The Personal Side of Real Estate

Posted on September 4, 2019

The personal side of real estate banner

Cultivating relationships is something I have gravitated toward throughout my life. Not exactly sure why, but it’s part of my wiring. It seems fundamental and something I’ve tried to become more thoughtful about over the past 20 years. So when Nick and Hannah asked me to write about my approach to forming and maintaining healthy relationships, particularly as it applies to recruiting and helping build Foundry Commercial, I immediately wanted to turn the focus away from me and make this article about the company. About Foundry. About how relationships and connections have been the foundation for our growth and continue to drive what we do day-in and day-out. But the Foundry United editors ultimately told me I had tell you some of what I’ve learned about people and relationships and what that means in growing a commercial real estate company. So here it goes. 
First the caveats: I’m in no way a trained expert in relationship building or recruiting or psychology or anything like that. I’m a regular person who’s had some success at forming meaningful/fruitful relationships and making connections and has maybe-slightly-higher-than-normal levels of curiosity around people’s stories. I’ll attempt to share what’s worked for me and the people I’ve had the honor of working with over the years, and hopefully maybe you’ll find it helpful or at least somewhat interesting as you read. Finally, I am not naïve enough to think that we’ve built a perfect company – there is no such thing. But hopefully you’ll be encouraged to learn some of the stories that have been connected over time as Foundry has grown. 

The Why

Before I get into the mechanics of healthy relationships, let’s talk about why this stuff should be important to all of us. I don’t think it’s necessarily a hard sell, but setting the stage is always helpful. I believe that when you get right down to it, our relationships and our health are two of the most important things we have in life. If I don’t pay attention to both my emotional and physical well-being, I won’t be able to be the husband, father, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc. that I want to be. Healthy relationships are a big deal – they add to the enjoyment in the good times and make it possible to get through the tough times. 
I remember hearing CNL Founder, Jim Seneff, say years ago that “relationships transcend transactions,” and that simple idea made complete sense to me and has stuck with me. Whenever I get the chance to speak to a real estate class or new associate entering our industry, I try to bring some of that philosophy to the conversation. Relationships transcend transactions. I’ve noticed a large part of our culture and educational system wants to focus everything on the science of things — information, data, designations, daily step count. Those things are important and foundational, but we often miss something if we get to where we view everything as a transaction. Sure, there’s an opportunity cost to everything. Sure, it’s a good idea to maximize the impact of how we manage our time and resources. But when I look at the world, I see that relationships really do transcend transactions and I believe that’s where incredible opportunities come from both professionally and personally. It’s something we all tend to learn over the first decade of our careers – it turns out that often times our career paths  are dependent on our ability to navigate and develop diverse relationships rather than purely on technical skills. 

The How

All right, now for some ideas on how to properly build and maintain and view relationships. Again, please remember I hold no license or certificate in relationshipping. This stuff is more art than science, and these are simply my observations as I’ve thought about how relationships work in life and business. 
As I see it, there are seven important components of building and maintaining healthy relationships and they all start with the letter C because, well why not. You have to have the CAPACITY in your day/brain/calendar to deepen existing relationships or create new ones. You never know when or where they might come from and if you’re moving too fast, you’ll miss it. (Ferris Bueller might’ve had an impact on me.) You have to make room for new and growing relationships. 
You have to find COMMONALITY within relationships. I’ve always  enjoyed finding commonality with people, especially when there are apparently clear differences (background, ethnicity, generations, etc.). And this isn’t a “hey you play golf, I play golf” thing – it’s deeper than surface level. This is about understanding a person, figuring out what makes them tick and how you may connect with them. 
You have to be CURIOUS. For the rest of your life, or at least your career, please be curious. This is a great way  to find commonality. If I’m meeting with a potential client in New York, I want to know what’s their background, what motivates them out of the office, what’s their role, what drives them in their work, what drives them at their core? Always why: Why are they pursuing this asset? Why did they react that way? Why are their shoes on the wrong feet? Some people will naturally be more guarded than others, but most people will appreciate you being genuinely interested in who they are and what they do. It inherently builds trust – but you have to be genuine. Life and work and your career will all be more enjoyable if you’re being curious and digging in to understand people. 
You have to actually CARE about people. This can be the tough one for some of us, but this has to be at the core of your curiosity. Our culture wants us to keep things siloed: work, family, friends, hobbies, etc. should all get separate time and attention. But I believe everything’s connected and everything’s bubbling inside a person all the time. As I’ve gotten deeper into my career and lived through a number of life experiences, I’ve learned there’s always a lot going on in our lives behind the scenes. We might try to maintain a façade and “keep things professional” when we’re at the office, but I generally want to break through that. I’m probably not as good at this as Mr. Front Porch Friday/Saturday McKinney, but I want to know what’s going on in people’s lives. If you’re going to be curious, you have to care. 
You have to be COGNIZANT of what’s going on around you. Pay attention to people and situations and emotions, and you’ll see ways to step in to help, or identify new opportunities, or maybe just make a friend (which is no small thing). The word I’d normally use for this is AWARENESS but that doesn’t start with C. 
You have to be CONFIDENT that who you are isn’t defined by others and comfortable that you aren’t always going to be the one who’s best at building every relationship. So in certain scenarios, think about being a conduit to others and finding ways to connect people so they can build their own unique relationships. 
You have to be CONSISTENT over time. For many people this is how you communicate that you genuinely care, and it can be the hardest one to do well with all that we have pulling at our calendars. It takes some effort to consistently pour into relationships. “Being present” and doing it over time is how I’ve seen people build the greatest trust in others throughout life. There’s a compounding effect that happens with this last C. 

