'When splitting the proceeds, you need to pick your partners'
Q: Describe your company.
A: Since 1981 NAI Hiffman/Hiffman National has called Chicagoland home and has focused on delivering a first-class experience for our customers and employees. Our main commercial real estate business lines of brokerage and management serve private and institutional companies that appreciate our entrepreneurial spirit and passion for service -- whether to a property owner or occupant. This commitment to service is why we are the largest independent real estate services firm in the Midwest, with more than 200 employees supporting over 700 commercial properties and 89 million square feet of space. We're also especially proud to be a multiple-year "Top Workplace" award winner for both Chicago and the United States.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: We continue to hire the best talent we can find in the marketplace and have made over 20 additions this year alone in management, accounting, operations, project services and brokerage. Our ongoing financial commitment to the enhancement of operating systems, software and technology tools remained in place throughout the pandemic, reflecting our dedication to improving our leading-edge service offerings. We also continue to look for opportunities to expand in other markets and grow our service offerings, so we continue to expand in head count and ways to serve our customers.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: Securing top talent will continue to be a challenge, but we also are paying attention to many of the same constraints facing other organizations -- transportation/logistics, price increases and lead times for specific products. We prefer to under-promise and over-deliver but some uncertainties in these areas are a challenge to that philosophy.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Industrial real estate is getting all the press these days, and for good reason -- according to our MarketWatch report, the total industrial vacancy rate in Chicagoland for first-quarter 2021 was still just 5.76%, despite all the disruptions from COVID-19, and more than 23 million square feet of industrial properties were under construction.
Companies also are increasingly turning to an integrated real estate services provider for more of their needs. Our customers are relying more and more upon assistance from outside their organization, so they come to us to help facilitate special projects they previously controlled in-house. Some examples include project management, construction, lease administration, due diligence and marketing, to name but a few.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie executive, what would it be?
A: Schedule time in your weekly calendar to get your work done on the business, don't just spend your time in the business. Otherwise, you will end up being unable to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves because you couldn't devote the time to exploring them further.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right." -- Henry Ford.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: I've been listening to a podcast called "Driven by Insight" from Willy Walker that touches not only on real estate but other leadership traits. Between Willy and the guests on his program, the insights have so many parallels in every business, I always take away something each time I listen in.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: Our rotating philanthropic partners are Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics and Illinois Habitat for Humanity of DuPage County, primarily not only because our team members wish to help fund such organizations but also because we can actively participate in preparing meals, building homes and working with the athletes. We also engage with various not-for-profits brought to us by employees, clients and business associates who can present their chosen charities via a "Shark Tank"-like panel of other team members. Among the most fun events of the year has to be our annual dodgeball t ournament in the fall, which represents the centerpiece of our fundraising efforts.
Q: Was there a moment in your career that didn't go as you had planned? What lesson did you learn from it?
A: I took advantage of an opportunity to make a small investment in a predecessor firm, as I hoped that could turn into my retirement nest egg after a life as a 100% commission salesperson. Ultimately, that investment was redeployed well ahead of retirement as part of my contribution to start the firm now known as NAI Hiffman in 2000, and the rest is history. Lesson: After appropriate investigation, make a decision; and if circumstances change, don't be too stubborn to make another, different decision in order to control your destiny.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: First of all, I am blessed to have a family that likes to spend time with me (and each other!). That includes being outdoors on activity-based trips, biking and playing pickleball, paddleball and golf, whether with family or friends. In the last few years, I have developed an affinity for old cars -- first a '49 Ford F1 truck, which was sold recently in favor of a '59 Austin Healey. And after fixing up many residential properties over the years, building a timber frame cabin is in my future.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: "Stuff You Should Know: An Incomplete Compendium of Mostly Interesting Things" (from another entertaining podcasting team).
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Ever since I started taking CBD gummies, not too much.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: See free time question, above.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Mowing lawns at 12 years old. I learned quickly that when you are splitting the proceeds, you need to pick your partners. I mistakenly chose to partner with a buddy who liked hanging out in the basement better than working outside.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: Sox Park -- although it might not be worth the cost as most fans would still call it Sox Park or Comiskey.
Chief Operating Officer
One Oakbrook Terrace, Suite 400, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
Industry: Commercial real estate brokerage and management
Number of employees: 200 plus
Family information: Wife and two sons