I’ve had a long, fairly successful run at being an industrial real estate broker in Cincinnati, and at an age I’d never have ever suspected, I’m still fully engaged and doing well. Our market is so healthy, I can pick and choose projects I want to work on, and the people I like. And in a stark contrast to the days of paying for multiple educations and scrambling for deals, I’m in a position where work is optional and financial obligations pretty much gone. It’s a fine place to be.
One of the things I like to do – have always liked to do, but now there’s more time to do it – is work with younger people who are newer in the business. Some are women, some are minorities. It’s an industry that cries for more diversity, and the major organizations representing us – NAIOP, SIOR, CCIM, ULI, etc. – are really making an effort to widen the tent.
But it’s almost as true today as it was when I started 32 years ago – when you walk in a room to talk about an assignment, those at the table are almost entirely white men.
So in this mentoring role, which to me is just giving forward (I had some really great teaching and solid support when I started), I find myself starting at fundamentals.
Examples would be,
- “If you have an easy time getting ahold of someone, just remember, the next person does, too” – or “
- If you try and try to reach someone, don’t give up, but when you finally reach that person, you’d better have something to say, or it will be the last time," or –
- “Don’t just text or e-mail. Do you think your font looks better than the next person’s? Go meet with the client. If you don’t believe in your ability to show your worth in person, you’re in the wrong business!”
I always start with the example of me walking into a room full of people. I almost always have felt comfortable doing that and am confident that in a minute or two, I’ll have their attention. But it’s not the same for everyone.
How I usually handle that is by using a ladder example – that a project has you start on the first rung, and you have to earn your way to it. I’d get there immediately after entering that room – I caution the people I mentor that they’ll have to get accepted by a collection of unknowns in the first-impression world we live in, so concentrate on that first. If you know your stuff, or if you are comfortable with a little harmless banter, you’ll probably overcome most initial discomfort, assuming most people are reasonable. So there’s an extra half-step for you as you start.
When you’re active, and constantly on the move, sometimes you can miss the obvious. My epiphany was several years back when my company (then Cassidy-Turley, now Cushman & Wakefield) was reinventing itself, and, at first I felt great, that I was an insider fully involved with the change. Then a month later, it occurred to me – there had been a seismic shift to some younger leadership and new “fencing” around the decision process, and that I was feeling “aged out”. Nothing drastic – but it was there.
I recalled a few years earlier at an SIOR conference when an older industrial broker who I really respected hosted a breakout session that was titled something like “What Older Brokers Should Do." I was curious enough, and was getting older myself, so I said “Why not!”
I was shocked. The message being delivered was about as far from anything I’d ever do as I could imagine. The presenter, as I indicated, was well-respected, but he was advocating coloring your hair, styling it like younger guys, buying younger clothes, wearing makeup, and – this one I couldn’t believe – he said he was considering a face lift! The overarching problem he perceived was somewhat accurate – that to appear old was to be a disadvantage.
Being healthy, intellectually OK, and energetic, is mandatory in this business. It’s not easy. And it’s not always possible for older people. But for me? I decided long ago, that I would be as technically able as anyone else, would know the market well, would do what I could to stay energetic and healthy, and would focus hard on adding value to anyone I encountered. And I told myself when I couldn’t, I’d stop immediately. No putting on a suit and tie, going downtown, sitting in front of a monitor, and playing solitaire for this guy!
So now my mentoring has a bit different slant. We ALL have to establish our worth in the beginning when we enter that room. Me with gray hair and wrinkles, but upright with spring in step. And throwing out indicators, one hopes, that I’m still relevant.