Leadership + People:
Episode 05 - Brandon Fugal - Part 1 of 2

The CEO and owner of Coldwell Banker Commercial, Brandon Fugal, explains the importance to becoming a trusted advisor; how his mentors and their advise changed his career path, and why ultimately success is found in relationships, not financial transactions.

Show Notes

  • How to deal with the loneliness felt in the “C” Suite [5:23]
  • Focusing on bringing value to relationships rather than transactions [12:15]
  • Taking on a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity [14:54]
  • Need for specialization to keep ahead of the market [16:55]
  • What it takes to become a trusted advisor [19:26]

Show Audio

Show References

  • None of Note
Brandon Fugal- Part 1 of 2

This episode of Leadership and People
was originally released on:
September 26, 2017

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly build their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

[long pause] 

HOST – JESS LARSEN: Today on the show we’ve got Brandon Fugal. Brandon thanks for making time.

GUEST – BRANDON FUGAL: Thank you for having me on the show and it’s a privilege to be with you today and answer any questions you have and give you an overview on business and maybe the commercial real estate business.

01:24 JL: Yea for sure. So…You are kind of a big deal around here. I’ve heard your name a bunch of times. Tells us, For people who don’t know what you do, tell us about your business.

Introduction and History of Coldwell Banker Commercial

BRANDON FUGAL: I’m chairman of Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisors. I’m also the owner.  We’re the fastest growing mid market commercial real estate firm in the United States. And happen to be based in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m also the number one producer globally for the Coldwell banker commercial network and brand out of three thousand agents. And have had the privilege of working with, i believe some of the leading entrepreneurs, business leaders and developers in the intermountain west… this has been my life and career and focus since I was one week out of high school, at age 18. So I, I started at a very young age focused on business. And have continued to expand my efforts and reach and now we’re focusing on a national and an international stage yet keeping true to our Utah, you know, cultural magic if you will.

02:31 JL: Sure and so tons of being are familiar with the Coldwell banker name. It’s got such great reputation in the market. Tell me about your involvement with that and you know the additional offices you have been growing and all this.

BRANDON FUGAL: You bet. You know my association with coldwell banker commercial started back in 98. I left a prominent commercial real estate firm, where i was the top producer at a young age; age 24. And the franchise came available for coldwell banker commercial in the Salt Lake Area market. A little background on Coldwell Banker. Founded by two gentlemen; Benjamin Banker and Colbert Coldwell back in 1906, in san francisco. Coldwell Banker Commercial was the preeminent commercial real estate firm in, really the world for decades. And …. And there was a period of time when it was sold back in the late 80s, to a group of investors that went and took the commercial enterprise public. It’s now known as CRVE; which is a competitor to us. And there was a non compete. I came into the picture in… the late 90s when that noncompete had run out. Secured the franchise with partners here in the salt lake area market. And really restored that legacy. And one thing that really resonated with me was- The focus that Benjamin Banker, Colbert Coldwell had in the bay area over a hundred years ago that was focused on business and…and not being transaction oriented or or really focused on commission sales but rather focused on being advisors to captains of industry; community builders if you will. They took great pride in working with community leaders and entrepreneurs in order to rebuild the San Francisco market following the tragic earthquake at the time. And ended up building what, what became the preeminent real estate brand and enterprise. So we’re very fortunate to have that legacy behind us and that foundation. We presently have 30 offices in 11 states… nearly 600 professionals and continue to grow and develop our practice and at the same time I’m focused on representing, I think, the leading commercial developers and entrepreneurs in the intermountain west. And have the privilege of working on I think the signature projects that are changing the landscape of our communities and business… It’s a fun privilege to have. To have a front row seat to the changing landscape in a very literal sense on a day to day basis.

5:23 JL: Sure. You know thinking about the name of the show “People in leadership” right? We’re both members of the C4 group at Corporate Alliance. You’re such a busy guy. You’ve got a million things going on, why take the time to be a part of a group like that?

Value of Relationships at the Top

BRANDON FUGAL: One thing I’ve always appreciated about Corporate Alliance and their approach to business, is there focus on relationships. When it all comes down to it business is about relationships. It’s not about selling widgets or services, but it’s really developing relationships of trust and bringing value to those relationships. And having an impact on the world around you. It’s really been a fun part of the opportunity with corporate alliance to really build relationships … that have really been enduring with other business leaders … and to really work together collaboratively in order to propel our markets to the next level, and to help each other. I think it’s sometimes it’s very lonely in the C suit. As the chief executive or the chairman or owner of a company any business leader or entrepreneur at various points of time takes that lonely walk out to the parking lot finds himself to be only car remaining in the parking lot or the only one in the office because you know it all depends on you. And it takes an added level of commitment. And finding peers and confidants in the business community, that you can collaborate with and lean on is a I think a significant benefit with being involved with Corporate Alliance. It’s been an honor for me to be with your organization since inception. Its part of being part of the community.

