by Dan Rafter
Troy Nash made history last year when he was named a vice president and principal at Kansas City’s Newmark Grubb Zimmer. With this appointment, Nash became the first African-American principal at one of the top-tier commercial real estate firms in the Kansas City region.
Nash’s path to commercial real estate was far from a simple one. This former member of the city council of Kansas City has long been committed to the region. Nash was first elected to the council in 1999, serving as the chairman of its planning, zoning and economic development committee. He served until 2007, when term limits brought his time with the council to an end.
Nash also served on the Missouri Housing Development Commission and the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission. He is a board member, too, of People to People International, an international humanitarian organization founded in 1956, and has traveled to 50 countries as part of that group.
But it took a while before Nash realized all the good he could accomplish as a commercial real estate professional.
Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with Nash about his career, his historic promotion at Newmark Grubb Zimmer and the humanitarian trips he’s taken around the globe.
An accidental career: Nash admits that a career in commercial real estate was never one of his goals. It wasn’t until he was elected to the city council in Kansas City, in fact, that Nash even considered making a career in the industry.
“I totally, totally fell into commercial real estate,” Nash said. “Before 1999, I could barely spell real estate. Nothing on my radar screen would have suggested a career in real estate.”
That changed when Nash began serving on the city’s planning, zoning and economic development committee.
“At that point, all of these developers and real estate attorneys began appearing before me,” Nash said. “I learned about real estate pretty quickly. Suddenly, real estate seemed like something that would be a good fit.”
Where the action is: Nash said that he has since learned that he can still make an impact on his city through the private sector. As director of public sector consulting with Newmark Grubb Zimmer, Nash works to create successful public/private real estate and economic development partnerships, partnerships that result in more development for the Kansas City region.
“I love the idea of creating something new,” Nash said. “Real estate was, and is, where the action was in the city. It was the place to be during our city’s renaissance. To see the city go from tumbleweeds and vagrants downtown to all you see today? Having been a part of that was incredible. I’ve enjoyed the interactions at every level.”
No down time: Nash wasted no time in jumping into commercial real estate following the end of his stint with the city council. His term expired on April 30 of 2007. Nash started working with Zimmer on May 1.
Part of the reason why Nash leapt so quickly? It gave him the chance to work with Kansas City CRE veteran Hugh Zimmer, chief executive officer of Newmark Grubb Zimmer.
“Mr. Zimmer is one of the most respected real estate professionals in the Midwest,” Nash said. “He serves as my mentor. He’s taught me, and is continuing to teach me, this business. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.”
Zimmer’s help has been key to Nash’s successful career. Nash said that he didn’t find many minorities in the upper ranks of Kansas City’s commercial real estate business to talk with as he entered the industry. Zimmer is not a minority; he’s white. But Zimmer was willing to teach Nash how to succeed in this business.
And Nash, as he says, was more than willing to learn.
Not a struggle: With Zimmer at his side, Nash rose quickly through the ranks, to where he was finally knowledgeable and skilled enough to earn his promotion to principal.
And though Nash is unique as one of the very few African-American CRE pros in the region to reach this level, he says his race never slowed his ascent.
“The secular world would say that I have been very lucky so far in this career,” Nash said. “The spiritual world would say that I’ve been blessed. I’d say I’ve been both. I don’t have any stories about struggling through anything. I have not struggled.”
This doesn’t mean, though, that the CRE industry doesn’t need to reach out to minorities to increase the industry’s diversity in Kansas City, Nash said. Since entering the field and becoming successful in it, Nash says, he’s received several calls from other young and minority commercial real estate professionals asking for his help and guidance.
“I have been blessed, but I recognize that more needs to be done to increase diversity in this business, everywhere,” Nash said.
Opportunity: The key to making the commercial real estate industry more diverse? Nash says that minorities need the opportunity to succeed.
“Mr. Zimmer hasn’t given me anything that I haven’t had to work for,” Nash said. “And that’s how it should be. This is a business, a very tough business. Mr. Zimmer gave me an opportunity. What I have done is taken that opportunity and done something with it. I think that if people like Mr. Zimmer express an interest in want to teach people how to succeed in this business, people will respond, regardless of race.”
The “secret” to success: Nash like most successful CRE pros can’t offer a secret formula for success. There’s only one way to thrive in commercial real estate: You have to work hard, study the industry, learn the local markets and provide top service to clients.
Nash has done all that. But he’s also taken steps to become a life-long learner when it comes to commercial real estate.
“You have to make a commitment to your commitment,” Nash said. “I remember when I first heard a motivational speaker say that. I chuckled. But once I started thinking about it, I realized how true that statement is. You have to commit to working hard at your craft. You have to commit to learning all you can about it. When you think you have learned everything, you have to go back and learn some more. That knowledge helps you understand what is happening in this business. That, coupled with the ability to sell, allows you to do deals.”
Every day is different: Nash certainly enjoyed his time in the public sector. But he says that working in commercial real estate brings its own rewards.
“You never know what is going to happen each day,” Nash said. “Every day is different. You pick up the paper, read it a bit, pick up the phone and the next thing you know, you’re right in the middle of what you were reading about. That happens a lot. This is one of the few businesses in which you can do that on a consistent basis.”
Traveling the globe: As an active member of People to People International, Nash has traveled the globe, providing humanitarian aid to some of the poorest places on Earth.
Many of the moments with People to People have been heartbreaking. There was the time in Cuba when a woman handed Nash her baby, asking him to take the child with him back to the United States. There was the bond he formed with a young boy in Tanzania in just a matter of hours, and the sadness he and the boy felt when Nash had to return to the United States.
“He kept grabbing my pant leg,” Nash said. “It was so hard to leave.”
There are happy moments, too, from these travels. In Jordan, Nash met a boy who earned money by pulling people through town on a donkey. This time, though, Nash set the boy atop the donkey and instead pulled him through town. Nash also let the boy listen to music on his iPad as he rode.
“That was a special moment,” Nash said. “He was usually the one leading the donkey.”
And in China the seniors were all fascinated by Nash’s hair.
“They all wanted to touch it,” Nash said. “I figured, why not? Let them go ahead and do it. It probably needed to be fluffed up anyway.”
Family time: Nash also likes to spend as much time as possible with his three children, two daughters and a son.
“Spending time with my children is a high priority,” Nash said. “I’m watching them grow up now. It all happens so fast, and you don’t want to miss any of that.”