Motivation: Part I

The amount of things I do NOT know about commercial real estate is staggering. Sometimes, I don’t even know where to start looking for the right answer to a question. Volumes could be written about the things people know that I don’t.

But after having met with some of the greatest leaders in our industry, here is something I do know:

If you want to be successful in this business in Atlanta, then money can’t be your main motivation.

Careers in commercial real estate can be (and often are) very rewarding financially. It is not uncommon for a good broker to make $1 Million per year and a “lucky” developer to make more than that. And I am certainly not suggesting we live the Jeffersonian itinerant farmer life. We all need to make money and CRE is a great way to make a lot of it. But, in my mind, that is the icing on the cake. The great financial benefits are just a nice reward for working in a great industry. Those benefits cannot and should not be the reason for staying in the industry.

Here is why:

Sooner or later you will have to chose between a relationship and a paycheck. You will get some adverse information or some unforeseen circumstance will give you a decision between eroding your margins and doing what you promised to a tenant, client, whoever. This circumstance or complication might even kill the deal that you have been working on for 18 months. You are then forced to chose between integrity and a paycheck.

Do you have the guts to approach a client or broker and say “Mr. Client/Broker, this just happened and it is probably going to end our hopes of making a deal”?

Or maybe we should rephrase that . . . “Mr Client/Broker, I have found a good reason why you shouldn’t pay me my $200,00 commission check on this deal.”

Hopefully you see the ethical dilemma in spite of my over-the-top example. There are times when you could bend the truth or sweep the issue under the rug as “no big deal,” but if you were honest with yourself then you would probably admit to misleading the other party. That ‘big deal” issue is the mole hill you should have made into a mountain if you were acting in their best interest.

Now, I know that sitting here and phrasing it as black-and-white as I just did in the vacuum of the hypothetical, it is easy to make that call. The truth is, it is almost never that black-and-white. We operate in a gray society. I can always convince myself that “he already knows that and has figured it into his proforma” or that “I’m just being a drama queen and the listing broker wouldn’t even care about that minimal flood damage.”

I realize that my examples are a little silly, but focus on the point of my argument and not the semantics of the example. The easiest person to lie to is yourself and it becomes less and less difficult as you add more and more zeroes to the end of a paycheck.

So here is the punch line: If you want to make as much money as possible as soon as possible in your CRE career regardless of the consequences, then please do me a favor. Do not call me.

I realize that I am turning down deals here and I am walking away from potentially large paychecks. But when I am 80 years old and I am looking back at a 60+ year career in CRE, I’m not going to look back fondly on the huge paychecks and fancy cars I drove that are now at the junkyard. I will look back at the deals I enjoyed the most and all of the time I got to spend working with my friends. In the end, I think we all want to do business with our buddies. That will offer a reward beyond financial compensation: fulfillment.

I suppose I just want to err on the side of honesty and integrity vs the side of untold riches and wealth. If I give up a few deals because of that, so what?

In Part II I will get back up on my soapbox and talk about what I think are proper motivations for this career. Until then, enjoy the weekend.

– Duke

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