Rockville native Joseph A. Sutton Jr. earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology fields, which is quite a ways from commercial real estate.
“I’ve always had a love of the outdoors,” said Sutton, 55, managing partner of Gaithersburg-based EDGE Commercial Real Estate.
He worked in geology with companies in Texas and Colorado for a few years, then found more of his calling in commercial real estate. When he moved back to Maryland, he worked for a Frederick firm and then as a leasing agent for Shannon and Luchs in the mid-1980s.
In 1991, Sutton helped launch Rockville-based commercial real estate business Scheer Partners, which is headed by Robert Scheer. As a leasing agent, Sutton — who now lives in Potomac — focused on landlord and tenant representation and developed a substantial office and flex portfolio.
As the real estate market declined in the early 1990s, many investment and sales advisers left the industry. Sutton recognized an opportunity and in 1994 formed an investment sales group at Scheer Partners. He did well enough to win several industry awards, and a few years later, he formed his own real estate investment and advisory firm, Sutton & Associates.
In 2007, Sutton joined with some partners he worked with over the years at companies that included Scheer to form EDGE Commercial. Again, he saw an opportunity as larger real estate firms were acquired by national companies.
“We believed there was an opportunity for a new regional real estate firm that is locally owned and operated,” Sutton said. “Our niche was to be something different. … Few believed it was possible to compete with the national and international service providers, but we knew we could.”
EDGE opened with a handful of employees in downtown Bethesda and now has some 50 employees in Gaithersburg and Tysons Corner. Since 2007, EDGE has increased its annual sales by some 500 percent and its staff by about 1,000 percent. The company projects revenue growth of more than 25 percent this year and plans to triple its workforce in the next few years, adding an office in Washington, D.C., Sutton said.
“Our growth trajectory is very steep,” he said.
Partners have a “tremendous amount of pride” and lead by example, Sutton said. Because of the company’s size, it can move quickly on deals, he said.
EDGE clients include Aetna Life Insurance, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, The Bernstein Companies, Colony Realty Partners, Federal Realty Investment Trust, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and Lowe Enterprises. The firm manages more than 8.4 million square feet of commercial space throughout the D.C. region.
Over the years, Sutton has completed more than $3 billion worth of real estate transactions. Even after almost three decades in the industry, he remains excited to get to work.
“Sometimes I get to work and feel like the walls are pulsating,” Sutton said. “The energy level is incredibly high. There is a very high caliber of talent here.”