Richard Mirliss

EP8: Rich Mirliss: Discovering how Commercial Real Estate effects Company Culture

Who is Richard Mirliss and what are the key takeaways in this episode?

Today’s interview is a brief one, but it’s packed with great insights. Our guest is Richard Mirliss. Richard is Executive Managing Director of Colliers International Commercial Real Estate.

Some of the topics we’ve covered in this interview include:

  • How John and Richard met
  • Richard’s advice to young professionals who want to shift from finance to real estate
  • What one thing he would change if he could go back in time
  • The most important piece of advice that he gives to his team on a daily basis
  • And more…

The Questions

[3:59] Tell us about your first big deal. How did you close it? How did you do it?
Answer: In my career, it was probably with the company called BMG Music, when I was with the City Group. It was very challenging. It was one of my first deals at the bank and I had to sell upstream within corporate to get their approval before we even moved forward with the company themselves.

[6:29] What advice would you give a young professional coming out of business school who says they want to be in finance, that they want to be in real estate?
Answer: I would say think long and hard about your personality and who you really are at the end of the day. What environment makes you the most happy? Are you a gregarious person, are you an outgoing person, or an introverted person; do you like to work with a lot of people, few people, or by yourself? I think once you start to really understand your own personality and what makes you comfortable and successful then, you should go and look at jobs that fit that personality set.” 

[16:06] You bring companies in, and I’ve seen you do this. You’ll look at the company. You’ll look at the leadership. You’ll look at the culture. How does that reflect the type of location in the office base, and whether you advise them to either purchase or lease?
Answer: Again, it’s the same thing. What we’re finding now is that office space reflects the companies. The office space has become a brand, more than just a place to house people. The brand reflects on who comes to work each day, where these people live, what their ages are, their demographics and the overall environment and how the space itself was built

Culture According to Richard:

Company culture to me is what really emanates from the corner office, in my opinion. How the person leads the charge, be it in a Regional Office or from the C-suite, really dictates, in my opinion, how companies operate top down. Whether it’s a collaborative nature, a dictatorship, a democratic regime, or whatever the keys need to be; really dictates how people operate within the organization, how people make decisions and how people interact with one another on a day to day basis.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

[Tweet @ColliersIntl “Success favors the prepared.” #quote #BECulture”]

Book Recommendations:

  • The Bible
  • The Godfather

What Richard Wants Colliers to BE:

  • BE Entrepreneurial
  • BE Global
  • BE Respectful

Connect with John on

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Welcome folks to Be Culture Radio. I am quite honored today to have a friend of mine and a Corporate Real Estate executive, Richard Mirliss. Richard specializes in tenant and landlord representations throughout Northern New Jersey. Rich holds a B.A. in Economics from Rutgers and an MBA from Baruch College. Rich, welcome to the show.

Richard:  Thank you John. I’m glad to be here.

John:  I’m glad you came, brother. It’s good to talk to you, I’m glad you’re with us. We’re going to have a little fun today. But before we do that, Rich, can you give our listeners a little background and a little story about you. Tell us about where you grow up, where you came from so we get to know you a little bit before we interview you.

Richard:  Sure. I’m originally from Newton, Massachusetts. I came down to New Jersey and went to college at Rutgers University. I went to business school at CUNY, Baruch College. I got my MBA there in Finance. I got married and had two kids. I have been in New Jersey ever since.

John:  What’s more difficult, the children or the real estate, Rich?

Richard: It depends on the day; usually the children.

John:   As I like to say, there’s no direction on their bottoms so quit turning them upside down. Hey Rich, before you were doing real estate – tell us a story about what you were doing before real estate.

Richard:  I was Vice President of Marketing at City Group. I was responsible for creating third party partnerships with the bank, mainly on the credit card side, to basically cross-sell our products and services from the bank. Everybody from AT&T, to Ford Motor Companies, to MGM, The movie company, you name it. That’s what I was responsible for.