What Happens

There’s really no telling what might happen if/when we build and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships. Again, more art than science and it’s definitely not formulaic – no guaranteed result for a given input. However, it’s easy to see what’s possible when you step back and look at what’s happened over time. 

For me, growing Foundry Commercial isn’t about finding the next deal or the next opportunity or the next client. It’s more about finding the next talented person and unleashing her or him to do what they do with passion. The success we’ve had has come from aggregating a whole bunch of talented people, and 80% to 90% of those people have joined from pre-existing relationships. We’ve gone from 12 people to over 300 people without ever using an outside recruiting service. A large chunk of my role is figuring out how we can find and support more talented people, and moving into new markets has always been relationship based – who do we know there and what meaningful connections  do we have in that market?

Here’s a little taste of what’s been possible here at Foundry because of relationships:


Foundry got its start in 2007 when CBRE acquired Trammell Crow Company and 12 people decided they didn’t want to break up the relationships they’d formed over years of working together in Florida. 


The Dallas–Fort Worth market became a possibility in 2010 after some of our leadership team reestablished a 20-year relationship with Jimmy Grisham and Jim Wells.


Matt Messier and I had a great lunch meeting one day with Chris Bury, who was a Foundry client at the time. We both said afterward how cool it would be if Chris could become part of our company and three months later Chris helped us start our California “Church World” team.  Also worth noting: Matt drove from Florida to California for that lunch, which shows the lengths to which we’ll go to establish and maintain relationships. 

We entered Charlotte in 2011 when a trusted relationship at CNL connected us with Susan McGuire and the Crosland team who were looking for their next chapter together.


I met Alex Smith years back when he reached out to me as a sophomore at FSU, my alma mater. Two years later we hired him to join the Foundry team on a small outpost in Atlanta. He then moved to our Charlotte office in 2013 and has been killing it ever since in the Queen City.

Paul Ellis and Pryse Elam talked over dinner at the ULI Conference in 2013, brainstorming what the opportunity could be if Pryse joined Foundry to create a development and investment platform. A billion and a half dollars in D&I projects later, it’s looking like that was a pretty good dinner investment.  


Brandy Garnero worked with much of our leadership team many years back. But when I sought her advice about some growing pains we were experiencing in 2014, neither of us knew she’d be coming on board 90 days later to help us actually navigate those issues as our Head of Human Capital.


We were able to expand the Charlotte office significantly when Charles Jonas called Bill Simerville and Brian Brtalik and told them we had a desk for every member of the Charlotte Thalhimer team after it was announced their firm was being acquired.  

Bill and Brian shared with John Kelly they were coming to Foundry and encouraged John and his partners to consider moving their entire Raleigh office to Foundry and that happened about 45 days later.  Stuff like this doesn’t happen without trusted relationships.


Mary Beth Paris joined Foundry after Andy Hawkins spent many years with her husband in a weekly bible study. As he got to know Mary Beth he learned about her amazing accounting skills and southern charm, and helped us recruit her to lead our client accounting group. 


Jason Holdwerda was integral in our adding the OakPoint team in Nashville last year, but the process originally started back in 2017 when he helped bring Don Albright to Foundry. Don’s son was a founder of OakPoint so this gave Don a unique window into sharing the Foundry story with John Keller and Rick Helton. Fast forward 12 months, the OakPoint  opportunity was finalized and Foundry Nashville was off to the races. 


As Chris Hurd was recruiting his friend Ryan Blackburn, Ryan shared with us that he ultimately wanted to work with his good buddy Jordan Camp, who was with another firm at the time. So we said let’s make that happen and a few months later they joined Foundry together to help build out our industrial platform in Atlanta. 


Kevin Maddron had a strong relationship with myself, Chris Mauth and others after working together for a number of years while at CNL, so when Foundry was on the search for a new CFO in 2018 he was at the top of our list. A few coffees and lunches later, he was carrying a Foundry business card as both CFO and our new Healthcare Platform Leader. Kevin was a BOGO for Foundry! 

Here’s where I’d like to give you that Paul Harvey line, “And now you know the rest of the story.” But that’s not entirely true, because there are so many other stories like these that make up the mosaic that is Foundry and a) I’m forgetting some stories, b) I don’t know all the stories and c) I’ve been allotted only so much room here.

Bottom line: It's pretty amazing what can happen when we're intentional about relationships.

I’ll close this article with a metaphor that’s helped shape my view on my personal calling to cultivate relationships in life. For a while, my role at Foundry had me going into new markets and trying to figure out how to connect with new people and foster new relationships. Oftentimes once things were stable in said new market, that part of my role would be done and I’d need to move on to another new market opportunity – not forgetting about those relationships, but not having the same frequent contact I did when I was in-market every few weeks. This was a struggle for me.

Someone wise in my life suggested that it might be helpful to think about ourselves as an aircraft carrier on a long journey. You can do it, too. You’re an aircraft carrier. You’re sailing, traveling, charting a course into new seas. There will be rough waters and calm waters, many planes will land and take off, but you’re moving forward all the time. In life and in your career, you’ll have calm waters and rough waters and people will come and go, but you keep moving forward. You may have to let go of some people and relationships for a season, but they might not be gone forever. They might just want to come back later to refuel and join you for a future leg of your journey. So just in case, maybe keep some treats on hand. COOKIES. Yeah cookies, that’s the last C.