A spirit of enterprise Featured

3:43pm EDT April 12, 2012
A spirit of enterprise

For over 50 years Colliers International has provided real estate solutions to many of Houston’s leading corporations, institutions, and small businesses.

Leading companies such as 3M, Crown Castle, Talisman, Christus Health, Fidelity and The Coca-Cola Company rely on them for strategic guidance and creative solutions. That’s why Colliers International is ranked the second most-recognized commercial real estate brand in the world by the Lipsey Company.

Smart Business spoke with J. Patrick Duffy, ICSC, MCR, the president of the Houston office of Colliers International and chairman of the Colliers retail services group, about how the company overcomes obstacles and employs innovation to be on the leading edge.

Give us an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The commercial real estate market saw a significant drop in business after the capital market meltdown in 08. While A drop in volume was predictable, the length (time before recovery) and depth of the decline were very difficult to predict. We knew that we needed to tighten our belts and get ready for a few years of substantially decreased revenue. At the same time we saw the downturn as an opportunity to improve our efficiency and potentially grow our market share while our publicly traded competitors, who had more short term earnings pressure, were forced to make more drastic cuts. We made the decision to cut any luxuries from our operations but maintain the core support services that our clients and brokers required to achieve the best results possible despite the current market conditions. Our partners agreed that short term losses, while not preferred, were acceptable if required to maintain our services at a high level and to keep the skilled people with the organization.

We had cash reserves and no debt going into the downturn which made this decision possible and when we made the decision to acquire a friendly competitor and obtain a new office location in Sugar Land, our partners opted to add additional capital rather than use capital reserves for the expansion.

The result of this action was that we kept our brokers and clients happy, managed to break even while we grew the firm in a depressed market environment and grow our market share. We implemented weekly training and streamlined many of our processes during the downturn and are enjoying the fruits of those efforts now that the market has recovered.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Colliers has a robust international platform and is investing globally in training and information technology which gives us a real edge over most of our competitors. I was given the opportunity to be a trainer for Colliers University classes and have leveraged that additional training to bring the best practices of our global platform to Houston in weekly one hour training sessions. We are taking the best ideas from around the world and where appropriate, applying them here at home in Houston.

We have embraced social media and technology but a great deal of our “innovation” is just acknowledging that there is always a better way to do everything, looking for examples and embracing positive change.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how have you applied it?

Making sure that there is alignment within the organization as to who we are, where we are going and why is critical. We have a running two year plan that every person has a copy of and has had the opportunity to comment on. Having clear vision and a plan to make it happen energizes most people and makes work more fun. We try to keep it light but focused.

How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We help companies acquire and dispose of the real estate that supports their business. That may be a single asset or a portfolio of properties. We assist existing companies expand or relocate to improve their profitability and prosper. We guide companies that are considering the Houston market understand the dynamics of this area and make good decisions about where to locate and how to control their occupancy costs for long term success.

We also take an active role in the community through work with charitable and community organizations. As an example, we hold a golf tournament every year to raise funds for a selected charity (new one each year). This year we are helping “Kids’ Meals” purchase and distribute over 20,000 meals to Houston pre-school aged children, living in poverty who are in need of food.

How have you added “value” to the products and services you provide to customers and clients?

Real estate is one of the largest expense (and asset) line items for any company after their payroll costs. By bringing our experience in locating the right real estate for their particular business and negotiating the best terms for the control of that real estate, lease or purchase, we can have a significant impact on the profitability and growth of a company.

In many cases we help our clients with creative solutions for disposing of assets that they no longer need or in the case of investment properties are ready for conversion to the next asset or cash. Our professionals average over 18 years of experience and work collaboratively to make sure that we bring the best ideas and implementation to whatever commercial real estate problem our clients may have.

What is your philosophy on going “above and beyond” for customer service?

There is nothing better than getting a “wow” out of a client. Put simply, that is our goal. Our mission statement is that we will “deliver a superior commercial real estate experience with an absolute dedication to exceeding our clients’ expectations.” That mission statement is framed and on everyone’s desk. We try to live it.

J. Patrick Duffy, ICSC, MCR, is the president of the Houston office of Colliers International and chairman of the Colliers retail services group. Reach him at (713) 830-2112 or Patrick.Duffy@colliers.com.