07:21 JL: It almost gets envisioned by people who aren’t there, as like the lone eagle. You know the guy out blazing a trail. And in some ways it’s true but really when I think about the CEOs I look up to and hope to be more like -They have extremely strong social networks. Right?

Collaboration as Key to Success

BRANDON FUGAL: Absolutely. It really does take a team. It’s a team effort. No one man or woman does it all on their own. I mean it takes a team effort especially in this competitive day and age. I’m very fortunate, my CEO and partner is a man named Lew Cramer, who happens to be on the international board of the world trade centers. He is one of four North Americans that sits on that board. And having Lew as a confidant and as a leader and partner in really helping to motivate people and I think, deliver superior results and service to clients… and bringing that perspective,  has been an important part of that success. Lew has been at the intersection of public private partnership for decades. And having him as a key player in the executive suite here at Coldwell Banker Commercial has really been a privilege.

08:37 JL: Well you know, here’s another guy that’s a big deal in the community, right. Do I understand right; was Lew like a white house fellow in the Reagan administration.

BRANDON FUGAL: Correct he was a Reagan Whitehouse Fellow. Actually was part of the inaugural law class of BYU’s law school and went on to teach at both Georgetown and USC and built an impressive career in Washington, D.C. before being recruited back by former governor Jon Huntsman to lead the world trade center here in Utah. And really focus on prioritizing economic development, here in the state of Utah. I mean that was over a decade ago and you see the fruits of that labor really manifest in the dynamic public private partnerships that exist here in utah… that are quite special. It is no coincidence that our market continues to be ranked in the top 2 or 3 by Forbes Fortune and others-  Nearly every year. And it’s really due to those public private partnerships and that engagement, along with other factors. And Lew has really been at the center of that..that arena for some time. And I think helped establish the tone and policy that has brought us to this exciting point.

10:09 JL: How many entrepreneurs are growing a business and they want to have some, have someone like that to bring on right.. How did you build a relationship like that or how did it get you know how did you get to the point when someone like that trusted you enough that they wanted to come in with you?

BRANDON FUGAL: Well I think we had the opportunity to work together on various initiatives that were economic development oriented. And I know of no other business that is more economic development centric than the commercial real estate business.  In fact that is what drove me into the commercial real estate business at age 18. Right out of high school. I found that commercial real estate was really a powerful career path that would afford me the opportunity to work with the captains of industry at a very young age. You truly can’t be in business today and not have a real estate strategy. It is, it’s just like death and taxes. You can’t escape it. If you’re going to be expanding and growing as a business you really need to have a strategy. And I think you know the opportunity to be a trusted advisors to those captains of industry and work with those companies from the garage stage all the way through to multi billion dollar ipo- is quite exciting. We’ve seen a lot of incredible growth here in the intermountain west, you know here in Utah specifically with some companies that are making national headlines right now. And it has been a lot of fun to work with those ceos since inception. Since those companies literally came out of the garage in many cases and to see their very formidable footprint  and impact on our communities. But you know it’s working with community leaders and economic developers that has really helped us I think… have a measureable impact on our business community.

12:15 JL: So thinking about people who want to get more involved in the business community and people who want to be able to build those kind of relationships; what kind of advice to you have for the rest of us of things that worked for you as you did that?

Value of Focusing on Relationships

BRANDON FUGAL: You know I think focusing on relationships and adding value and focusing on when to tell people not to do a deal just as much as telling them when you know make a transaction;  or enter into a transaction is important. I think you know people need to know you’re looking out for their best interest. And that you’re going to do whatever it takes in order to protect them and to help them achieve the optimal results regardless of whether they’re purchasing a building, leasing, developing; you name it.  And I think helping them navigate that very treacherous landscape, which can be quite costly at times and helping them in so many cases save millions of dollars in the process that wouldn’t otherwise be saved. I mean that’s really important. But it really does come down to relationships. This is a relationship oriented business. And I think really putting the relationship first and foremost is key to success.

13:34 JL:You know it seems like that takes a certain amount of delayed gratification you know… to have long term thinking. To not just be thinking of, you know, as their talking we’re calculating a commission check in our head right? And to be invested in their success ahead of ours. You know people pick up on that, don’t you think?

BRANDON FUGAL: They can sense it. I mean People can sense when someone is just trying to get in front of a commission or trying to make a sale. And it’s really a turnoff to the executives. I mean but if they feel you truly have their interests at heart,  it changes the entire dynamic. Its funny- You know commercial real estate business is not an easy business. I made $500 my first year working full time and going to school. And it wasn’t until years into my career that I was able to finally see momentum and create the income that really made it [laugh] made it worthwhile. You know I think making sure that you are focusing on really adding value as opposed to getting in front of a transaction is key. And people really gravitate toward others who are trying to add value and really looking to them to provide service.

