Forum designed to attract minorities to real estate industry
By Charlotte Libov
Recruiting and promoting minorities is not only good human resource policy, its good business as well, say executives at CB Richard Ellis.
The national commercial real estate company is seeking to draw more African-Americans and women join the ranks of commercial real estate. To that end, the company recently held a meeting at the JW Marriott. Called Driving Diversity into the Fast Name, the gathering enabled members of the CB Richard Ellis African-American Network to meet each other as well as company executives. The company also sponsors a Women's Network that has similar events, officials said.
After the forum, the speakers reflected on the company's history of attracting minorities, and discussed future ways to foster minority representation at the highest ranks.
"When I came in 1980, the industry was predominantly white and male," said Chris Ludeman, president of US Brokerage for CB Richard Ellis. "Also, the brokerage business as almost exclusively white and male back then," he said.
But the gender barrier was beginning to fall, he added. "What drove us to broaden our demographics was that the industry was changing. More women were coming in. They might be managers for institutional owners. They were becoming decision-makers, so that barrier came down," he said.
Similar developments were occurring with other minority groups, according to Mr. Ludeman.
"We wanted to look more like our clients. We found that, by diversifying, we got new energy. This enabled us to communicate with our clients and get more provocative ideas,' he said.
According to Eric Yarrow, senior vice president in the company's New York office, the African-American Network group was born several years ago, when he, and a few other African-American employees, happened to meet at a conference. "I suggested to them that we should stay in touch, mentoring with each other," he said.
Shortly thereafter, the group came to the attention of Brett White, the company's president and CEO, who decided that it would be a good match with the women's advocacy group.
"The company not only embraces the existence of these groups, but financially supports them as well, giving them visibility in our public face to the world," said Mr. Ludeman. In addition, the groups are helpful in the company's efforts "to recruit and retain (minority employees) by developing and using peer group support as well as mentoring and coaching," he added.
Both the African-American network and the women's group have been helpful in enabling the company to reach out to these groups, which are underrepresented in the commercial real estate field. Typically, women had been drawn to residential real estate, noted Mr. Ludeman.
"There is a big difference between our company and residential real estate. We do business with other businesses, and our hours reflect that, but residential real estate was seen as a field that could be done by women transitioning back into the workforce," Mr. Ludeman said.
Over the years, though, the number of women working in the field has increased, and many, he noted, "have been as successful, if not more successful, than their male counterparts."
"Once we got them into the game and gave then a bat and ball, they performed beautifully," he said, noting that the company tries to be very flexible in its hours as well.
The industry also faced competition in attracting top-caliber African-American recruits who might be interested in going to companies such as Goldman Sachs, which offers salary compensation, as opposed to becoming brokers at CBRE and working on commission, Mr. Yarbro said. He explains to potential employees that, although working on commission may seem riskier, the rewards can be greater.
"From a recruiting standpoint, I explain that the entrepreneurial path is where the richest people have made their money," he said.
Having a diverse workforce is imperative, especially in places South Florida, where the population is diverse, noted Raymond "Ray" Sandelli, the company's senior managing director for Florida.
"The toughest thing is finding people in this high growth industry who are committed to this industry. In South Florida, there is the Latin community, the African-American community, and many other communities. All of these different groups are part of the fabric of our society and, to be successful, we need to tap into that," he said.
Theodore Carter, senior managing director for South Florida, also spoke at the meeting. He joined the company last fall, after holding key positions in New York City and Newark, NJ, in District of Columbia government, in the US Treasury Department and most recently at the National Capital Revitalization Corps. He is CBRE's first senior minority hire.
"We're in a multicultural market, so I want to make sure we are marketing to that. I want to make sure we are in every market," he said.
But, above all, Mr. Yarbro said, making use of diversity networking not only helps foster the careers of minorities, it affords an avenue that benefits all businesses.
"Where the business angle comes in is that we see it as a way to leverage our ethnic background to our advantage," he said, and noted that the minority network enables CBRE to network with some 600 other companies that also have formal diversity programs. "This lets us reach out to them and, while we're at it, we can whisper in their ear that we're a real estate company, so maybe we can do business."