My partner/wife is a genius at executing a plan and really understanding all the intricacies of how to make something happen. I’d be a mess without her!

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’ve made a lot of enemies in my industry because I’ve been a vocal critic of dual agency and the extreme favoritism shown to the landlord community at the tenant’s expense. I’m a firm believer that the true customer of commercial real estate is the end-user (the tenant utilizing the space for their business), not the landlord. Without the business tenant, there would be no need for landlords. The business tenant’s rent is what pays the entire commercial real estate ecosystem, yet the entire industry is partial to landlords. Landlords have created a very tilted playing field with the help of full-service brokerage companies who don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. But this has come at an immense cost to business owners who lease space. What I’m very excited about is that business owners are starting to understand how disenfranchised they’ve been all these years – and more and more of them are demanding help from “tenant-only” firms like ours whose sole mission is to help businesses negotiate better end results for their corporate real estate needs. Obviously, this doesn’t make our competitors happy – but thankfully my competitors are not my constituents.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One habit of mine is that I rarely give up – and only after it’s been proven countless times to me that attempting again will continue to be fruitless. I’m always telling myself to somehow move forward, even when I’m figuratively on my hands and knees, and sometimes flat on my stomach. I figure out a way to inch forward one way or another. It’s hard not to be productive when you’re moving in a forward direction, regardless of how slow you might be moving.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Have confidence that everything is going to work out well. And that even setbacks are not death sentences. Setbacks make you stronger – but focusing on the “what if’s” can paralyze you for events that never even take place.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I think about my potential client saying “why should I care” about my offering. I think too many entrepreneurs get caught up in their creation that they don’t fully explore how a potential customer may view the product or service. If you can get beyond the “why should I care” challenge, the rest gets much easier.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

There have been several strategies that have helped us grow our business. First, we have generously reinvested our profits back into the company in order to make it stronger and better. That includes hiring top talent, investing in great technology, and focusing on the long game. Second, we have been very focused on what we do best rather than dilute ourselves with too many offerings for too many constituents. We have stayed true to focusing on the end-user of commercial real estate (i.e., businesses who lease and purchase space to serve their operations) rather than professional investors and landlords. Third, we make our hiring decisions for new team members based on “will this person make our team proud”, and using an Amazon hiring guide called “bar raisers” for always trying to improve our talent bench strength.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I have had lots of mini failures (although I don’t like calling them that). I prefer to think of “failures” as making mistakes, of which I try to never make a second time.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was quite a bit more than $100, but I recently took my family on vacation to Colorado where we rented a home in the mountains. I hired a chef to cook dinners for us – and while it was expensive, it was the “best $xxxx” I’ve spent in a long time! Not having to worry about grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, etc. gave me and my family more time to enjoy each other – and created an environment for us to all truly enjoy our meal together.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend a book by Howard Schultz, former Chairman & CEO of Starbucks called: Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. It’s an amazing book about how Schultz created an amazing company, resigned as CEO only to see it start to have problems, rejoin back as CEO to take Starbucks to completely new heights, all while showing a profound sense of humanity, passion, and love to his company, his team, and to the millions of customers from around the world.

What is your favorite quote?

“Success is not an entitlement. You need to earn it every day.” It is a quote from Howard Schultz, former Chairman, and CEO of Starbucks Coffee. My family and I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours privately with him for some business advice back in 2017 in Seattle.