by Dan Rafter
As senior vice president of retail in the Columbus, Ohio, office of Equity, Bob Matias has closed commercial deals for 30 years. He’s also been involved in more than 20 million square feet of retail transactions.
It made sense, then, to speak with Matias about the commercial real estate market in Columbus, the reasons for his longevity and the skills it takes to succeed in this competitive business. Here is some of what he had to say about his industry and his career.
Midwest Real Estate News: How did you get your start in commercial real estate?
Bob Matias: I had worked with Procter & Gamble and Xerox in sales jobs before I went into commercial real estate. I remember when someone did approach me about commercial real estate. I said, ‘I can’t sell houses.’ I didn’t even know there was a difference between commercial and residential real estate. But then once I started doing my research, I realized that this could be a good fit for me. I was impressed by how successful you could be if you were willing to work hard. I liked that aspect of it.
MREN: What’s kept you in this business for more than two decades?
Matias: I really like the people you work with in this business. You deal with such a high caliber of individual when you’re in commercial real estate. You’re not just working with the manager of a department or a buyer. You are dealing with the owner of a company, the decision-maker. That has some real appeal to me.
I also enjoy the art of the deal. The business is more complex today, but it’s still about the art of getting a deal done, navigating through that process. I also like that today I work with younger brokers to teach them how the business works. I get to train people. That’s an exciting part of the job for me. We have a small team here that we are trying to grow. The foundation is there, and we are working to make it even stronger. I look back and there is some satisfaction in training someone to be successful in this business. That is what it’s about, trying to teach someone else to be successful.
MREN: When you do see a broker that you helped train become a success, how does that feel?
Matias: It goes to a core foundational principal that I believe in: It is better to give than to receive. It is tremendously fulfilling to help someone found a way in this business. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but helping others is a good way to live your life. It fulfills you as an individual in a way that accumulating possessions doesn’t.
MREN: When you look back at your career, are there any deals that stand out in your mind more than others?
Matias: The deals that stand out the most are the ones that a long time to get done. There have been deals where we’ve been moving down the road and one of the wheels falls off. You seem to fix that and then something else falls off. That happens several times. In those situations you really feel like they needed you to get the deal done or it would not have happened.
MREN: When you do find yourself in a situation where a deal becomes jeopardized, what do you do to preserve it?
Matias: You have to attack problems immediately. Time is of the essence. As soon as you find out about a problem, that is the time to react and start moving toward a solution. A quick reaction time is important. Number two, you have to talk to all the parties involved. You have to get everyone’s perspective immediately, from the people on your side of the deal and the people on the other side of the deal. You need to get to the core issue of what the problem is. It can be amazing when you finally do get to the bottom of it and find out the real objections that people have.
MREN: Why is this career a good fit for you?
Matias: I worked for CBRE for 17 years. They had the idea, and I think it was a correct one, that the number-one thing someone needs to succeed in commercial real estate is to be a good sales person. I came from Procter & Gamble and Xerox where I had been a sales person. The people at CBRE were thrilled that I had those sales skills. They didn’t care that I didn’t have one ounce of real estate experience. You can always train someone how to work with widgets, but the key to success is whether the person is wired for this. Are you wired for sales? I am. And that is why this business has been so good for me.
MREN: Do people understand the special skills you need to be a top sales person?
Matias: I see people who aren’t sales people. I don’t think they’ll ever be successful as pure sales people. There is a very special wiring that a sales person has. It’s unique. No one likes cold calling and rejection. No one likes that piece of it. But you have to be willing to go through that. I realize that I have a real talent for being able to shuffle the deck. Every day, I look at what my priorities are for the day. But then something happens and you have to completely reshuffle and re-evaluate. It is a constant evaluation of what your priorities are for the day, week or month. I have always been good at being able to shuffle like that, to reassess and to re-evaluate.
Now, if you put an engineer or an architect in that position, it frustrates them. You might have to be pulled off something that you started for a week and not be able to get back to it. That drives some people crazy. Architects and engineers, for example, are wired to start and finish tasks.
MREN: You’ve been in the business a long time now, what are some of the bigger changes you’ve seen?
Matias: When I first started in this business, your word was your bond. If you shook hands on a deal, it was going to happen. There has since been a severe erosion of ethics and morals in this business. The idea of backing out of a deal 20 years ago was embarrassing. Companies would apologize for it. Nowadays, it’s no big deal for someone to pull out in the 11th hour. I call it the Wall Street mentality. You are a number today and not a name. That has been a big change.
MREN: When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your time?
Matias: I’m very family-oriented. I’m a real faith-based guy, a God kind of guy. He is my CEO. That’s where I go when I have questions. I like to read the Bible. But I’m a heavy reader in general. I’m always reading books. That is where I get my peace and contentment.
I’ve also enjoyed raising my family with my wife. We are now getting to the point where we are looking at our empty-nester years. My last child is ready to go to college. We have three kids, the youngest ready for college and the oldest is 27. We have our first grand baby who is about eight months old. That is an amazing next chapter of life. But once all our kids are out of the house, I might actually take up a legitimate hobby.