Todd Millang, a broker and senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial, became the majority owner of Johnny’s Hall of Fame in 2008. The real estate piqued his interest more than the bar. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Todd Millang, a broker and senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial, became the majority owner of Johnny’s Hall of Fame in 2008. The real estate piqued his interest more than the bar. Photo by Duane Tinkey

Todd Millang’s rugged appearance is more expressive of an outdoorsman than of a high-powered commercial real estate broker who represents high-profile clients.

But don’t let the tousled brown hair and a wiry beard fool you. Brokering big deals with large corporate customers such as Wells Fargo Financial, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and Kum & Go LC is this man’s specialty.

Since entering the Greater Des Moines market in 1997, after paying his way through college at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), Millang has pulled down a fistful of six-figure commission checks, the largest of which topped $200,000.

So let’s forget for a moment that he seldom wears a necktie and that his co-workers sometimes have to coax him into a suit jacket. He has worked hard to make a name for himself, he has traveled the world, and he has helped a lot of at-risk kids.

Today, Millang is a senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial in West Des Moines. He hung his shingle there nearly 14 years ago.

The broker

“I attribute a lot of my success to working with the CB network,” Millang said, noting that his connection with the Los Angeles-based real estate services firm has enabled him to meet top players from around the world.

Imagine sitting down to negotiate a deal. Now pretend you have an 800-pound gorilla on your side of the table. That’s how Millang describes his affiliation with CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. (CBRE).

As the point of contact for a number of national site selectors, sometimes deals fall squarely in Millang’s lap. Others have come by way of developing contacts and cultivating relationships. Most require a lot of due diligence and determination.

In the heady days of 2005 to 2007, before the commercial real estate bubble burst, Millang’s staff was working on a few hundred Wells Fargo Financial deals each year.

Kyle Gamble, managing director of CBRE/Hubbell Commercial, said Millang has built his business from the ground up. “He’s quite talented. That, combined with the Hubbell platform, as well as the CBRE platform, has led him to great success.”

Millang also values partnerships with individuals, and over the past five years, with his employment of Michelle Hutchinson and Tyler Dingel, both of whom are CBRE sales associates, the senior broker’s stature grew.

“He can see the big picture,” Hutchinson said. “But the little details sometimes escape him.” She said Millang is “smart enough” to hire those who can shore up the weak spots.

“The great thing with Michelle,” Millang said, is her well-rounded knowledge of brokerage work, property management and accounting. And Dingel, who works closely with Millang on retail, office and investment deals, has achieved a fair amount of success in his own right.

In 2008, Dingel was recognized as a “Rising Star” by the Iowa Commercial Real Estate Association (ICREA).

“He just has a complete skill set,” Millang said of Dingel’s personality, intelligence, communication skills and commitment to follow through. “There is no argument among anybody that I talk to that he will be a top brokerage in the next two to three years.”

The investor

One hundred fifty three dollars and change.

That’s the amount printed on a framed copy of a settlement check displayed in Millang’s office. The investor, who a few years back was burned on a Ponzi scheme related to energy drinks, said he keeps the duplicate to remind him to look more closely at investment opportunities before pouring five digits into a deal.

In 2008, with that in mind, he acquired a majority stake in Johnny’s Hall of Fame at the corner of Third Street and Court Avenue in downtown Des Moines.

“They make a great partner,” Millang said of Hubbell Realty Co.’s minority interest in the business condominium at 302 Court Ave. “At the end of the day, we worked out a scenario where I could buy a majority of the real estate, the condo unit and the bar,” he said.

Millang, who said the partners spent in excess of $500,000 to remodel the space, which reopened in March 2008, was more interested in the real estate than the bar. He reasoned that if it didn’t do well, he could sell it and keep the property.

“It’s amazing to look back, how little I knew two and a half years ago about the bar and restaurant business,” Millang said, noting that he dedicates about 15 percent of his time to the operation. Hutchinson handles a large portion of the business, and Millang said hiring Reggie Rucker as the establishment’s general manager was a good move.

He said Johnny’s generates approximately $2 million in annual sales.

“Hubbell doesn’t get into partnerships where they are not the majority decision maker,” Millang said, noting that the joint venture portrays the developer’s confidence in his abilities.

“Hubbell doesn’t enter into those partnerships without a very high level of trust,” Gamble said. “Todd has proven himself with our organization for many, many years. There really wasn’t a question of whether he would be a good operator.”

