Three Sticks

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

For 85 years, the Barry family has been right in the middle of the commercial real estate developments that have shaped and reshaped metropolitan Milwaukee.

For most of those years, the family’s company was known as James T. Barry Co. Inc. During World War II, James T. Barry Sr., who founded the company, stopped his residential brokerage work and focused on industrial brokerage to help the government find properties to use for military supplies production for the war effort. He also handled all of the real estate matters for First Wisconsin National Bank (today U.S. Bank) for many years.

His son, James T. Barry Jr. helped assemble the property for the construction of what is today known as the U.S. Bank Center, the tallest building in Wisconsin. Barry Jr. also was involved in the development of the first industrial parks in the metro Milwaukee area and one of the area’s first office parks, Bishop’s Woods in Brookfield.

Today, the company is known as Colliers Barry and is run by James T. Barry III, known among Milwaukee’s commercial real estate players as “Three Sticks.” And the company, just as it has been so many times in the past, is again literally right in the middle of the redevelopment of Milwaukee.

Colliers Barry is planning to build a new office building for its headquarters along the Park East corridor, which is the largest and perhaps the most important redevelopment area in downtown Milwaukee (see accompanying story).

Over the past year, ownership of the company was transferred from Barry Jr. to Barry III and his brothers, Kevin Barry and David Barry. Barry III is now the company’s president and chief executive officer. He is the majority owner. Kevin and David Barry are minority owners and are senior vice presidents of the company.

Unlike other commercial real estate brokerages, Colliers Barry does not market itself as a “full services” firm. Instead, the company focuses on its core competencies, particularly in the industrial real estate market.

“Industrial really does remain our core bread-and-butter business,” Barry III said.

Colliers International has a tremendous presence in retail real estate brokerage. Colliers Barry’s strengths are in industrial and office space brokerage, while also handling investment, land and some retail brokerage.

The Milwaukee company is considering expanding its retail presence, but not at the expense of its core operations in the industrial and office markets, Barry III said.

“Because of the success we’ve had in the past, we want to build on our strengths and not try to be all things to all people,” Barry III said.

THREE GENERATIONS The three CEOs in the 85 year history of the
James T. Barry Co. Inc., now known as Colliers Barry, (from left to right)
James T. Barry Sr., James T. Barry III and James T. Barry Jr.

Ahead of the curve

Like his father before him, Barry III is attempting to stay one step ahead of the sociological curves that reshape Milwaukee. Barry III has become one of the more outspoken voices of the Milwaukee business community about political issues affecting the metro area’s economy.

Barry III often meets with local politicians to lobby for measures that he strongly believes will improve the economy and help the business community. He has been a harsh critic of Milwaukee County’s handling of the land it owns in the Park East corridor. All of that land remains undeveloped. Although some projects have been approved, construction has not begun.

Within Milwaukee’s commercial real estate industry, Barry III is regarded as a player, an insider who doesn’t back down. He is chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW).

“We’ve dealt with the Barry Company for many, many years. With Jim II and now with Jim III, they have certainly been one of the leading industrial real estate brokerage groups in the metropolitan area for a long, long time. They have always had a very talented group of brokers. A very good operation,” said Tom Bernacchi, vice president of Towne Realty Inc. and past president the CARW. “Jim III is a very talented individual himself. He is certainly well-entrenched in the community and well-respected in the commercial real estate industry, not only in the Milwaukee area, but also throughout the country. It (Barry’s political voice) is needed. It’s leaders in the (business) community like Jim III that will continue to help Milwaukee grow and prosper.”

Barry III also is vice chairman of the board of directors of the Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan watchdog of southeastern Wisconsin government.

“He’s been very active and has an interest in the city and development. He’s an interested citizen who wants to work for the betterment of Milwaukee and the community. He has been a valuable member of the Public Policy Forum,” said F. William Haberman, a partner at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP and chairman of the Public Policy Forum’s board.

In addition to his roles at Colliers Barry, CARW and the Public Policy Forum, Barry III wears many other hats: He is the president-elect of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee and serves on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Board of Visitors, the Board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, the Board of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies and the Board of Advisors for the Bell Real Estate Chair at Marquette University.

Barry III worked on an economic development task force for County Executive Scott Walker, shortly after Walker was first elected.

“He’s very insightful, he’s very knowledgeable about the community the region and the state,” said Robert Dennik, director of the Economic Development Division for Milwaukee County. “He’s very progressive and forward-thinking about the county, the city and the state.”

Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, said, “I find him (Barry III) to be a valuable resource in the community. Jim and his family, and his company, have been a big part of the success we’ve had in the Milwaukee region. Jim is outspoken, but that’s generally coming from the fact he has a very large knowledge base. He understands the market and he understands what drives the market. At the end of the day, whether you agree with his analysis or not, the one thing you can depend on is his analysis is going to be a thoughtful analysis.”

Marcoux said Barry III has introduced him to equity partners from outside of the region who want to invest in Milwaukee. “He has been a cheerleader for the City of Milwaukee and the region,” Marcoux said.

“Jim is known as a very tough, but fair negotiator. He gets it done. He can deliver,” said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.


