by Dan Rafter
When Michael Mayer graduated from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he had one plan: It was time to enroll in law school.
Then his father intervened, telling Mayer that he should first gain some real-world business experience before heading back to school. Mayer followed his father’s advice, taking on an internship at what was then Kansas City’s most powerful commercial real estate firm.
That was 28 years ago. Mayer, who is now managing principal with the Kansas City office of Cassidy Turley, has yet to return to law school.
“I found that I really enjoyed working in real estate,” Mayer said. “I remember when I took my first job in the industry. I figured that I could always go back to law school when I was ready. I’ve never been ready. I found my calling in real estate.”
That could be considered an understatement. Mayer has long been one of the top producers in the Kansas City commercial real estate business. And now he’s a leader of Cassidy Turley’s Kansas City office, mentoring younger brokers and making sure that the office continues its growth in an important Midwest region.
What has kept Mayer in the commercial real estate industry for nearly three decades? Mayer says it’s the people that he has met while closing commercial deals.
“The relationships I’ve built have been the best part of this job,” Mayer said. “I enjoy cultivating the relationships. I’ve tried to connect with people during my career. That’s what I truly like doing. At the same time, I enjoy the variety in this business. Every day is different.”
Like most successful commercial real estate professionals, Mayer boasts a competitive side, too. He likes closing deals, and he likes earing life-long clients, the kind who keep coming back to him when they need to expand or move their companies to a new headquarters.
“In our business, success is black and white,” Mayer said. “When you are a producer, you can see the scoreboard. You know what you produce each year. I like that aspect of the business. You always know where you stand. And if you work hard, and if you learn your market and add value to your clients, you can do very well.”
Mayer doesn’t have a secret formula for his success or his longevity in an industry that can wear down even the most committed of brokers.
Instead he relies on market knowledge, hard work and a commitment to his customers. That’s pretty basic stuff. But it’s a strategy that has paid off for Mayer.
Mayer says that he doesn’t flinch from hard work. He doesn’t mind working late or putting in time on weekends. That’s just part of succeeding in commercial real estate.
He also doesn’t mind the competitiveness of the business. He knows that other brokers are always gunning for the next big deal. That has fueled Mayer throughout his career.
“There is no ceiling in this business,” Mayer said. “You can rise as high as you can, as long as you are willing to put in the hours. You pretty much eat what you kill in this business. If you work hard, you can watch your book of business grow. That has always been satisfying to me. That has always appealed to me.”
Mayer, of course, isn’t naive enough to believe that hard work alone is enough to thrive in commercial real estate. There have been plenty of real estate brokers who have worked long hours only to see their business dry up during the economic slowdown.
To truly succeed in commercial real estate? You need to add value to your clients.
This means figuring out what clients truly need.
“You need to sit down and listen to what your clients are searching for,” Mayer said. “You need to figure out what their long-term objectives are. For me, that means not always making a deal just for the sake of making a deal. I have to be patient. I have to find the right deal for my clients, not just the first deal that comes along.”
If Mayer is working for a client that is trying to dispose of excess real estate, for instance, he takes a more cautious approach, finding the right deal instead of trying to force a quick sale. If a client wants to expand or move, Mayer will study the demographics of this client’s customer base. He’ll study where the company’s customers are clustered now, and where they’re moving to in the future. He’ll calculate where most of the client’s employees live. He’ll analyze whether it makes more sense for his client to buy or to lease.
Mayer points to one client – a client that he can’t name – that had a commercial property it needed to sell. Problem was, there wasn’t an obvious market for it. The real estate itself had become obsolete. It didn’t boast enough parking, and its floor plate was plagued with problems.
To solve this problem, Mayer arranged a barter trade for the property. He also brought in attorneys that were able to uncover economic incentives to help move the barter trade along.
“It was about thinking up creative ways to move that real estate, as opposed to doing a straight real estate sale,” Mayer said. “I tried to bring more depth to the transaction. I relied on a team approach and we were able to get the deal done.”
Mayer says that he’s long been a believer in the team approach. No real estate professional can truly serve clients by going it alone, he said.
Another key to success, then? Surrounding yourself with the right people to best meet the needs of your clients.
“We have had clients that have project-management needs, so I’ll bring in my project-management team,” Mayer said. “I’ll bring in our construction-management team. I’ll bring in the incentives people. There is no way I can serve my client best by doing it all by myself. You have to bring in the right people on the team. Each deal is customized. Each deal is different. That has helped me become more successful. Everyone has different skill sets. You have to rely on the skills of others to do the best job for your clients.”
Of course, as successful as Mayer has been, he doesn’t devote all of his hours to his career. He has a family, three children, two of whom are in high school, a third who is in the fifth grade. This means that he spends plenty of time shooting hoops, throwing footballs and tossing the lacrosse ball.
When he has extra free time? Mayer is a devotee of fly fishing.
“I enjoy the solitude of it,” he said. “I like to get away. I have a phone stuck in my ear all day. I’m in so many meetings. When I want to decompress, I go fly fishing. That is what, outside of my family and my work, I am most compassionate about. And golf, too, of course. I do like to get away to the golf course, too.”