Cushman & Wakefield’s Ben Comm, Senior Managing Director of Asset Services, recently received the Sidney Glassman Award from the Apartment & Office Building Association of Washington, DC. This prestigious award recognizes senior management commercial real estate professionals for their outstanding leadership and exemplary work in areas of education, training, management, administration and legislation.
We sat down with Ben to reflect on what this award means to him, his 30+ year career in commercial real estate, and the property management profession.
How does it feel to have won the Apartment & Office Building Association’s Sidney Glassman Award?
It’s humbling and the most prestigious award that someone in my position within this industry can win. I’ve been active in BOMA and AOBA for 20 years in Washington, DC. At the awards ceremony, I had the opportunity to give a speech and enjoy the evening with my colleagues. The event was so much fun.
How did you get started in commercial real estate? And what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned working in this industry?
I started in commercial real estate in 1984 and since then, I’ve consistently learned that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. The key is learning from them, and it’s very much a learning process in our relationship-oriented business. I continue to learn something every day.
Concerning today’s market, what are the biggest challenges facing commercial real estate firms, specifically in property management?
Hiring. It’s hard to find great people filling the roles of both property managers and engineers. It’s a challenge due to an employee-driven market. Wages are higher, and people are being offered above market rates. This causes frequent turnaround, which pressures firms to provide the best in order to retain the best talent.
How can firms differentiate themselves from others?
We try to differentiate ourselves by hiring the best people that fit into our company culture. We also try to present Asset Services-specific initiatives, like including a dedicated transition manager, which most firms don’t have. It is important to remember that property management is a commodity. To differentiate ourselves, we have to establish strong relationships with our clients.
How have you successfully established and maintained strong relationships with clients?
The best way to stay in the good graces of clients is to do a good job. And to do a good job, you have to hire quality people. It’s all about the people in this business. You must communicate well with your clients. Talk to them, whether it’s quarterly, annually, or weekly. Some clients need a different touch than others. Communication and providing the best possible service is key.
How has your team’s dedicated client focus built Cushman & Wakefield’s reputation as a leading property management firm in DC?
Our recent wins have been assignment retentions. New ownership retains our teams because of the great work we do with the asset and how we clearly communicate the value we provide tenants and owners. Hiring the best people for an assignment, the resources we provide owners (financial accounting, construction management, etc.), and communicating with tenants are part of our success. Clearly, we put the “value” in adding value to a property.
Besides property managers, what other property management roles play a key role in achieving client objectives and satisfaction?
The engineer role is the most important concerning property management. And the team of property manager and engineer? They need to be essentially married – that’s how unified they need to be. They need to have a great working relationship since they have to work hand-in-hand to take care of the building, the tenants, and ownership. The property management team also needs to have a solid relationship with their vendors. They should treat vendors with respect and maintain compatibility. These are the people who clean your building, plow your snow, and keep the HVAC maintained. Everyone needs to be treated with mutual respect.
What advice would you give investors with regard to managing their assets?
Hire Cushman & Wakefield. And have faith in what we do. Property management and asset management are key, but sometimes we are considered the “back of the house” because leasing is so important. But maintaining the property and keeping tenants happy, while providing sound financial reporting, puts us in the front row.