Millang also holds a major or minority share in about a dozen retail, restaurant and multifamily properties in Central Iowa, most of which, he said, are generating comfortable returns. And as Dingel’s prowess grows, Millang plans to focus less on brokerage and more on investment opportunities.

“I’m looking at an apartment complex right now that I’d prefer to take down on my own,” he said. “Because anytime you bring in partners, there are two views.”

The traveler

Growing up, money was fairly tight and Millang often dreamed of being rich.

“We grew up without any extra income,” he said. “My brother and I worked since we were old enough to remember things.”

Not that he has any regrets. He knows his parents would have helped if they could have. And if he ever has children, he’d prefer them not to be too spoiled.

Today, Millang has plenty of extras: the suburban custom-built home, the Mercedes-AMG, the Titan motorcycle. But to him, experiences are more meaningful than material possessions.

“I shop at TJ Maxx,” he said. “I don’t need much of anything.”

He admitted that designer watches are a vice, but he runs late a lot, and they help him to keep on schedule. He uses his smart phone to keep in touch with clients. As for the car, well, it goes really fast.

But all Millang really wants to do is get away.

“My idea of pure bliss is the Boundary Waters, when all I have is my crappy, stinky camp clothes and a tent and a fire,” he said, adding that he has already taken three major trips this year. Last spring, he drove 7,250 miles on a tour of 15 U.S. national parks. Summiting California’s Mt. Whitney, one of the highest peaks in the contiguous United States, was a highlight of that trip.

In August, Millang returned from a two-month international excursion, which included some quality time with his girlfriend, Erin Wooley, in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Israel. And if climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania wasn’t enough excitement, the last leg of his journey was interrupted when a Russian national attempted to highjack his flight.

Millang was glad Wooley, a school psychologist with Heartland AEA 11, missed out on that incident. And he was happy she was already home to care for Sammy, his dog of 14 years, who died during his time away.

Without his staff in place, the vacations wouldn’t have been possible at all.

“When your clients call, they don’t want to wait until tomorrow to hear from you,” especially in today’s economic climate, he said. “They want you to answer the phone right away and get something back to them as soon as you can.”

The mentor

Like a lot of commercial real estate brokers, Millang said he finds it difficult to unplug. Whether he is at the Principal Park taking in an Iowa Cubs game, or off on one of his cross-country adventures, devices such as his iPod Touch help him stay connected to clients and coworkers.

At times, however, he said it just feels good to put the phone away.

“But when I get back in the car and I’m driving home, everything crashes down,” he said. “I think I’m more driven by losing a deal rather than making the money.

“In this business, most commercial brokers, we are working all the time.”

Millang has accomplished a great deal in his 35 years. A Certified Commercial Investment Member, he has received numerous awards for his brokerage work. In 2005, he was inducted into the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 class. He’s also a past president of both ICREA and the West Des Moines Rotary Club.

In college, he was a member of Rotaract, a Rotary-sponsored service club for men and women ages 18 to 30.

For a few years, he headed up the UNI chapter of Rho Epsilon, a student organization designed to inform members of employment opportunities within the real estate field by promoting interaction among faculty members, students and professionals.But Millang is most proud of his work with high-risk youth.

Over the past 14 years, he has mentored three children through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa. At Orchard Place, Millang has worked with about a dozen kids over the years. He sits on the board of directors for both nonprofits.

About four years ago, he became a “wish granter” for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Iowa.

“Todd has been just an absolute wonderful asset for this organization,” said Althea Holcomb, CEO of Big Brothers Big Brothers. “He certainly understands the importance of our mission. Whoever matches up with him, they would be the luckiest kids in the world.”

Last week, Millang and his current charge, Travis, had planned to go rollerblading. But after Travis got into a little trouble at school, his “big brother” opted to talk to the young man over dinner, which was followed by a trip to the library.

Though Millang’s parents didn’t have much money, at least compared to some other families in his “well-to-do” hometown of Huxley, he said that his needs and the needs of his siblings always came first.

He attributes the majority of his personal success and his character development to his mother and father.

“It’s not always about taking them out and having fun,” Millang said of his mentees. “A lot of these kids don’t have fathers; it’s about taking them out and just showing them what you would go do with your dad.”

He called his volunteer work at Orchard Place a “great leveling experience.”

“I’d be driving down there,” Millang said. “I thought I had a bad day. Then you go down there and think ‘I shouldn’t be complaining.’”