14:54 JL: You know where you’re setting the example for 600 professionals right and you’ve got this team. I’m interested in any thoughts you have about helping I mean…. How does your leadership style help people have more long term thinking? We live in this social media age. You know it’s like a microwave society.  We want it as long as it’s fast quick and cheap. You’ve got a lot of people looking to you. What kind of things have you found didn’t work and what did you switch to that did work?

BRANDON FUGAL: Well first I think you have to help people see things from an abundance point of view as opposed to a scarcity point of view.  That working together in teams will likely produce greater results not only for you individually but for the clientele. And you know I often see that 1 plus 1 does not equal 2 it equals 5 it equals 10. And that’s one thing that we try to encourage on a day to day basis is teaming, and working together collaboratively…in order to really produce I think greater results and to lead the market. So you know, moving from there; I think encouraging proper training and professional excellence you know always sharpening the saw and never becoming complacent is key as well. You know our market is changing every minute. I don’t think there is anything more dynamic than our current business climate right now with how much cloud computing and the internet has literally transformed and disrupted entire industries. I think keeping up on that and being on the bleeding edge of research and data and trends and being able to advise clients and help consult with them so they can hopefully get ahead of the curve is also key as well.

16:55 JL: Sure what’s some examples? Someone else is running a firm and there’s a ceo listening today and they’re  thinking okay training is good, encouraging teams is good. What’s an example of like of the way that works here?

Specialization and Multi Disciplinary Teams

BRANDON FUGAL: Well in my case we pull together really more multi disciplinary… professionals. So I mean having a one size fits all approach doesn’t usually serve the clients well. So encouraging people to specialize and then you know working to develop teams and groups of professionals that really focus on those areas of specialization. So for example I have a team that I work with and partner with here at coldwell banker commercial that focuses singularly on corporate services and class A office leasing both locally and nationally. And has really honed their craft and is staying on the cutting edge of trends relative to office brokerage and the lease and sale of office buildings. We have teams and a disciplined group that is focusing on retail brokerage representing the likes of Target Costco Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Victoria’s Secret. I mean the who’s who of retail. And it requires a completely different set of skills in many cases and special market insight. And anyone can put up a sign and wait for the phone to ring and circulate some fliers or put something on the internet when it comes to real estate marketing. I think it requires a more proprietary,  data and market intelligence driven approach to truly add value. To a transaction and really be a trusted advisor to the ceos and captains of industry as they are evaluating their own real estate strategy and working to address the challenges that come with expansion or downsizing. And you know we try to encourage those areas of specialization in order to I think elevate professionalism not only in our industry but also with our firm.

19:26 JL: You know, you have used this word a couple times; trusted advisor, right. And certainly you know our management consulting firm mylan advisors, this is what we’re trying to earn that status in the eyes of our clients too, right. And you know it’s so evident that being an expert on something isn’t enough, right. When you think about people that you feel like are a trusted advisor. whether to you or in other situations that you look up to. What are some of the traits of people that you think are, you know, not just self proclaimed trusted advisor,  they really have earned that status what are they…. Or can you talk about someone who you feel is like that?

What it Means to Be a Trusted Advisor

BRANDON FUGAL: You bet. Then that’s a very good question. I think of course you identify with and secure someone who is best in class in their field, a true expert. But you are right being an expert in your field of work or interest isn’t enough in order to really propel yourself into being a trusted advisor to business leaders or captains of industry. What I look for in a trusted advisor and the examples I’ve had in my life. For example; my legal council. I have had very good legal counsel. And also accounting and tax planning council over the course of the last several years especially as we have grown our empire nationally and we’ve taken our dominance in the intermountain west and really moved that to a true coast to coast presence. You know having an office in Manhattan and having an office in downtown LA and as far up north as Anchorage Alaska. Well having a team of advisors that are actually putting their own self interests at times to the side and really putting your interests first and being a confidant and helping you identify you know the pot holes that lie ahead, inevitably and helping you navigate around those is really key. But I think loyalty is…it’s tough to teach.  It’s tough to develop and bottle. I mean sometimes it’s either there or it’s not. It’s a character trait. But you know one thing I look for with my trusted advisors and the people that I surround myself with is real loyalty. You can teach people skills. You can help people develop the skills and, you know, the tools and resources in order to lead a market but, but actually matching that with, you know, the character traits; loyalty, integrity, honesty, thats… I would take someone who is loyal, honest and has integrity all day long over someone who happens to be the most skilled practitioner in their field.

22:38 JL: I love that. I think this is a great place to end for part one. Please make sure to check back for part 2 of our episode with Brandon as we talk more about this subject. Thanks for listening.

[ENDS] 22:47

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