John:  That had to be a pretty interesting culture, coming out of college, over at City bank. I can’t imagine there’s a lot of a corporate real estate executives who have that type of background, are there Rich?

Richard: It was. It was a little challenging, but at the same time, at the end of the day, what I was doing with dealing with people and structuring deals, so it was really no different conceptually than what I do today with real estate. [crosstalk 00:03:46]

John:  Go ahead.

Richard: No, it’s okay. Yes, I’m always dealing with people. I’m still structuring deals so nothing has really changed. Just the name on my business cards.

John: Tell us about your first big deal. How did you close it? How did you do it?

Richard:  First big deal. Which one? At City Group?

John: In your career, your first big deal.

Richard:  In my career, it was probably with the company called BMG Music, when I was with the City Group. It was very challenging. It was one of my first deals at the bank and I had to sell upstream within corporate to get their approval before we even moved forward with the company themselves. I think that was big, for me to try and get that to the next level. On the real estate side, I think it was probably a deal with a company called QTS New Jersey City. That was a major transaction and I think it was most fulfilling because I was able to get in there with the CEO directly, and work directly with the CEO from both a strategic and a transactions perspective. I went on to complete the deal. That was a major transaction. That was probably the most rewarding because I think they realized that I actually brought value to the table.

John: Rich, we’re going to shift gears a little bit. We’re going to talk about culture and office design. First, let me ask you, what was the major shift, if there was one, when you left the finance business and went over to the real estate business? Did you see a major cultural shift in the companies and how you interacted with people and how people interacted with you?

Richard: Did I see a difference culturally? Yes. On the finance side, it was a little bit more corporate-oriented. I think that there were more checks and balances if you will, as opposed to the real estate side, where it’s more “go, go, go” entrepreneurial, and you have the leeway to be able to work directly with decision makers. As opposed to when you’re in a corporate environment where you just don’t necessarily have that visibility and ability to talk directly with decision makers.

John: What advice would you give a young professional coming out of business goal who says they want to be in finance, that they want to be in real estate? Any advice you could share with our listeners, with these young entrepreneurs who are coming out of school?

Richard: To a young person coming out of school?

John: Yes.

Richard:  I would say think long and hard about your personality and who you really are at the end of the day. What environment make you the most happy? Are you a gregarious person or are you an outgoing person, or an introverted person; do you like to work with a lot of people, few people, or by yourself? I think once you start to really understand your own personality and what makes you comfortable and successful, then, you should go and look at jobs that fit that personality set. Otherwise, people just want to aspire to either making money or what their parents did for a living. It usually goes awry pretty quickly and people are usually miserable.

John: So what I hear you saying is let’s focus on fulfillment.

Richard: Focus on what?

John: Fulfillment.

Richard: Fulfillment. 100 percent right.

John:  So make sure that your beliefs align with fulfillment and the money will follow.

Richard: Agreed.

John:  I think so. For my listeners who don’t know, Rich and I have known each other for a number of years. He’s an extraordinary person, folks. I just want you to know that. Back in 2010, my family went through horrific experience where our home burned to the ground. Everything I owned was gone. I think it was maybe within four or five days that I got a call from a guy who I barely know, named Rich Mirliss, and he said to meet him at a coffee shop. Here I am. I’m wearing the clothes that Red Cross gave when I walked out. I’ve tried to figure out how to put my life back together. He meets me with a couple brokers and asked what he can do to help me. He handed me some money and he wanted me to go buy a basketball goal and some stuff for my kids, because at that time my kids were in high school and they were aspiring to go play college basketball.

Rich was there and he called me every week. Some people have the concept that if you’re in real estate, you’re pretty much a hard ass and a hard crusted guy but Rich, you defined a whole different type of person for me.

I’ve got to tell you it was pretty cool. And to this day, I hold you in such high regard because you looked at it culturally and it said that you’re different and people come first to you. That had to come from how you were raised, I’ve got to believe, Rich.

Richard:  Thanks man, I really appreciate that. It means a lot and you’re my friend so I would do anything for you. Thank you.

