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New to Commercial Real Estate? Here are 5 Lessons from 5 Years in the Industry

By Chris Hillman

The commercial real estate industry is notoriously competitive and fast-moving. When I joined Cushman & Wakefield a little over five years ago, I was new to real estate, but I was eager to learn. And there’s no doubt that I’ve learned a lot in that half decade.

To mark the completion of my fifth year at Cushman & Wakefield, and in the CRE industry, I thought I’d put down some thoughts on the biggest lessons I’ve learned in that time. Here’s hoping these tips can help other brokers who are new to CRE—or, can serve as a good reminder to anyone who is trying to carve out a place for themselves in our breakneck, always-on world.


Lesson 1: “It’s never nothin’.”

From an early age, my Grandpa often told me “It’s never nothin’.” Like most kids, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but as I’ve grown up and taken on more responsibility, I’ve found this be one of the truest statements I’ve encountered. I used to ask him, “So you’re saying that it’s always something?” to which he’d reply, “You could say that, but I find it’s more accurate to say, ‘It’s never nothin’’.”

There will always be something that comes up. Whether it’s a light fixture falling at home or a client who won’t return emails at a critical point in the process, it’s never nothing. The challenge is to accept that these things happen. I’ve found it beneficial to prepare as much as possible, but inevitably we can’t be prepared for everything. When something unexpected or stressful happens, it’s useful to focus on what I can control and what needs to be done first.


Lesson 2: Don’t let comparison steal the joy.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but I’m working on it. In a world and industry that is hyper focused on results and production, it can be hard to separate myself—and, sometimes my identity and my value—from my number on the board. But we should never let comparison to others steal our joy.

So instead of paying attention to the success of others, and how it compares to my own, I try to focus on

putting my nose down, working and being thankful for what I do have.


Lesson 3: Work hard.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing about how my fellow millennials only care about ping-pong tables and casual attire. (Although I must concede that a minority of our generation has left a sour taste in our predecessors’ palate.) That being said, I’m a firm believer in the power of hard work to overcome other difficulties. If one client is obstinate and rude, it’s best to recuse yourself and move onto another option if you’ve sown enough seeds.


Lesson 4: Treat people the right way.

Spike Lee said it best: “Do the right thing.” I might add, “Do the right thing, no matter what.” Luckily, I’ve had mentors in and out of the industry impress on me early and often that the right thing is always the right thing. It makes life simple to know that you did what you thought was the right thing, no matter what. A tough conversation may hurt in the moment, but speaking truth with grace provides a better night’s sleep than almost anything else.

Your actions always come back around—whether you call it karma, cosmic energy, luck or the Almighty’s will. Building a sterling, trustworthy reputation in the marketplace, within your friend group and in other spheres of influence will always prove fruitful in the long run.


Lesson 5: Take time to unplug.

In a world where we are always plugged in, I strive to find ways to quickly decompress and unplug whenever I can. During the week, I usually shut down email around 6 p.m. and have dinner with my wife, watch a show and then check back in around 8 p.m.

In CRE and many other industries, work on vacation can unfortunately be a necessity. Whenever I need to stay plugged in while I’m away, I try to spend at most an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon answering emails and making calls. When I set those times, it allows me to not worry the rest of the day and to focus on relaxing.

I may be preaching to choir here, but we work to provide for our families, not to define ourselves and our value. Everyone decompresses differently. But I find it helpful to have a process, both on a day-to-day basis and while on vacation.


Bonus Lesson: Find something bigger than you.

Invest in your community and build a legacy that is more than just the deals you do, the skins on the wall…or whatever euphemism you choose!


Chris Hillman is an Associate within Cushman & Wakefield’s Industrial Services Group in Dallas.

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