am still negotiating leases. That is the
key to our leadership. We try to have
everyone lead by example and not sit
in an ivory tower waiting for things to
Development: As president, what are
your core areas of focus?
Olshonsky: It shifts from time to time.
I handle monthly forecasting, monthly
reporting, signing checks — all the
things you would expect me to do. At
the same time, I spend 80 percent
of my time with our members facing
Development: What qualities do you
look for when hiring senior staff?
Olshonsky: The No. 1 quality I look for
is a person’s desire to be something
grander than he or she is today. I
want self-starters who don’t like being
told what to do. I am gender blind,
color blind and age blind. I want
people with open minds. Eighty percent of the people in commercial real
estate don’t realize things are changing and that they are being left in the
dust. I want people who ask, “where’s
it going,” not “where’s it been?” The
six worst words you can ever say are
“that’s how we’ve always done it.”
Development: How often does your
network get together?
Olshonsky: We have three major
events during the year. These include
a leadership meeting attended by
both owners and managers of our
firms; our annual convention, where
we bring the whole company together,
which is attended by 700 people;
and our global market report, where
our economist, Dr. Peter Linneman of
Linneman Associates, and I invite a
guest speaker and have a panel discussion for both NAI Global members
and their clients. We also participate
in numerous industry events, including those sponsored by NAIOP, SIOR
Development: Apart from the data your
own firm produces, what economic or
market indicators do you track on a
Olshonsky: I focus on leading indicators such as oil prices, currency and
valuation of currency, and initial public offerings of technology companies.
I focus on those IPOs because that
has been the No. 1 growth area in office in the last five years. If they start
slowing down their valuations or their
venture capital payoffs, ultimately
that will lead to layoffs of people in
technology, beginning with San Francisco and New York City. I also look at
cycle time: 2008 was the beginning
of this cycle, and now we are six or
seven years into it. So historically, I
think that things could change and
change drastically. I don’t know what
will tip the cycle, but something will.
Development: Over the next 18
months, what challenges and opportunities do you see for the commercial real estate industry?
Olshonsky: We are at the top of the
market in most areas today. From
our perspective, if you are the owner
of commercial real estate, it is a
very good time to sell; if you are a
buyer of commercial real estate with
a seven- to 10-year hold period, it
is a very good time to buy, because
interest rates are low and money is
inexpensive. Those are the biggest
Development: Looking three to five
years out, what do you see on the
horizon that will impact the industry?
What are you doing today to prepare?
Olshonsky: The availability of data
is so good today that it will fundamentally change the way owners and
users acquire, lease and manage
space and interact with service
providers. Today, between the Internet
and websites, you can push a button
and market your property to 40,000
people. Not all 40,000 will be
interested, but how do you know that
one of them won’t? Those are readily
At some level, this is changing the
way service providers are interacting
with their customers. It will still be a
relationship-driven business, but the
way to prepare for it is with better
relationship-building skills and better
technology. There will be pricing pressure, and fees for service providers
will go down. I think you will see
owners and users of real estate “
self-helping,” doing more themselves.
Today, CoStar’s No. 1 growth area is
selling its data to owners and users.
It used to be that its No. 1 customer
was brokers. If the owners and users
of real estate have the same data
as service providers, what do they
need the service provider for? So that
means you have to change the way
you apply service going forward. In a
nutshell, this is where the business is
going in three to five years; it will be
very different from where it is today.
Development: How has the industry
changed during your career?
Olshonsky: The real estate industry
went from a completely not technical,
non-data oriented service relationship business to where it is today.
When I was 22 and brand new in the
business, people like me were hired
by clients because we actually had
all of the information. I memorized
all of the buildings and all of the
availability in Washington. There was
no way for an owner or user of real
estate to get that material unless they
engaged someone like me. That has
all changed today. Everyone has all of
the information today.
Development: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the
course of your real estate career?
Olshonsky: There are a few lessons.
Never say no; never say never. The
most valuable lesson I have learned is
that change is coming, so you’d better
get out in front of it. n
By Ron Derven, contributing editor,