Being successful isn't just about closing the most transactions or landing the biggest deals. Success is also measured by the contributions industry professionals, such as Sandy Benak, CCIM, leasing manager at Granite Properties, make to the commercial real estate industry. In her 30-year career, Benak has not only navigated the ups and downs of the Houston office leasing market, but she has shared her knowledge and passion for real estate with up-and-coming professionals, including her son Andrew, a former pitcher with the New York Yankees organization, who is now forging a commercial real estate career. Commercial Investment Real Estate asked the 2014 Houston/Gulf Coast CCIM Chapter president about the value of getting involved in local professional organizations.
CIRE: As a leasing manager in one of the country's most active commercial real estate markets, how does your CCIM education and network help you excel?
Benak: I completed the CCIM designation in 2010 when the economy was not great, especially for real estate. It was the perfect opportunity to use the time I was not spending on deals to earn the designation. Today, Houston's booming economy presents a different set of challenges. For Granite Properties, which develops, owns, manages, and leases its own office buildings, there is tremendous competition to purchase buildings and land and to develop property. Utilizing my CCIM skills and networking to be more creative than the competition can be the difference in winning deals.
CIRE: Your motivation to succeed extends beyond the transaction arena. What drives you to pursue leadership roles in professional organizations?
Benak: I value relationships as the single most important factor in business. As chapter president, one of my goals is to promote the CCIM designation with an emphasis on targeting students and younger commercial real estate professionals, and we have made great progress this year. Over the summer we started a mentoring program to help younger professionals and new designees get more involved in the chapter. We are also working with an undergraduate student at the University of Houston, which is one of CCIM's University Alliance partners, to help create a real estate club for interested students. This fall, the chapter will also collaborate with another CCIM University Alliance partner, the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, to network and promote hiring opportunities for students and local real estate professionals.
CIRE: How does the Houston/Gulf Coast CCIM Chapter collaborate with other industry organizations?
Benak: The chapter has partnered with a range of our peer organizations' local chapters, including CREW, the Appraisal Institute, and NAIOP, for both social events and educational sessions. We also collaborate with nearby CCIM groups, such as the Montgomery County CCIMs in The Woodlands, Texas, with whom we partnered recently for a golf outing.
CIRE: When you talk to prospective or new members, how do you describe the value of getting involved with the local CCIM chapter?
Benak: I let them know that the CCIM designation is a valuable resource for generating business. For example, the CCIM chapter's annual forecast competition was hosted in one of Granite's newly constructed office buildings. More than 300 real estate professionals attended the event, and we signed at least one new office lease as a result of an industry professional attending the event in our new project. Also, being involved with our local chapter puts me in contact with younger professionals that I love to mentor and learn from. I have become great friends with many industry contacts and have closed several deals as a result of my CCIM chapter networking connections.
CIRE: What strategies are most effective for marketing your chapter and its many activities and events?
Benak: We work very hard to promote our chapter members through our social media channels. The chapter appointed a social media chairperson who gets the word out on Facebook and LinkedIn and is starting new accounts on Twitter and Instagram. These tools are free and offer a great vehicle to promote local chapter membership. Although social media is just one strategy, we have seen great results this year: Membership has increased by 100 people since mid-2013 and we have added 32 new designees as local chapter members.
CIRE: As a successful woman in commercial real estate, what advice can you offer to young professionals?
Benak: Men and women can each have distinct advantages when dealing with clients and the successful people figure out how to capitalize on those advantages to accomplish their goals. There are a lot more women in attendance at industry events now, which is a positive trend. In addition, we're seeing a lot more women speaking on expert panels at these events. My daughter, Kearby, who recently graduated from college, had a very successful volleyball and golf career, and is now pursuing her master's degree. I tell young women in real estate the same thing I told my daughter: Women should know no limits. They should feel empowered to be successful at anything they set their minds to accomplish.
Jennifer Norbut is senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. If you have a story worth sharing in CCIM Q&A, send it to email@example.com.