John:  Sorry about the phone. It just keeps ringing. I’ve got to turn them off, my apologies Rich. As I said earlier when we started, the technology’s just killing me. What do you define as company culture and how is your company adapted to that?

Richard: I’m sorry, the first part was what?

John:  What do you define as company culture?

Richard:  Culture, okay.

John:  I know that it means a lot to you because you and I talked over the years. I’ve shared this many times. That’s what makes or breaks organization and makes people want to go and aspire to great things. I’ve seen you embrace culture and environments and I’ve seen you say it’s not for you.

Richard: Right.

John: How do you define that?

Richard:  Company culture to me is what really emanates from the corner office, in my opinion. How the person who leads the charge, be it in a Regional Office or from the C-suite, really dictates, in my opinion, how companies operate top down. Whether it’s a collaborative nature, a dictatorship, a democratic regime, or whatever the keys need to be, it really dictates how people operate within the organization, how people make decisions and how people interact with one another on a day to day basis.

A collaborative environment is something that I enjoy and I thrive in, but constant collaboration doesn’t necessarily always extend out as far and as wide as you would want it to.

I find that I don’t thrive in environments where there’s a lot of infighting. I found that a lot on the corporate side where everyone is just trying to get ahead. It’s not about the bottom line; it’s more about creating angles for promotions. What I found here, not only within the corporate real estate industry, but within Colliers as a whole, is that it is very much pragmatic. It’s just successful. If you’re doing much right and you’re being nice to the people around you, you will succeed, regardless. I enjoyed that type of environment.

John:  I know there are discussions too, about how at Colliers there’s a very open environment. It’s a very collaborative environment. If I’m not mistaken, Rich, you communicate with the CEO on a regular basis.

Richard:  That’s correct. Everybody can communicate with the CEO and I think that’s a nice thing and even though you can have a management hierarchy here, it’s a relatively flat one when it comes to interaction and the ability to get things done and voice your opinion.

I think, from my perspective, being on the front line, on the business development side, that goes a long way in giving you peace of mind and knowing that at least you have some say, at the end of the day, on your surroundings and what you can and can’t get done.

John:  Rich, I want to pick up on business development because that’s one of your key roles. I want to ask you this question.

Richard: Sure.

John: You bring companies in, and I’ve seen you do this. You’ll look at the company. You’ll look at the leadership. You’ll look at the culture. How does that reflect the type of location in the office space, whether you advise them to either purchase or lease?

Richard: Again, it’s the same thing. What we’re finding now is that the office space reflects the companies. The office space has become a brand rather than just a place to house people. The brand reflects on who comes to work each day, where these people live, what their ages are, their demographics and the overall environment and how the space itself was built. This is the point, it’s not just taking 5 or 10 thousand square feet of space, it’s “Hey, this is my brand. This is what I’m trying to project to the market place. Here’s how I’m trying to attract and retain employees. How do I do that best within the confines of real estate?” Sometimes, it’s location-driven. If you’re trying to attract millennials, you want to go further east in New Jersey, towards Manhattan or towards public transportation, train lines, train stations, et cetera.

You should have amenity rich environments and when it comes to the space itself: “Do I need to be in a glass, high rise building? When people walk into my space, does it need to be funky, bright and very open or does it need to be more conservative, a little bit more stodgy, depending upon the nature of what I’m trying to convey? I think there has been a line that has been crossed definitely between corporate strategy and branding into commercial real estate. I think if you don’t understand how those two interact with each other, you’re probably not giving your client the best service possible.

John:  They’ll catch up to you. I believe that. Rich, you’ve seen hundreds of offices. When you’re showing spaces and you walk into an office, can you recognize, from the design and the people, what we referred to as a dead culture?

Richard: The definition of, I’m sorry, of a bad culture?

John: Yes, we call it a dead culture. It’s where people are just punching the clock, they can’t wait to leave, they’re miserable. We’ve all seen them.

Richard: Yes. It comes down to the corner office and how the corner office wants their employees to feel about coming to work.

