A Word from the Wise: Cresa’s Baby Boomers Weigh in on Yesterday, Today and the (Bright) Future
As Baby Boomers begin their exit for the greener pastures of long-awaited retirement, we would do well to mine the experiences of their generation. With one eye on the sunset of their careers and one foot still carving the way of the future, they are a voice to be heralded, particularly as we embrace the fullness of a diverse workforce.
These are the folks who wrote term papers on typewriters, traveled on coal-fueled trains, paid less than $1 for gas, used landlines and snail mail. They value the art of in-person communication, sought answers without the aid of the internet and witnessed groundbreaking civil rights movements. Their fierce work ethic in a post-war economic boom of American history gave us the very ground that we stand on, and, most relevantly, they carry tried-and-true grit in the evolution of our commercial real estate industry. They offer a wealth of professional and life experience which was used to create a foundation for the future, our future, and have sustained a landslide of economic, technological, and environmental changes along the way.
Several of Cresa’s longest-tenured Baby Boomers have responded to questions that consider their past, present, and the promising hope that they have for our future.
- Rich Rhodes, Managing Principal, Washington, DC (with Cresa 28 years)
- Steve Schaumberg, Managing Principal, Washington, DC (with Cresa 28 years)
- John Behm, Managing Principal, Philadelphia, PA (with Cresa 26 years – and left once!)
- Kathy Thomas, Managing Principal, Project Management, Washington, DC (with Cresa 21 years)
- Jim Byrd, Managing Principal, Atlanta (with Cresa 24 years)
- Gerald (Jerry) Porter, Managing Principal, Los Angeles (with Cresa 28 years, before it was Cresa!)
- Lynda Schroer, Managing Principal, Denver (with Cresa 5 years / BGL prior)
When you look back on your earliest days at Cresa, what’s changed in the way that you handle your clients as it relates to driving success, building trust and securing deals?
Rich Rhodes: What’s changed? Technology is the most obvious answer. From no cell phones to fax machines to the internet and now video communication – things seem to move fast.
Building trust: you need to be good at what you do and be willing to track and deliver measurable results. Evidence of success always needs to be in front of the client. My secret sauce is response time – I ALWAYS reply within a few minutes and certainly no more than within a couple of hours. Securing deals: Diversity in team. Ideally, racial diversity but also skillset diversity (both are difference makers), transaction creativity, and a diversity of service lines.
Steve Schaumberg: Three changes come to mind. Responsiveness, analyses and budget. We didn’t have to respond immediately – in fact it wasn’t expected. The amount of data we track and use is so far beyond what was available. Budget is the biggest in my opinion because the cost to build, furnish, move and occupy is out of control. We used to negotiate allowances that would cover the majority of the expenses or at least be able to pinpoint overages with accuracy. Today, it’s crazy and it’s the one thing that a client will remember if you screw it up.
John Behm: Business seems to evolve or transform in every generation. Change is inevitable. Often, this can lead to fantastic improvements to our society. Clients still want to be handled with care, they expect your full attention and accountability, and they still demand results. Those things may never change. But how you decide to deliver each will. Over the course of time, work smarter, be as efficient and effective as possible, and learn. Every day will teach you something new – use it wisely.
Kathy Thomas: Everything in our industry, including our clientele, has become so much more sophisticated and we are expected to be several steps ahead of the market at all times. Our track record, brand awareness, and deep bench of tools / resources / technology have certainly aided our ability to continue to improve our client success rate – both through wins and delivery of services.
Jim Byrd: Back in the first year of Cresa (1992) we did not have cell phones in our pockets and their invention and evolution changed everything. The first ‘portable computer’ weighed twelve pounds and certainly never went in your ‘lap.’ We handle our clients today the same in most of your categories. Building trust is building trust and that takes time, but we can do so much more for them as CGI with all the service lines we did not have back then. There was always a focus on quality and of course being “conflict-free.”
Jerry Porter: The earliest days of Cresa were fairly unstructured and most of us were traveling from state-to-state with our clients on each transaction and were supported on tours by our local team. Later, we began to travel less and trust our partners more as we got comfortable with their capabilities.
Lynda Schroer: Not much has changed for me. I’ve always focused on networking and building strong relationships, providing the right team, being attentive to the details, ensuring proactive communication and delivering quality results. Engaging with clients on a personal level and building trust over time is key to driving success and client loyalty.
What did it used to be like?
RR: Hustle and street work – meaning, we were running letters of intent and leases by foot or car from tenant to landlord. We were using landlines and index cards for business development. It sounds historic but it was just fine. Progress seems to be seamless. It just requires a little continuing education.
SS: The competition wasn’t as fierce, and our presentations were much simpler. Back then we were more focused on process. Past and present, it’s still about the numbers. Clients want to know they got a good deal.
