Learning From the Pros
Personal coaches and mentors can help CCIMs perfect their game.
Upon winning his
fourth Masters Tournament earlier this year, Tiger Woods dedicated his victory
to a mentor who has been with him every step of the way: his father. While
Woods’ golf skills have helped him earn esteem, awards, fortune, and fame, the
guidance of mentors, specifically his father, also has contributed to his
Athletes such as Woods aren’t the only professionals that
need career and personal guidance. Mentors — teachers or guides who support
protégés’ career development — are particularly valuable for those who are just
starting out in commercial real estate, in the midst of a career change, or
looking to break out of a rut.
“Good mentors make all the difference,” says Richard D.
Whitney, CCIM, SIOR, principal of Whitney Commercial Real Estate LLC in
Asheville, N.C. He credits his mentors with providing a career launching pad.
“This tremendous education became a springboard for my landing and managing the
assets of George Beverly, one of the most respected developers in western North
Carolina,” he says.
Commercial real estate pros who want to enhance their
personal skills and improve business practices may find what they need in
personal performance coaches. Personal coaches’ skills, qualifications, and
techniques vary widely, but the Professional and Personal Coaching Association
defines the role as an “ongoing relationship focusing on the client taking
action toward the realization of a vision or goal.”
“Having a coach gave me the tools to become a different
observer of what was taking place and the ability to shift and change how I
assessed what was taking place around me,” says Peter J. Petrouski, CCIM,
president of Integrated Business Coaching in Chicago. Petrouski found coaching
so beneficial in his career development that he trained to become a personal
There are specific differences between coach-client and
mentor-protégé relationships, according to a Center for Coaching and Mentoring
online survey. Coaching relationships have specific agendas and focus on
improving performance in task-related situations. Mentoring relationships have
no specific agenda and focus on the protégé’s individual development. Both
relationship types have valid applications in the commercial real estate world.
Jim Gillespie, founder of Advanced Real Estate Sales
Coaching in Temecula, Calif., says accountability is the primary reason
personal coaching worked for several of his clients. Gillespie’s coaching
techniques include holding weekly phone conversations with clients so the
concepts and motivations discussed are “in their face.” Clients also might be
given an objective to work on for the week. “In this industry it’s all about
presentation and if the broker didn’t do the work, they feel guilty and
accountable for not following through before the next phone call,” Gillespie
Gillespie finds that coaching has to be tailored to each
client’s needs. “Coaching is not just telling people how to be successful. A
big part of it is knowing how to motivate. How can I get this person to be
passionate about their career?” he says.
Petrouski agrees that coaching should be modified to each
situation. Elements such as frequency and style of meetings can vary. Sometimes
he uses strategies such as weekly one-on-one phone sessions. Other times
coaches are hired to train entire offices over several weeks.
Allen C. McDonald, CCIM, principal of Baker Storey
McDonald Investments in Nashville, Tenn., hired performance coaches to improve
his company’s business practices. “The benefits to us were numerous, but
primarily [the coaches] held the principals accountable to the company’s yearly
goals and objectives,” he says. The coaches also helped employees more
efficiently manage their time and energy. “Successful organizations understand
the relationship between time and energy and can appropriate accordingly,”
McDonald says. “Prior to being coached, we fell into the longer, faster,
stronger, and harder quadrant,” he says. After coaching, employees were better
able to “discern what is important versus urgent” and present a consistent
message to the market.
One-on-one coaching can be equally effective for
improving business skills. Widespread access to new technology has leveled the
playing field for competing companies, Petrouski notes, which increases the
importance of interpersonal skills in today’s professional environment.
“Imagine a ‘bake-off’ between three or four different companies for a client.
Everybody’s got [access to] geographic information systems, PowerPoint, etc.
The technology edge is gone. How do you make yourself stand out? It has to be
your speaking ability; it has to be you as a human being,” he says.
Performance coaches can help professionals improve these
skills. During sessions, “the coach listens to what the client is saying and
asks questions to help shift the way they view the situation,” Petrouski says.
“Coaching isn’t a teaching function. It helps the client realize that to be
different, you have to do something different.”
Because commercial real estate pros’ reasons for seeking
coaches are so varied, finding one tailored to specific needs can be
challenging. To locate a good match, Petrouski recommends looking into prospective
coaches’ training backgrounds and client endorsements. “Hiring a coach is
similar to hiring an attorney. You can have a free one-hour session to talk
about what you want to accomplish and see if there’s a fit,” he says.
An important consideration is whether or not the coach
has experience in commercial real estate, Gillespie says. “There are a lot of
‘whole life’ coaches out there,” he says. “But wouldn’t you want someone who
has direct experience in your field?”