I think that we’ve definitely seen is you look at your more traditional office installations back to the past 30 years. You’ve got perimeter offices that block the light coming in to the space with dark oak doors and little interaction between the people who sit in their offices and the people who are working out in the bull pens. You’ve got high walled bull pens where people don’t look at each other and interact and see the daylight. It’s just isn’t a collaborative environment; it’s not a fun environment to be. There are no central areas to collaborate, as opposed to today’s work environment, where people are headed, it seems, is towards open work space and a lot of light.

The kitchen has become part of the space. People can congregate and eat. It’s more 24/7 than it would be when it’s like “I’m going to get my turkey sandwich at lunch and go back to my desk.” There are couches and pool tables and stuff like that. I think that was in vogue in the dot com era. I think that there were a lot of the good things that they took out of that which they now incorporate into today’s working environment, which from my perspective when I walk in to space, I can tell right away whether or not the people are happy and vibrant, and want to stay and work.

John: Now Rich, you didn’t wake up one morning and become the Executive Managing Director at Colliers. You’ve had a very strong career and we would all like do-overs. I would like to do-over from time to time. If you had a chance to go back and say, “If I could do this one thing over, I’d like to do that over, knowing what I know today.”

Richard:  Right.

John: Could you share with us what that would be?

Richard: I probably would have started my own company a long time ago. That would be my guess. I think a lot of what I do today I would still be doing, and would deal in some way, shape or form just by giving my personality. But probably, the one thing I would have done is to have started my own business earlier on. That’s probably it.

John: You have young people on your team.

Richard: Yes.

John: You coach them. You mentor them. What piece of advice do you think is the most important coaching you give them on a daily basis?

Richard: It’s to be yourself and make sure that what you’re doing fits your personality. Once you to start feel that it is not working or that everything you’re doing takes too much effort or is difficult for you, you should start to re-examine either: A. how you’re doing something or B. if this is the right career for you. I think part of my job when I hire new people is, for the first six months, that I evaluate whether or not they are the right fit, and I ask them to evaluate whether or not it’s the right fit for them.

Once you get passed that six month learning curve then it’s more about taking it to the next level and making sure that they’re doing the best job possible, and making them better at this role and at this career.

John:  What office have you visited or what company that you know and have worked with would you say has your favorite culture, and why?

Richard: Probably, our office, The Colliers office, in Amsterdam. It’s one of the ones that stand out to me. In Europe, they seem to have a much more advanced way of thinking about business and about collaborating and working together. I had never seen an entire brokerage team work at one table before, with the senior broker at the top of the table and everybody else on the sides, and how the living and working environment that that created across the board and how collaborative everybody was in what was certainly a very fast paced environment because there was so much information sharing. Nobody had offices, just a lot of common spaces.

Everybody ate together. They had their own cafeteria within their space. It just promoted that collegiate nature of working together. I felt that was probably one of the most innovative and exciting offices I’ve seen.

John:  Rich, what is it about Colliers that aligns so well with the Richard Mirliss brand?

Richard: AgainColliers provided me with the global platform, brand and service lines that you need to perform in the corporate real estate business today. At the same time, it allowed me or forwarded me into being an entrepreneur and to build my own business within those confines. I think that’s a rare thing to find these days within corporate America.

John: A number of our listeners are entrepreneurs and emerging companies. What advice would you give the founders as they move forward and start? They’ve gotten their Series A funding and now it’s time to go grow their company, attract new employees, retain their core and by the way, they need space.

Richard: Right, I guess, that they always go for the best in class, is what I recommend. From a benchmarking perspective and otherwise, I always look to see who does it the best and try and emulate them, and put my own spin on it. Whatever industry you’re in or looking to be in, look to see who’s doing it the best. Look to see where they’re located. Look to see who they’re hiring for employees and then do it better. That would be my recommendation.

John:  So it’s safe to say, the role of a Corporate Executive in real estate has changed significantly in the last five years?

Richard: I would say so. I would say it has become much more about the upfront strategic planning and consulting aspects rather than the actual showing of space in doing a real estate deal. Without a doubt.