Barry III can be as blunt as he is committed.

“There are two things that are major challenges hurting our region’s economy,” Barry III said. “No. 1, a dysfunctional government system that does not know how to relate properly to the business environment. There are exceptions, the (Milwaukee) Department of City Development is very strong and is a great asset to our effort to build the economy. But look at how the county has handled the Park East. And we have to create a tax structure that allows our city to grow and prosper. We don’t have that yet.”

Barry III says the inner city issues of poverty, crime and a lack of education prevent Milwaukee from reaching its potential.

“Our government and our community must address it. All of these businesses in these (suburban) industrial parks used to be on 30th Street and 27th Street. Because of the level of crime, it is extremely difficult to encourage business to locate in the inner city, which is where they should be because the labor force is there,” Barry III said. “When we list properties in the inner city, the only ones interested are churches and nonprofit organizations. It’s sad. It’s so rare to get a call from an actually for-profit business that says, ‘I want to locate there.’ For the good of our city, that is what you’d hope for.”

His father’s son

To have the impact on Milwaukee he hopes, Barry III will need the kind of foresight his father used to mold the company into a local commercial real estate powerhouse.

Barry Jr. remains involved with the company as its chairman. He joined the firm in 1959. He took over the day-to-day operations of the company in 1964.

During his career, Barry Jr. was involved in several developments that had a significant impact on metropolitan Milwaukee, including the region’s first industrial parks, starting with the New Berlin Industrial Park.

“In the early 1960s, it became apparent to me that the future of the United States of America was changing in the way in which organizations were conducting their industrial business,” Barry Jr. said. “They were leaving the quote-unquote inner city and determining that the buildings that housed their operations were rapidly becoming functionally obsolete.”

Those older industrial buildings were becoming obsolete because they had an inefficient multi-story layout, no land for expansion and poor access to the new freeway system.

Barry Jr. studied the then-new concept of industrial parks located in outlying areas. At the time, most industrial companies operated near downtown areas. Barry Jr. analyzed a successful industrial park near O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Then he needed to determine the ideal location for an industrial park in the Milwaukee area. He took a helicopter ride over the region and concluded that New Berlin, which was mostly undeveloped, was the optimal site for such a project.

Urban sprawl was born in the region with the construction of Interstate 94, and Barry Jr. was ahead of the shift.

“I’d take the helicopter and start at Lake Michigan and fly west toward Madison,” Barry Jr. said. “It took 100 years to develop the area from Lake Michigan to Waukesha County. I flew it in 20 minutes, and I was going slower than the new speed limit was going to be (on the freeway).”

Barry Jr. was involved in developing and then selling parcels in the New Berlin Industrial Park. He later was involved in developing industrial parks in Germantown, Menomonee Falls, the City of Milwaukee, Brown Deer and Muskego, as the company became the dominant industrial real estate broker in the region.

The popularity of industrial parks soon carried over into the creation of office parks, and Barry Jr. was involved with one of the first office parks in the region, Bishop’s Woods in Brookfield.

With the company’s growth came the need to hire additional staff.

“It’s always been incredibly important for me to have a solid group of people with expertise, integrity, intelligence, education and credentials,” Barry Jr. said.

“My father started his career when Milwaukee was peaking as a city,” Barry III said. “In the late 70s and 80s, it headed in a downward trajectory with racial problems and many industrial companies going bankrupt. A lot of people in my generation left and have not come back. Things turned up again in the late 80s and early 90s. We started to realize that we had to make the area more attractive and put in place incentives for people to stay here. We’re still not there, but I think we’re right on the cusp. You see so many good things happening in the central business district, the Third Ward, (freeway) corridors north, south and west.”

Colliers Barry timeline

1921 James T. Barry Co. founded by James T. Barry Sr.
1959 James T. Barry Jr. joins the company.
1963 Company incorporated as a C corporation.
1964 James T. Barry Jr. takes over day-to-day control of the firm.
1976 James T. Barry Sr. retires.
1986 Company joins Colliers International Property Consultants.
1993 James T. Barry III joins the company.
2005 Company name changed to Colliers Barry, ownership transferred from James T. Barry Jr. to James T. Barry III (majority owner), Kevin Barry (minority owner) and David Barry (minority owner). Barry III joins board of directors of Colliers USA.

James T. Barry III
Age: 42
Title: President and CEO of Colliers Barry
Nickname: “Three Sticks”
Education: Bachelor’s degree Georgetown University, 1986; law degree, University of Chicago, 1989.
Residence: Milwaukee
Family: Wife, Nora; and daughter, Joan.
Favorite movie: “Casablanca”
Favorite author: William Shakespeare
Favorite musician: Johann Sebastian Bach
Hobbies: Squash, skiing, golf, reading history and literature and “strolling my daughter around the neighborhood.”
Best advice ever received: “Try to discern God’s will in all things.”

Colliers Barry
Location: 1232 N. Edison St., Milwaukee
Leadership: President and CEO James T. Barry III, chairman James T. Barry Jr., senior vice president Kevin Barry, senior vice president David Barry
Number of brokers: 15
Annual transaction volume: About $100 million
Web site:

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