John B: I’m not that old, but the early days of my career were exciting. The opportunities in my mind were unlimited – especially since I began working in New York City two days after graduating college. I remember one of my first days at work where I was shown my desk, my phone (just a desk phone-cell phones weren’t a thing yet for everyone), and a phone book then I was walked to a window with a view of the city by one of my managers who said – “there’s your business, go get it”. Fortunately, I had great mentors and the style of training at that time in this firm was a lot of one-on-one tutoring. I survived the washout period, which if I recall was on average 6-9 months after hire. And 34 years later, I’m still enjoying the business.
KT: Early on, I was trying to sell our services not only to potential clients but also to some of the brokers (who thought they were managing projects). Project management as a stand-alone service, or in conjunction with a broker, was not as well known for tenant reps as it was for landlords. People were not as aware of the in-depth services we provided, including a lot of the upfront planning (workplace, programming, scheduling, budgeting) or the intense tenant advocacy we provide on so many fronts.
Jim B: The process remains the same, but the brand is so much better, and we are much better-known now. The stronger brand and proven service lines makes it easier to tell the story with confidence that you can get and hold the prospect’s attention in the initial conversation. That sounds funny, but that was our biggest hurdle in the early days in Atlanta. The name Cresa was an unknown entity and often we were thought to be Crescent, a local office building developer, when we started a conversation. We outlasted them.
JP: In the very early days, most of our offices had their own company names and Cresa was a shared brand that eventually became the main brand and a formal organization.
LS: I find it used to be more of a ‘manual’ approach, people had more time available, less pressure - technology has impacted approach and increased momentum on all levels.
How has an age saturated with technology effected your client relationships, your ability to do business?
RR: If we’re talking about the pandemic years then I’d say it’s been both better and worse. Better in that everyone seems to be more easily available, worse in that I’m better face-to-face – video doesn’t cut it. I like reading body language and manipulating the meeting with gestures.
SS: In many ways technology helps and hurts. It helps with information gathering, tracking clients, dates, etc. For me, personally, it hurts because I don’t see my clients in person nearly as much as I used to. Lease negotiations, architect meetings and deal reviews happen over Zoom because it’s easy. I miss the interaction.
John B: Technology has clearly improved our collective ability to conduct business at exceptional levels. The quality and quantity of work has certainly improved. But the important facet that is sometimes overlooked is the effect technology has had to improve for most their work/life balance. Time is our most precious asset and technology has given us the many tools to hopefully maximize it.
KT: For me, it’s made it so much more efficient – communications, ease of file access, ability to do a Teams meeting whenever you need to pull folks together to solve a quick problem. However, it can be frustrating when others aren’t as technologically savvy or have poor technology access and are unable to participate in the same way. The downside has been the speed in which everything is expected to be done – no snail mail, no wonky fax machines.
Jim B: The tech is great when it saves time, like Zoom Info, and when we make a presentation using ESRI mapping and Google Earth. Even over the last 30 years, so much is faster, better, and cheaper with the faster computers and software. We forget how slow and limited we were. Our clients certainly benefit from our better tools and services, but our work product has remained pretty much the same concepts with just better spreadsheets and graphics. We are older and wiser and more sophisticated but still the core conflict-free tenant rep, as always.
JP: Technology has been a powerful tool for group prospecting for new clients without chaos and for expanding consistent service across our client base.
LS: Time is more limited in finding personal connections, for many reasons. So, I find it takes more thought, creativity and effort to coordinate getting together, continuing to build or develop new client relationships and ensure it is enjoyable and valuable – it usually is! Technology has enhanced so many things – but not necessarily tangible human connection.
In your experience with the newer and younger faces and next generations to hit the industry, how do you feel about their approach, tenacity, attitude, and the overarching condition of the industry in their hands?
RR: I think it’s changed for the better. We’re out of the ‘entitled generation’ and back to hard work, street smarts and long-hours. We feel very fortunate in our office to know what our future looks like. The talent and skillset of our next generation is different than ours (both have their advantages) but the passion for success, service and legacy is the same.
SS: I don’t think we can be in better hands. Not only do we have so many levers and tools at our disposal, but we also have the folks who make up all of Cresa who know how to use them.
John B: It’s been amazing to watch the transformation in both our industry and organization over time. Our emerging talent is well prepared for success. This group’s dedication to the business, each other and the greater company will prove to be a powerful tool as Cresa evolves and takes the next steps in its growth.
KT: Well, we’ve certainly set them up with a plethora of tools that weren’t available when I started in the industry. Real estate is not a stagnant thing, lots of history and lots of progressive trends but at the heart of it, it is a people business. The younger people in our office truly recognize the opportunities they must positively influence where and how people work, leveraging and expanding upon what we have developed along the way.
