“Don’t make the same mistake twice” was just one of several pieces of advice given by John C. Cushman III in his keynote address to a ballroom of commercial real estate professionals at the 2011 Commercial Expo. Cushman’s address was followed by the traditional networking and commercial expo, where developers and brokers showcased their current and upcoming projects.

Spanning his 48-year career in commercial real estate, Cushman said, “I made lots of mistakes, but hopefully not the same one twice.” His current position as chairman of the board of Cushman & Wakefield takes him around the world, everywhere from Chicago to Poland, flying 6,000 to 8,000 miles a week. He cites his background of real estate as a “genetic imbalance,” noting six previous generations of family in the real estate industry. His former ancestor’s real estate firm is noted as an early developer during the 1850s in Manhattan.

Cushman said a successful broker must first make a commitment to a business plan and then follow that plan. Early in his career, he canvassed office buildings on foot to sign up clients and is still canvassing today, although his methods have changed. He is still excited every day, noting his passion for his job keeps him going.

His advice to those starting out in real estate was to join the right firm, align with the right mentor/teacher and read everything available about the business. He said he also found though his educational journey that “if the learning curve is deeper, success comes quicker.”

Cushman identified three keys to success in the business:

  • A burning passion for what you are doing. Aspire every day to be the best by being a high-energy enthusiast. Set your goals high – and keep raising the bar.
  • A fierce pride in what you do. You have to be aware of how you look, act and talk. Be careful of both arrogance and complacency.
  • A work ethic to be the best of the best and outwork the competition. Observe those in life who are successful, recognize and emulate their traits and adapt them to your style.
  • He said you have to strike a balance between family, friends and career, although he notes that he was not as successful in that regard since his career often took him away from home.

Other words of advice he noted as telling his own sons:

  • “Be a team player.” Help others and give of yourself without any expectation of recompense.
  • “Dare to be different.” Take the road less travelled.
  • Treat people with great respect.

He noted that the team approach is even more important in today’s market than when he started out because of complexity in today’s business. From financial terms to architectural plans, experts in each of these fields are needed “to put the best team on the playing field so you can distinguish yourself from the completion.”

“You must work harder and smarter by being proactive, being the catalyst that makes it happen,” he said, focusing on “doing things that will make you better,” such as a variety of educational courses. Communicating and listening are two key skills needed by all successful professionals today, and that means being able to write and talk. Writing a letter rather than a sentence by email is highly valued as a way to distinguish yourself from your competitor.

On the national real estate front, Cushman said the recovery is uneven and volatile and that the “Gateway Cities” will recover quicker. Citing Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world, he noted that all classes of office space in Houston are still faring well but due to technological advances and less need for secretarial support, there is and will continue to be a decrease in the demand for office space. He said the saving grace, especially in Houston, is that very little office space is under construction. He noted that tenants are signing shorter leases because the economy is difficult to understand.

Cushman is the first of SIOR’s Living Legends Speaker Series. As chairman of the board of Cushman & Wakefield, John is responsible for formulating and articulating strategic policies and initiatives for the company on a domestic and global basis. Prior to becoming chairman, John was recognized as the top office leasing broker in the country. He negotiated the largest office lease in the U.S. – 4 million square feet for Merrill Lynch’s headquarters in New York City’s World Financial Center. He is an active member on a number of company boards and community organizations and recently completed a two-year term as National President of the Boy Scouts of America.