Jason Hughes

CEO of Hughes Marino

San Diego tenant representation expert Jason Hughes has spent the past three decades revolutionizing the commercial property industry. The San Diego-based Jason Hughes is the crème de la crème of lease and purchase negotiations, construction management, planning and design, lease audit and administration, and culture consulting. Jason Hughes has been a key player in assisting leaseholders in San Diego and nationwide. With a bevy of offices throughout California as well as in Denver, Seattle, and New York, Jason Hughes is focused on exceeding clients’ expectations, especially in today’s challenging market. 

Jason Hughes launched his award-winning career at Cushman & Wakefield and later moved to San Diego to represent corporate, nonprofit, and municipal tenants. Hughes, who is based in San Diego, now represents one of the largest firms of its kind in the nation, Hughes Marino. 

Jason Hughes and his company have been a part of San Diego’s life sciences explosion, helping companies lease lab space and more for the ever-growing biotech industry. 

Disenchanted with how tenants were being treated, Jason Hughes felt it was time to speak up for the underdog. He set out to transform the art of tenant representation and he did that by bringing in a team of experts in finance, law, and construction. He went on to build a trustworthy brand with purpose and a loyal industry following. Hughes and his wife, Shay, form an innovative power couple that has set a new precedent in commercial real estate brokerage and fearlessly face corporate challenges head-on with grace and grit. 

There are many positive affirmations and sayings adorning the walls of Hughes Marino’s various offices, from its San Diego headquarters up to its Puget Sound water views in Seattle. He’s dubbed his team “the hardest workers in the room” and believes in “delivering excellence in all they do.” Jason Hughes has worked hard to instill a sense of perseverance in his team. “One habit of mine is that I rarely give up,” he says. 

Jason Hughes picked up his favorite quote in 2017 in Seattle after a life-changing meeting with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who shared these words of wisdom with him: “Success is not an entitlement. You need to earn it every day.” Hughes was instantly inspired by Schultz and has devoured his books over the years, highlighting meaningful passages on the pages to apply to his own business strategies and to share with his team.

Like most CEOs, Hughes has experienced his share of ups and downs in business, but one of his secret weapons is that the San Diego-based boss surrounds himself with premium team members. His days are well planned. Attention to detail is key for the San Diego business leader, who invests in the latest technology and consistently offers quality to clients. He has stayed true to what Hughes Marino set out to do when the company originally opened in San Diego. Hughes also never stops raising the bar at his firm. He remains focused on assisting companies who lease and purchase space for their operations, not professional landlords.

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.