Adam Subber | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Adam Subber


Cresa is a commercial real estate firm with 50 offices across the United States spanning nearly 50 million square feet of transactions.

The Mistake:

Right out of school, at 21 years old, I was really fortunate. I had a chance to work with a commercial real estate brokerage in Philadelphia. Two experienced workers took me under their wing and we had an opportunity to serve a client from sort of a past professional life. I think it's probably fair to say that while this was a very good client for the guys I worked for, it just wasn't quite an immediate situation for them, given how busy they were. So they said, “Hey Adam, you've proven yourself enough, you can walk and chew gum in front of a client, go meet with this guy and see what he needs done.”

We went out somewhere in the far-flung suburbs and I prepared a little bit. For the time for me, it was a pretty sizable requirement, about 50,000 square feet—that's a pretty meaty office space requirement. So I took them out on a tour.

I was 22 and the youngest guy in the car with me was probably 52, so it was not their first rodeo. The tour was fine, but along the way on our drive back we were talking about next steps, and as we pulled up to a stop light the head client, a kind of seasoned operations guy, said, “Hey, what do you know about that site right there?” And I turn and it's a dilapidated, basically abandoned former greenhouse. It was a great location, but it wasn't an office building. So I said, “Oh, nothing.” They asked me to do them a favor and just look into it.

We go out again next week, hoping to give them a more promising tour. And as we're nearing the end and coming back, we come by the same site, and I could feel the question coming. But I hadn't prepared at all to answer it.

When we got back to their office we decamped into a windowless conference room. And I got a dressing-down like I had never had in my professional life up to that point.

The first mistake was not listening. I was so focused on the stuff I knew about that I was going to put in front of the client to try to make myself look smart and make them happy. I wasn't actually listening to what they wanted to know. The second mistake, of course, was not making the effort after I got the clue.

I'll never forget, he said, “I don't need you guys to show me property. I need you to go and find deals, and do legwork for me and create opportunities that I'm not thinking about.”

What I took from that was, “Hey moron, you don't get paid to drive people around and show them buildings. You get paid because you've worked really hard to save people time, and come up with ideas that make sense and do the legwork to help solve problems.”

Swallow your pride and ... get back on the horse and deliver.

The Lesson:

From a management standpoint, I learned to never underestimate that someone will take you to task in front of their own underlings. I also learned to swallow your pride and then finally get back on the horse and deliver.

They didn't end up going for that greenhouse, but they did ultimately occupy this sort of former power plant or really nontraditional office space. I just wasn't listening.

You need to drive value, not just do the job you think you're supposed to. I think that's universal.

Follow Adam Subber on Twitter at @ASubber.

Photo courtesy of Adam Subber.

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