Still strong after 25 years: CORFAC International network traces beginnings to long-ago breakfast

by Dan Rafter

Steve Podolsky

Steve Podolsky

Steve Podolsky can trace the beginnings of the CORFAC International network to a 1986 breakfast meeting in the coffee shop of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan during a SIOR convention.

Now a quarter of a century later, the CORFAC International network is going strong, strong enough to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014. The network today boasts a roster of independent commercial real estate companies that run 65 offices in North America, many of them located in the Midwest.

Back at that lunch, though, Podolsky, principal with Podolsky|Circle CORFAC International in Riverwoods, Ill., was mostly seeking a way to protect his business. He and the other founding members weren’t thinking about a future 25th anniversary. They just wanted to do right by their companies and the commercial real estate pros who worked at them.

“I did a lot of business out of Chicago. My traditional referral sources were joining national networks like Colliers or NAI or they were becoming an affiliate of the national companies,” Podolsky said. “I wasn’t sure that when I sent them business I’d get any business back from them. They had obligations to their new alliances.”

This didn’t concern just Podolsky. During that breakfast meeting in 1986, Podolsky sat at a table with Michael Jacobus, a principal with McBride Corporate Real Estate/CORFAC International in Paramus, N.J.; the late Al McConkey, with King Industrial Realty/CORFAC International in Atlanta; and Charlie King Jr., principal with the same King Industrial. Everyone at the table faced the same challenge.

King came up with the idea of starting a new kind of referral network with an invitation-only membership.

Podolsky and his peers liked the idea.

“Everyone was feeling the same pinch,” Podolsky said. “We saw that there were enough good companies remaining unaffiliated to go around the country and make one more strong network. I remember saying that I’d like to be a part of that. That’s how it started.”

It took three years, but in 1989, the CORFAC International network officially launched. King gives the credit for CORFAC International’s longevity to the original founders, Podolsky, Jacobus and McConkey. King says that these three, all members of SIOR, used their contacts, made calls and set up key meetings.

Before long, the CORFAC network was not only up and running, it was thriving.

“I’m proud of the organization’s sustainability,” Podolsky said. “I’m proud of the consistent qualify of firms that we’ve been able to attract, and proud of our national rankings as compared to national companies and competing networks. Our sustainability comes from our people.”

Podolsky and King agree that CORFAC International firms have their own personalities that set them apart from larger national companies.

“We knew we were never going to be like one of the big national companies, but we didn’t want to be like them,” King said. “We intentionally established a network of companies in which the principals are closely involved in running their businesses and personally involved in brokerage transactions.”

Both King and Podolsky say that they look forward to CORFAC’s regular national conferences. During these meetings, company officials can talk about private matters and concerns, Podolsky said. That’s because the meetings are smaller than a typical SIOR meeting. And most CORFAC companies don’t have competitors in their market. Chicago is one of just two markets — Atlanta is the other — in which CORFAC has both an industrial and office firm..

Podolsky doesn’t have to worry, then, about sharing his secrets with competitors.

“We can talk about anything,” he said. “When do you make a sales person a partner? What are the challenges you are facing? You can have the kind of conversations that you could no longer have at SIOR because that organization had gotten too big.”

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