Discover the business books that motivate and inspire commercial real estate professionals.
Business books are like potato chips: You can’t really stop after just one. And for business book junkies, there is certainly no dearth of material. Nearly 5,000 business-related titles were published last year, according to R.R. Bowker, which tracks book sales information. Add those to the more than 10,000 titles published the previous two years and you have, well, rows of book jackets featuring successful-looking people lining the aisles of your local bookstore.
Of course no one really peruses the business section just for fun. Everyone goes looking for a specific title recommended by a business associate or a friend. For those in need of something to read, a recent survey of commercial real estate professionals produced a bounty of recommendations, ranging from industry-related titles to classic business books of the last decade to today’s best-sellers that cover personal investment, innovative thinking, and the emerging global marketplace.
From Page to Practice
Even more interesting than the titles recommended are the ways that industry professionals put into practice the theories and ideas presented in business books. Many, in fact, hand out favorite titles to clients and associates. “We swear by Raving Fans,” says Lauri L. Greenblatt, CCIM, president of Promus Management in San Diego. “Everyone in my company has received a copy of this book, and we all have contributed at least three ideas learned from the book.”
Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, by well-known business guru Ken Blanchard, offers a three-part formula for customer relationships. “It’s important that we turn customer service from a necessity into an art, and this book is helping us do that,” Greenblatt says.
Real estate consultant W. Darrow Fiedler, CCIM, CRS, GRI, with Keller Williams Realty, in Torrance, Calif., has incorporated Robert Kiyosaki’s Cash Flow Quadrant and Gary Keller’s Millionaire Real Estate Investor into his client approach, citing them as his “two most influential books. … [Clients] are handed these books to review before sitting down to design their investment plan, which typically includes 10-year, five-year, and one-year goals, with the emphasis on cash flow and appreciation … Location, price, terms, and even types of property will be deduced out of the investment plan.”
Other real estate professionals have directly applied strategies found in books. “In my business, geared toward … representing high net-worth owners of multiple real estate properties, Keith Ferrazzi’s approach in Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time has worked very well,” says Susan H. Lawrence, CCIM, vice president/marketing for Real Estate Strategies in Orlando, Fla. “It’s not about using mealtimes to network. He tells people how to network effectively but selectively for a lifetime, based on an attitude of generosity, participation, and bringing friends together to benefit others.”
Reading Against the Grain
A popular business topic today is going against convention, as typified by Steven B. Sample’s Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. “His ideas are radically different,” says Robert M. Thornton, CCIM, SIOR, vice president of Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield Alliance in Virginia Beach, Va. “After implementing many of them, I found that they do work, especially not thinking in binary terms. Many of his concepts are very freeing.”
One of Sample’s recommendations is “Read what your competition doesn’t read.” So if your competition is reading the Contrarian’s Guide, perhaps you should pick up The Zurich Axioms by Max Gunther. “[Zurich Axioms is] one of the best business books I have ever read,” says James C. Jacob, CCIM, president of Jacob Real Estate Services in Tampa, Fla. “It sets out simple concepts … that are based on avoiding traps inherent in many accepted investment practices,” Jacob says. Promoted as the “investment secrets of the Swiss bankers,” the book’s 12 major and 16 minor axioms provide a primer on the art of speculation rather than a technical analysis or method for investment. But Gunther’s first axiom sets the tone for less-conventional thinking: “Worry is not a sickness but a sign of health. If you are not worried, you are not risking enough.”
The Global Approach
New market realities caused by globalization are another popular theme in today’s business books, first chronicled in Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The book’s message is that the global marketplace is challenging us to improve or change our skill sets every five to 10 years, says Don R. Scheidt, CCIM, president of Don R. Scheidt & Co. in Indianapolis. “Quality education that will allow one to have a strong foundation to build upon is very important,” he says. “Individuals will not be certain that current skill sets will be in demand in another eight to 10 years if they don’t keep up with what is taking place on a global view.”
Other tomes that carry the message of a changing marketplace include Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “[It is] by far my favorite of the dozen business books that I read in 2006,” says Robert V. Vallera Jr., CCIM, principal/broker of Commercial Realty Advisors in La Jolla, Calif. “Perhaps you made a few million dollars in the last market cycle. … Before you buy into the next hand, read what Taleb has to say about much of our success in the market. It might startle or even anger you, but it will definitely make you think, and you’ll probably become wealthier for having read it.”
Two recommended books explore the field of marketing in a changing world. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne offers a look at niche marketing that Rolando Alvarez, CCIM, a senior associate at Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT in Miami, found helpful. “I have used a number of the strategies suggested in this book. Basically the authors argue that tomorrow’s successful companies will succeed not by battling the competition, but by creating blue oceans, which are uncontested market space ripe for growth,” he says. One example given in the book is the success of the Curves Fitness Centers, which entered the oversaturated fitness market and expanded to more than 6,000 locations with revenues over $1 billion.
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More is another marketing title that tells “what happens as items that take up physical space disappear into the digital realm,” says Todd Clarke, CCIM, chief executive officer of NM Apartment Advisors in Albuquerque, N.M., who hands out this title along with the Undercover Economist to agents and consultants. For example, “Once CDs went digital … since music no longer occupies physical space, online music venues can carry as many tunes as they want. If you graph it out, the top tunes sell millions, but the lesser-known tunes sell hundreds and the long tail is the graph of that relationship. The music companies are finding the most profit in the tunes that have an audience of one, 100, or 1,000.”
Clarke and his associates applied the idea to commercial real estate. “We incorporated the concept into a business model to roll out a national franchise to do apartment brokerage focusing on the ‘long tail’ of the apartment world that most large national firms miss — two to 99 units.”
Of course no book list would be complete without at least one title from left field — literally. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, looks at the business of our national pastime, specifically how general manager Billy Beane turned the 2002 Oakland Athletics into a winning team while maintaining the smallest player payroll in Major League Baseball.
“I use Moneyball in a [real estate investing] class I teach at the University of California, Berkeley extension,” says William P. Mohr, CCIM, principal of Mohr Financial in Oakland, Calif. “The students read the book and then [pick out] five insights about what they have learned.”
Can you learn about real estate from baseball? Apparently so. “The naked eye was an inadequate tool for learning what you needed to know to evaluate baseball players and baseball games,” author Lewis says in Moneyball. After reading that quote, one of Mohr’s students wrote: “Just looking at a property does not give you the tools you need to evaluate the investment opportunity. Due diligence through mathematical measurements does.”