If one were to look on paper at what makes a great leader in commercial real estate, the criteria would certainly include financial performance, transaction volume, shareholder returns or the number of properties the firm owns or manages – depending on the type of business the individual leads. And a quick look at some of the data available on the industry would make the task of selecting CRE’s top leaders relatively easy.
Yet true leaders manifest themselves not only through performance but also – and arguably more importantly – by the way their employees feel about them. Afterall, real estate is a relationship business, and relationships are all about people. Even the most qualified and experienced C-suite executive would be adrift in such a tumultuous business without a talented, motivated and dedicated crew.
With this in mind, we at Real Estate Forum decided to find out who were considered among the industry’s best leaders as part of our inaugural Leadership Issue. Of course, we sought out such factors as ambition, accomplishment and financial prowess. But we also looked beyond those qualities to turn up individuals who were likable, inspirational, innovative and who lead by example. In short, we were looking for leaders who rise above the C-suite sea to have talented professionals clamoring to work for – and with – them.
The response to our call for the “Best Bosses in the Business” far exceeded our expectations, with more than 100 nominees submitted for consideration. The editors narrowed down the selections to 26 finalists based on the individuals’ most remarkable characteristic; in fact, the breadth and quality of the nominees was so great that we decided to increase the number of finalists – and their superlatives, if you will – from the initially planned 15.
We then conducted a thorough poll of our readership to determine who would grace the issue’s cover as the Best Boss in the Business. Nearly 4,000 votes later, we had our winner in Andrew Wright, the young superstar who founded Franklin Street a decade ago.
Yet all 26 of the individuals on the following pages have justly earned the reputation of “Best Boss,” if one were to look at how their employees feel about them. Read on to see who else made the final cut, and what their colleagues have to say about them. And for more information about our process in selecting the finalists, read our detailed methodology section at the end of this feature.
CRE’s Best Boss of 2016: Andrew Wright
Launching and growing a new company at a time when most real estate firms were downsizing and cutting costs, if not going out of business, would seem to be a fool’s errand. Yet for Andrew Wright, the gamble paid off – and well – thanks to a fierce determination and a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
CEO and managing partner, Wright was 26 when he established Franklin Street in 2006. Since then, he has grown the full-service CRE firm from four people operating out of an apartment in Tampa, FL to 200 staffers in six offices in major markets throughout the Southeast, all focused on delivering value-added solutions to CRE owners and occupiers nationwide.
Despite his young age, Wright has a deep knowledge of the market, having negotiated the resolution of more than $800 million in distressed CRE debt since 2009. With this expertise, in 2012 Wright implemented Franklin Street’s new management strategy, providing a balanced picture of the company’s goals so that all employees understand them. Namely, the focus was on the training and recruitment of top talent and a focus on revenue growth by offices and verticals. He reviews the strategy map with the entire company every quarter and highlights ways in which the firm is successfully executing its goals – all while providing his employees with the tools an leadership they need to succeed. He also makes sure Franklin Street advocates mentorship from company leaders to new professionals who are learning the market.
To reach his 10-year goal of growing Franklin Street to be a national brand with offices in the top 35 metro markets, Wright is looking to grow organically. To accomplish this, he makes it his mission to make the firm a “great place to work.” As such, he’s implemented such initiatives as regularly scheduled “lunch and learns,” sales meetings to share business development opportunities and “all-hands” collaboration meetings to share trends and updates. He offers mentorship-based employee training and internal promotion opportunities, quarterly team-building events in each office and annual reward trips for top sales and corporate employees. He also established Employee Appreciation Day as a paid holiday and holds an annual year-end party and awards ceremony for all offices. That’s in addition to the firm’s philanthropic activities; staffers receive company-paid time off to volunteer in the community and, in 2014, the United Way Suncoast recognized Franklin Street as a Top Volunteer Workplace.
Yet what’s written on paper only tells so much of a story. Of the dozens of comments Wright’s colleagues shared, here are a few that illustrate his influence as a leader.
Samantha Berk Plate, a real estate services director, tells of Wright’s honesty and openness as a leader. “We were at a large but casual company picnic with all of the employees, from top producers to property management workers,” she relates. “The rest of us were eating and I asked if he was going to eat lunch yet. He said he would after he gives his speech to the group – he always has the most motivational and sincere speeches. When I asked why, he said he gets nervous to speak in front of his employees because of how much it means to him. This was coming from a man who speaks in front of countless panels and daunting situations. It just goes to show how much he truly cares. To him, business is personal, in the most positive way.”
HR director Becky Berns tells of one of Franklin Street’s quarterly corporate volunteer events in which over 50 Tampa team members participated in the United Way Day of Caring, cleaning group cabins at the Children’s Home. “Everyone was assigned tasks first thing in the morning,” she recounts. “Andrew, however, had an early morning appointment so he arrived at the Children’s Home about a half hour after all the assignments had been handed out. When he arrived, e walked up to me and said, ‘I’m ready to go! What’s my assignment?’
“Just what assignment do you give your CEO? Being relatively new with the company I replied cautiously, ‘Well… we don’t have anyone to mop yet,’ and waited for a reaction. Andrew just smiled at me and said, ‘Awesome! I’m going to be the Mopping Captain!’ He grabbed two people who’d just walked in and said his team would start in the back and work their way forward.
“True to his work, he led his team with vigor as they diligently scrubbed the floors of every single room in every single cabin. I keep a picture of Andrew and his mop and bucket from that morning in my office to this day. Andrew leads by example and no one has more passion or enthusiasm. He has a special spark and an energy like no other. When he is not with us, we miss him… and when he is with us, we shine in the reflection of his spirit.”
Others put their thoughts more simply: “Andrew’s values influenced my decision to pursue a job here;” “I would follow his lead anywhere.” “He is like no other CEO I’ve ever worked with in my 30 years in CRE;” and, “To call Andrew a boss is just not enough. He is a mentor and a friend.”