Mentoring: An Essential Tool for Success in Brokerage

senior professional holding a mentoring class in a modern conference room

This is a series of articles focusing on the mentoring experiences of brokerage professionals from Voit Real Estate Services’ Southern California offices.

Part I: Voit San Diego Office.

Learning the Importance of Mentoring

When Eric Northbrook, Executive Managing Director and Partner at Voit Real Estate Services, first broke into the commercial real estate business, the small firm he was hired by did not provide any form of formal training. “I did not have a typical mentorship when I started in 1989,” he recalls. “I was basically given a desk and a phonebook and was told, ‘Get after it.’”

Northbrook was left to his own devices, so he made calls, knocked on doors, and asked business owners about their real estate needs. Fortunately for him, his father-in-law, Ron Rader, was an industrial real estate broker in Los Angeles. Rader encouraged him and gave him the book Creating Your Successful Career in Industrial Real Estate. “That was my Bible. That’s how I learned,” says Northbrook.

He began publishing a newsletter called “92121 at a Glance” focusing on the Sorrento Mesa market that brought him some success. But two years in, he was still struggling. His father-in-law, an SIOR, reached out to a friend who connected Northbrook with fellow SIOR Brian Driscoll to provide him with direction. Driscoll took him under his wing, gave him guidance on the business, and helped him with deals. He made it clear to Northbrook, “I’m here to help you, but you’ve got to dig up the opportunities.” The pair worked as a team at Iliff Thorn—which later morphed into Colliers International—for a dozen years before Driscoll moved on.

Becoming a Mentor and Seeing the Results

Mentorship Word Cloud on Blue Background - motivate goals wisdom skills train guide improveNorthbrook began his own mentoring experience in 2000 when he hired Chad Urie as a broker. He guided Urie through his early years as an office broker before steering him into the burgeoning Life Science market. Urie, now an Executive Managing Director for JLL, is an industry leader still focused on the Life Science market.

“I’d like to be judged not by what I’ve accomplished but also by how successful my people are,” says Urie. “I lead one of the most prolific Life Science brokerages in the country, and everything that I learned about team building, I learned from Eric Northbrook. He is the ultimate team builder. He taught me the process of what it means to serve the client — that it’s not about me, it’s always about the client.” Urie adds that teaching people how to develop a strong work ethic, stay motivated, and stay “in their lanes” is an important part of leadership, all of which he learned from his mentor, Northbrook, whom he still consults with to this day.

Northbrook then hired Mike Hoeck as an intern in 2002. He has gone on to a successful career as an EVP at CBRE. Later, in the mid-2000s, Northbrook also mentored Matt Carlson, now co-head of U.S. Office Capital Markets for CBRE.

Voit San Diego’s Mentoring Program

Close up of businesspeople sitting together and having a discussion in officeFast forward to 2014, when Northbrook began his career at Voit. “That’s when I really started digging in and mentoring and coaching young professionals, and I’ve probably mentored a dozen at Voit in my current position,” he says. One of the tools he uses in his mentor role is a 60-to-75-minute meeting at the start of every Monday with the younger brokers. This “Monday Morning Coffee Club” focuses primarily on developing a positive focus and building camaraderie. Northbrook begins the meeting by having the brokers share something positive going on in both their professional and personal lives before moving on to the teaching portion of the session. He notes this has produced an office that is “super, super close.”

Greg Marx, SIOR, VP and partner in the San Diego office specializing in industrial was one of Northbrook’s first hires when he was transitioning from brokerage to management. Marx—now in his 10th year as a broker—says the mentoring process was invaluable to his professional and personal growth and he credits Northbrook for steering him on the right path. “I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off for about three or four months, doing random deals. But Eric was always there, providing me with oversight. He met with me every day, and that was huge,” says Marx.

Marx’s father, who had also been a broker, advised him to seek out an active senior broker who could take him under his wing. With Northbrook’s urging, he gravitated to Randy LaChance and began working on deals with the now 35-plus-year industrial sales veteran. “Randy has been an awesome mentor,” says Marx. “I still have Eric as a mentor, and I talk to him a couple of times a week, but I’m in Randy’s office every morning, and he’s constantly encouraging me to hustle and dig up new leads.”

One of the most pressing issues for managers across all industries is the inability to mentor new employees due to the increase in work-from-home policies that took hold during the pandemic. Brian Fischer, Senior Associate, working in both the office and industrial markets, was hired three months before the pandemic. He credits Northbrook for helping him navigate his new position during the early days of COVID-19.

“I think having a mentor who has seen downturns and shifts in real estate demand was crucial for me. Eric was able to guide me through and advise me on what I had to do to be successful through a supernatural event,” says Fischer. “He taught me how to position myself so that when things did get better, I could be successful right off the bat.”

This mentorship has extended well past the pandemic, as Fischer—with a little over four years under his belt—is now one of the senior members of the Monday Morning Coffee Club. He says that not only is it a good venue for sharing market information and collaborating on deals, but it also provides a training ground for the younger professionals to learn how to communicate better with colleagues, brokers, and clients.

Fischer says that one of the added benefits of mentorship is that it motivates him to work harder because he respects the time and effort that Northbrook has invested in him. “I have so much respect for the guy. I want him to see me do well because he’s put so much time and energy into me, and that makes me want to do well,” added Fischer.

“There’s no handbook for success in this business,” says Fischer, “so having a mentor is crucial.”

As unfathomable as Northbrook’s initial experience in the industry may sound in today’s increasingly complex CRE landscape, that was the reality of the onboarding experience for new brokers at many small firms decades ago. Today, Voit recognizes mentorship’s crucial role in helping new brokers develop personally and professionally. Mentorship is vital to the Voit culture. The San Diego Monday Morning Coffee Club is the first example of Voit’s dedication to mentoring.