Ronn Thomas

Director of retail/ hospitality brokerage services for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq

In 2002, Ronn Thomas made a major career move from being a Boeing 727 captain to retail real estate broker. Seeking more job security than he says the airline industry could offer, Thomas joined Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, where he specializes in tenant representation and the sale/leasing of retail and hospitality properties. He received the company's "Rising Star" Award in 2003 and has been one of the company's top producers. Clients include Papa John's, Casual Male and Tuesday Morning. He's also the Minnesota Shopping Center Association president for 2013.

QHow did you decide to become a pilot?

AI got out of college and was in sales and I started flying as a hobby. I got my private license for fun. I fell in love with it and decided to make a career out of it.

QBut then you completely changed directions?

AI had done about everything you could do. I worked my way up to captain of a 727. I was an instructor, a check airman, and something just always bothered me about the airline industry. It was a fickle industry; an industry where you didn't have any control. I was at Sun Country Airlines, and when they filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors, we didn't know for sure if they'd open back up... . At the time, I was 36... . I just thought I needed something with more security.

QWhy commercial real estate?

AI knew it was sales I wanted to do. I talked to a lot of people in different types of sales - stockbroker, insurance sales, pharmaceutical sales, medical equipment, residential and commercial -- to try and find the right fit. And this seemed to be a good fit.

QRetail has struggled since the recession. Where's the market now?

AIt's coming back, but that's relative because it was nonexistent for a couple of years. We're all experiencing new activity. ... There's less new development and the majority of that's infill redevelopment."

QAny examples?

AIn Eagan, Paragon Outlet Mall is proposed for the old Cedarvale Shopping Center at Hwy. 13 and Cedar, and CSM has the old Lockheed Martin site at Pilot Knob and Yankee Doodle.

QWhat retailers are active?

AThrift stores and a lot of grocers, including specialty grocers. And now that Wal-Mart and Target have food, they're in that category competing. ... Another trend is retailers are getting smarter; they're right-sizing. Many have smaller footprints. That's changing the dynamics.

Liz Wolf is a freelance writer in Eagan. She can be reached at