John: Thanks. Rich, we’re going to move to what we refer to as the lightning round. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions and just get your personal feedback.

Richard: You got it.

John: Rich, what book changed your life?

Richard: Wow, what book changed my life? That’s a good question. I apologize. I know it’s the lightning round. I don’t know if there’s one book that actually changed my life. I apologize.

John: There may be a couple, Rich.

Richard: Yes. I don’t know. Let me throw it back to you, what book changed your life?

John: The Bible.

Richard: Okay. I see that.

John: The real application; I’ve tried to make the world that I live in a better place. I think, for me that works. It reminds me and keeps me grounded and everything follows back in there. For me, I get up every day and try to make the world a better place, one person at a time. As you know, I worked with the kids in my AAU program; it’s one of my passions. It’s a foundation I work with and try to help young people be better people and change the world through them. When I look at books, there are a number of them. How to Win Friends and Influence People is always a great one to start.

I have these young people read those types of books and look at me like “Are you nuts?” The other book that I enjoyed from a perspective was Malcolm X’s book. I thought that was very interesting because I’m not from that culture so it had me learn things that I wasn’t aware of. I always think that’s good. I think if we walk into the world and, as they say, if you’re persuadable versus trying to persuade everybody, that helps.

Richard: I think from that perspective, I would probably also agree with you. It would probably be some derivation of the Bible as it relates to making me the person I am today, from that perspective. However, I usually read more fiction and for pleasure. If you’re asking me my favorite book is, it would be a different answer.

John: So, what is your favorite book?

Richard:  I would say it’s probably, believe it or not, and it also happens to be my favorite movie: The Godfather.

John: Great. I watched it last weekend.

Richard: There you go.

John:  For three hours, or about that.

Richard:  There you go.

John:  Not that I haven’t seen it 10 times.

Richard:  Let’s get it on film and then the book.

John: It never gets old watching it, even when you know what’s going to happen. Rich, what’s your “go to” quote for inspiration? We all have them. Tell me what yours is.

Richard: I think mine is sort of probably more like “Success favors the prepared.” If you’re going into a meeting or you’re doing anything, whether you’re taking a test or whatever the keys need to be, if you’re asking for a promotion, then do your homework and I think it comes across as well. I think people respect the fact that you’ve taken the time to understand all the new waltzes and what it is you’re walking into, and nine times out of 10, the more prepared you are the better you do.

John: Agreed. Yes. Preparation has quite a bit to do with luck.

Richard: Right. That’s exactly right.

John: It’s like, “Wait a minute. He or she worked really hard. They prepared, but they’re lucky. Okay, Right. Sure.” Hey Rich, if you were going to describe your company culture and if I were to say to you, “Hey Rich, describe the company culture of Colliers in three words,” what would you say it would be?

Richard:  I would say entrepreneurial, I would say global, and I would say respectful.

John: So, we would be entrepreneurial, we would be global and we would be respectful.

Richard: Yes.

John:  Those are three really, really good ones. Hey Rich, I can’t thank you enough for spending a half hour with us today for our listeners. It has been, as always, great spending time with a friend who I respect immensely, a professional who I hold in high esteem. For our listeners, how can they get a hold of Rich, if they want to ask you questions?

Richard:  Sure, my phone number is the easiest: 973-299-3077, and John, I really appreciate you affording me this opportunity. It’s very thoughtful of you.

John:  Before I get to let you off. You’re going to give me your email because a lot of my listeners love the email. I want you to give me your email. I laugh about this but give them your email, Rich. Come on, because they’re going to write you.

Richard: Richard.mirliss@colliers.com.

John:  Rich I want to thank you again. I’d like to thanks Colliers International for allowing us this opportunity to talk to you. I’d like to thank you, your great family, great wife and kids. Great guy. Thanks so much, Rich.

Richard: Thanks, John. I really appreciate it.

John:  You bet.

Richard:  See you.

John:  Be well.

Richard:  Bye.