Colliers International, a Seattle-based global powerhouse in the commercial real-estate business, could soon be an independent public company. Also, Seattle companies dominate Fortune’s most-admired list, and Tableau Software is following its leader abroad.

Share story

Seattle will soon be the headquarters of yet another large public company with global reach if plans to spin off commercial real-estate brokerage Colliers International from its Canadian parent company succeed.

Toronto-based FirstService Corp. proposed the spinoff earlier this month, telling shareholders they’ll be better off owning stock in “two strong industry leaders.”

Colliers is one of the world’s largest brokerages, with 502 offices in 67 countries. Its global headquarters is in downtown Seattle in the Two Union Square tower. FirstService itself is a big force in residential-property services, such as managing apartment complexes and homeowners associations.

Colliers, which booked nearly $1.6 billion in revenue last year, would be the city’s seventh-largest public company by that measure. Operating earnings for the commercial brokerage unit were $97.2 million, FirstService reported.

The company traces its history to 1898, when a real estate, property management and insurance agency called Macaulay Nicolls was founded in Vancouver, B.C. An Australian property-services firm known as Colliers International merged with it in 1984.

The pivotal moment for Seattle was in 2001, when Colliers hired Doug Frye, a former Chicago executive at real-estate brokerage Grubb & Ellis, and later named him its president and CEO.

Soon after, Colliers’ global headquarters moved from Vancouver to Seattle.

In 2009, FirstService gained control of Colliers after acquiring some of its largest shareholders.

The brokerage’s business model is different from its two larger publicly traded competitors, Los Angeles-based CBRE Group and Chicago-based JLL, whose offices are fully owned by a single corporate entity.

Colliers relies on a hybrid model: It offers independent local offices the marketing firepower and resources of a global brand. In exchange, local offices give Colliers majority ownership.

Since 2010, the brokerage’s revenue has grown at an annual rate of 18 percent.

Last year, Colliers generated half of its revenue in the Americas and the rest from Asia and Europe.

FirstService said it expects to complete the spinoff in the second quarter pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

— Sanjay Bhatt: sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Local firms rule on Fortune’s list

Though Seattle lost the Super Bowl, the region is doing very well in another type of brains and brawn contest: Fortune’s ranking of the world’s most-admired companies.

The list, published Thursday, ranks hometown giants Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Microsoft among the planet’s top 20.

That’s 25 percent of the top spots; and three of the companies were classed at the top of their respective categories.

The highest-ranking Puget Sound area company on the list (which was led by Apple) was Amazon, which Fortune designated the fourth most-admired company.

Starbucks was No. 5, and ranked higher than any other company in the food-services sector.

Nordstrom was No. 14, and the leader among general merchandisers. Costco was 16, topping specialty retailers. Microsoft was No. 20.

Portland-based Nike also is on the list, at No. 13.

No other region in the world came close to dominating the list’s top 20 in the same way. Take that, New England.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Tableau CEO leads in overseas push

Tableau Software CEO Christian Chabot wanted to sharpen the company’s focus on international expansion.

So he picked up and moved to London in August, forcing his staff to think more globally by default, reports Bloomberg News.

Tableau is also seeking volunteers from its Seattle headquarters to move to one of six foreign offices, including Frankfurt and Tokyo.

The company, which makes data-analysis and charting software, has boosted workers outside the U.S. to 350 from zero in 2010.

Supporting such a move presented challenges, Chabot told Bloomberg, from the company’s management structure to foreign-language support and scheduling meetings that accommodate diverse time zones.

“There are about 20 reasons why a global expansion wouldn’t work,” Chabot said. “But by virtue of a CEO up and moving, boy, do you see those 20 or 30 things get changed pretty fast.”

His plan has so far been keeping growth rolling. Sales outside the U.S. more than doubled last year to $93.8 million, or 23 percent of total revenue, from 17 percent in 2012.

While it remains less than that of rival Qlik Technologies, Tableau’s international revenue has more than doubled in each of the past four years, the company said.

The 12-year-old company, which makes software used to analyze information and create data visualizations, was late in expanding internationally, Chabot said. The typical time in the company’s life cycle to begin that push landed in the middle of the 2008 recession, so Tableau put off investing in foreign offices and workers until 2010 and really only put a lot of effort behind it in 2012, he said.

The company now operates in more than 150 countries and more than half of them saw growth at least double last year. Tableau this month reported total fourth-quarter sales that rose 75 percent, with profit before some items coming in at 31 cents more than analysts estimated. For the quarter, revenue outside the U.S. rose 86 percent from a year earlier.

“International was clearly a bright spot last quarter,” Abhey Lamba, analyst at Mizuho Securities USA Inc., told Bloomberg. Even though it’s too early to attribute the revenue rise to Chabot’s move, Lamba said, it’s starting to have an impact that the analyst said will further accelerate overseas revenue later this year.

Standing in Tableau’s path is Qlik Technologies, which was founded in Sweden in 1993 and still gets more than half its sales from outside the U.S., though it moved its base to Radnor, Pa. Tableau is known for having easier-to-use tools, Lamba said, while Qlik does a better job at integrating back-end systems and providing functions for large businesses.

In the first nine months of 2014, Qlik had about $240 million in international revenue, compared with Tableau’s $61 million, Lamba said.