Success story: Darwin Realty & Development Corporation celebrates 40 years in business

Noel Liston

Noel Liston

by Dan Rafter

It’s not easy to survive four decades in any business. But in commercial real estate? That’s an especially impressive accomplishment. 

Elmhurst, Illinois-based Darwin Realty & Development Corporation has reached this milestone, celebrating its 40th year in business this year. What’s behind the company’s success? We spoke with Noel Liston, principal of Darwin, about the reasons for Darwin’s longevity. He pointed to the company’s leadership and the importance that everyone at Darwin places on providing top service to its clients.

George Cilbula, chairman of Darwin Realty, founded the company four decades ago. He remains at the helm of the company today, and continues to play a key role in guiding Darwin through the ups and downs of the commercial real estate business, Liston said.

Here’s a bit more from Liston on what has made Darwin so successful, and what he enjoys about working with this long-time commercial real estate giant.

No secret formula for success: Darwin’s leadership and responsiveness to change have allowed us to enjoy 40 years of excellence in industrial real estate. George Cilbula’s wealth of experience and knowledge has helped Darwin successfully navigate many peaks and valleys during the past 40 years. Combined, our partners George, Rick Daly, Dan Fanelli and myself have more than 110 years of real estate experience.

We also view our young brokers as the company’s greatest assets. We constantly strive for an open and collaborative work environment that builds off both our experience as well as our ability to change by integrating the ideas brought by our young brokers.

Big changes in four decades: Without question, technology has had the greatest impact on commercial real estate during the time Darwin has been in business. We are constantly re-evaluating our investment in technology so we can better understand and serve our clients’ needs. The ability to communicate almost instantaneously with our clients and our peers has had a significant impact on the manner in which our industry functions.

Despite the advancements in communication, the transactions cycles have actually lengthened since I started in the business 21 years ago. Therefore, it is critical to understand more than ever the client’s goals and objectives, and to use communication in an efficient and productive manner so we may provide clarity in the decision-making process instead of just overwhelming our clients with data.

The keys to a thriving four-decade run: Many of the real estate transactions that Darwin has been involved with over the last 40 years have become much more complex in nature. To succeed, you need to be able to understand a purchaser’s underwriting process and the due diligence requirements. You need to be able to anticipate for them what challenges and questions they would have during underwriting and their approval process. Essentially, you have to know your customer so well as to be able to think for them.

In the case of working on behalf of sellers or landlords, you also need to be able to anticipate for them what, if any, challenges and/or questions prospective purchasers or tenants will have so your client will be best prepared to move a transaction from concept to close.

Meeting the challenges: Technology and the dissemination of information is also one of the biggest challenges facing companies in the industry today. We firmly believe that real estate is still a local market, and that our clients should not make a decision based on national data or national trends in industrial real estate. Each submarket is distinctly different and, thus, applying arbitrary pricing metrics across multiple submarkets can be dangerous. Companies must face this challenge by being ready to provide the ‘why’ behind data utilized in making recommendations for decisions in industrial real estate.

Mentoring matters: I’ve been at Darwin now for 21 years. As I mature in the business, I enjoy working with our young brokers as they enter the industry. I enjoy mentoring them, teaching them the business. That keeps the business and industry fresh and exciting for me.

Are new brokers are very green when they start. I enjoy teaching them what I think is the right way to approach the business. I want them to understand that it is all about treating people fairly and always putting the customer or client first. I teach them that it is important to listen before you talk. I have to sometimes explain to them that it is a long process to become successful in this business. You have to put the time in. You really have to study the market. I try to instill patience in them as best as I can.

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