Jim B: That is a good question to ponder. The classic answer is ‘…in the old days we did this and that…well, better, of course.” But actually, today’s new faces are much more comfortable with tech and using it, so this change allows them to focus on the work of tenant rep and not the software/hardware. This increases efficiency and potentially allows more energy to focus on the work of the day. This energy is a fantastic boost to any office which has a lot of early Gen Z’s or later Millennials working in it and I would advise anyone who has not experienced this to seek it out when and if possible. We older baby boomers are still followed by plenty of the younger baby boomers who still populate most of the offices. These 4 or 5 generation mixes have been good for all of us in the industry, and we need more and more of the Gen Xer’s to take over the reins.
JP: This could not be a more challenging time to try to meet new people and develop business. Decision-makers are having to figure out how they are going to use office space in the future. If this younger generation can help their clients figure out their needs, whether it’s traditional office or a hybrid version of some more conservative model, it will be a good opportunity to build client trust for the future.
LS: I’m excited for those who are emerging and newly established in our industry. There is always so much to learn and the opportunity to grow is exponential. Love the level of energy, fresh ideas and positivity that they bring to a mature business which continues to grow and shift. I look forward to seeing the results of their influence and actions.
What’s the best advice you were given, heard or experienced as it relates to your professional career?
RR: Know which way is north, east, south and west so you can be specific. And of course, early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
SS: Treat the landlord brokers and landlords as friends. I’ve spent a career dealing with a handful of both and more than anything or anyone else, have played a huge role in my success.
John B: I’m not sure there’s one piece of advice that stands out. There are several values that I’ve tried to implement throughout my career that seem to have proven effective – be patient, be persistent, be accountable, be trustworthy and lead with hard work.
KT: Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. It’s been unbelievably fulfilling for me to create a successful business within a business, trailblazing how it was done and maintaining a best-in-class reputation in the industry (mic drop).
Jim B: In business, never use the word “Promise” unless the ‘object’ of that sentence is totally in your control (which it almost never is). Measure twice and cut once. I would rather have a slice of a watermelon than 100% of a grape.
JP: The first time your client figures out that the advice you’re giving them is better for them than it is for you, they will be a client for life.
LS: I’ve had three amazing mentors over my time in the industry – all have been clients. Here are three take aways from working with them: 1 - Put the bow on the package. Don’t think the job is complete and move on until the client is fully satisfied with the results. Ask, don’t assume. 2 - Know your audience. Effectively listen and then communicate clearly and thoughtfully. Understanding your audience at all levels, from leadership to the ‘field’ is a gift. 3 - Be gracious and humble, internally and externally.
What advice can you pass on about loyalty to a company? Or, is it about loyalty to yourself and your values?
RR: That’s up to the company more than anything. Create the right culture and you don’t have to worry about loyalty. Is it about loyalty to yourself and your values? No, feels like a selfish approach to life. I feel better about: treat others as you would like to be treated.
SS: I’ve been with the same company for 25 years and the same partners for almost 33. Both of those are a huge contributor to my joy in this business. Regarding values – reputation is everything. Treat everyone with kindness and integrity in everything you do.
John B: Since 1993, I have been with Cresa. I was fortunate to land among some very good people in Philadelphia when we decided to form our own brokerage and align, at that time, with the Cresa Alliance. We were a firm of two people that grew revenue and people every year for 21 consecutive years before the hard merge into what is now Cresa Global, Inc. I guess you could say loyalty to those with whom you work with, and an honest recognition of their values, is a cornerstone of success.
KT: You need to have loyalty to yourself and your values first and foremost, and hope you find a company whose values align with yours. That’s what I found when I came to Cresa. It makes me want to do my best every day.
Jim B: Another tough [question] since companies quit being loyal to their employees back in the 1970’s or so, the culture has shifted more to one of self-preservation (loyalty to self?). But as independent contractors running our own businesses within the larger [organization of] Cresa, the culture has provided a place and glue for people with a common respect for “doing the right thing” to act with a sense of loyalty which is a bit stronger bond than many companies can generate in the present business environment. When you respect the people in the organization, and they you, there does build a loyalty to a greater cause.
JP: It’s all about culture and trusting the people you work with.
LS: Good question. For me it’s about loyalty to all three – company, self and values. If the company provides strong leadership, financial opportunity and growth, recognition, is reputable, stands by its values and commitments and is a fun, exciting place to be, it’s worth being patient and seeing what you can make of it! Regarding loyalty to self and values – know yourself and your values. If your work isn’t aligned, figure out why, take time to analyze and understand versus reacting and making short-sighted decisions.