Finding a mentor can be far less complicated — often the
best candidates are already in your office. Whitney found his mentors, Lee
Arnold and Pat Duffy, at Lee Arnold & Associates, a commercial brokerage in
Clearwater, Fla. “As a sole practitioner I tried to figure out who I was for my
first 10 years in real estate,” he says. After being hired and mentored by
Arnold, Duffy, and others in the company’s office, Whitney’s commercial real
estate career began to take shape.
“They taught me things like choosing a niche, using target
marketing, working smart, and a multitude of other concepts I had never before
grasped,” he says. Whitney met with his mentors for weekly training sessions on
topics including professional trends and regulations.
Daniel E. Listrom, CCIM, president of First Regional
Properties in Austin, Texas, also finds value in mentors. “Nothing compares to
a mentor who knows his weaknesses, sends you to outside education to broaden
your horizons, and takes you along on study trips of other markets — showing
how your market can improve with ideas used elsewhere,” he says.
Like Tiger Woods, some commercial real estate
professionals find mentors in their own families. In some multigenerational
family-run businesses, career advice and guidance are part of the dialogue.
“When I first graduated from college, my father, who also
is a broker, recommended that I learn real estate appraisal before I start in
commercial brokerage,” says David J. Murphy, CCIM, MAI, first vice president of
CB Richard Ellis Industrial Properties in Orlando, Fla. By following his
father’s advice and gaining an understanding of real estate valuation, Murphy
found a unique path to career success. “In my first full year at CB Richard
Ellis, I was our company’s eastern U.S. rookie of the year. Now I am
consistently a top producer in the largest commercial real estate company in
the world,” he says.
James M. Mullin, CCIM, a principal at the Staubach Group
in Phoenix, found multiple family mentors. “My father, a CCIM, was a developer
and also a car dealer in Indiana as I grew up. My grandfather was a car dealer
too, so when I decided to get into commercial investment real estate, I spent a
small but meaningful time in automotive real estate,” he says. This experience
evolved into an interest in and reputation for working with automotive
properties in Mullin’s local market.
“My father was a significant mentor as he always
encouraged the development of a niche when virtually everyone in my profession
were traditionalists. ‘Stick to the main food groups of real estate’ was their
guidance,” Mullin says.
Of course, mentors aren’t always in an office down the
hall or in the family tree. Sometimes locating one requires a more proactive
“My mentors have come from our local CCIM chapter,” says
Jasper Tramonte, CCIM, president of Tramonte Commercial Brokerage in Houston.
Local CCIM chapters are an excellent place to find someone with industry
experience to help guide a novice’s career. Chapter events also provide good
One True Thing
Some mentors’ and coaches’ advice continues to resonate
with protégés throughout the course of their careers.
“It has been nearly 12 years since I left Lee Arnold
& Associates and I continue to quote [my mentors there] on a daily basis,”
Whitney says. “I keep both of Lee’s books at my desk at all times and refer to
them each time I need a form, a contract clause idea, or just need to refresh
my thoughts on working smart.”
Two morsels of advice continue to mold the way Todd D.
Clarke, CCIM, president of NM Apartments in Albuquerque, N.M., does business.
After Clarke billed a client $4,000 for a consultation and market study, a
mentor informed him that his work was worth much more. “I should have charged
over $18,000. My mentor told me if I didn’t charge like my advice was valuable,
how could I expect [clients] to treat it with value?” he says.
Another mentor told Clarke he admired cartoonists because
they could draw a comic strip one time, allow others to replicate it thousands
of times, and make money off of each copy. “The lesson I took away from that
was to find as many places as I could to reuse research and information and
avoid reinventing the wheel,” Clarke says.
While mentors offer modicums of wisdom, coaches offer
techniques for thinking, acting, and doing. A frustrated client of Petrouski’s
found career success by using his training sessions to correct a fundamental
communication problem. The client, employed by an international company, wanted
a pay raise. “She didn’t know how to make the request. It sounds simple, but it
happens when people have no background in it,” Petrouski says. During three
one-hour meetings with Petrouski, the client practiced making requests using
role-playing scenarios. These sessions prepared her for the board of directors
meeting during which she successfully requested and received a pay raise, a
bonus, and authorization for an additional employee. The client credits
Petrouski’s coaching with helping her to “determine a goal, set a date for
action, and learn the reasons why and skills necessary to accomplish the task
successfully,” he says.
Gillespie finds that many of his clients need to learn to
work differently, rather than longer and harder, to improve their business
strategies. “The difference between the mid-level performers and the top-level
performers is in who they are talking to, how they are presenting themselves,
and the way they carry themselves, among other things,” he says. One of his key
coaching strategies is to help clients realize that they don’t need to work
more hours, but need to change the way they prospect.
matter what the technique for improvement, the importance of career guidance
from a mentor or coach cannot be underestimated. “Having a good mentor is like
swimming downstream instead of upstream,” Whitney says.