Earlier this month, Matt Van Buren stepped into his role as CB Richard Ellis’s president of the tristate region. With the new title, Mr. Van Buren’s oversight duties have grown from operations at the firm’s midtown headquarters to its activities across Long Island, Connecticut, upstate New York and Northern Jersey. The former executive managing director, 52, interrupted his vacation to talk shop.
The Commercial Observer: What are the main differences between your duties as executive managing director and your new role as president of New York tristate?
Mr. Van Buren: With my previous position, I ran the midtown operations for CB Richard Ellis, which was one of five major tristate hubs, and now I run all of them, and that would be Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut and three different offices in New Jersey—not to mention downtown and midtown. So the geographic coverage got bigger.
But then, with that, all of the lines of business now report to me; prior to this I had primarily brokerage operations. I did have several other small business lines, but now I have all of them, including outsourcing our asset services group, our appraisal group; and that’s in addition to brokerage and debt and equity finance, which I had before.
So it grows in both service lines and geographic coverage.
Have you had a chance to visit each of those operations since taking on the new role?
I did. The good news is that CBRE does have very good succession planning in place. I’ve been with the firm six years, but particularly over the last two and half or three years, I’ve been well-positioned and exposed to the entire region, as well as the organization. So it was to my advantage to have that experience.
You’re in Montauk on vacation right now. Are you taking a look at the commercial real estate possibilities in the area while you’re there, or are you just taking it easy?
[Laughs] There’s not a lot of commercial real estate out here, but for the right price maybe there’s some residential to take advantage of.
When were you first made aware of this promotion?
I think Mitch Rudin announced his departure sometime around Memorial Day; he announced that he was going to be moving to Brookfield. So very quickly—and in accordance with the normal way CBRE does business—they assessed and almost immediately, within 24 hours, named me as the interim acting head of the tristate region.
Obviously, the president’s title came with the permanent promotion, but they put me in the acting role immediately and then went about the process that they always do of assessing all their alternatives and arriving at a firm choice that’s been well thought through.
So since Memorial Day is about the time it all started.
Has Mr. Rudin given you any advice leading up to your transition to president?
Well, Mitch and I worked closely for the entire six years I’ve been with the firm.
So the good news for me is I enjoy a really good relationship with Mitch. And I think with any of these transitions there’s always an opportunity to get insights that are historical, and I do rely on Mitch; and I would consider him to be inside my circle of people for whom I have great respect and a great relationship with, so I benefit from that.
Has Mr. Rudin offered any particularly insightful “Rudinisms” that you can share?
I would say that the quintessential piece of advice Mitch has consistently given me is to treat people as individuals in a manner that you would want to be treated. He has tremendous respect for the individual, and he has balanced that with keeping the enterprises’ objectives firmly in mind when you make decisions.
What are your short-term goals for the firm over the next several months?
Look, the truth of the matter is that if you sort it by all objective measures what I’m stepping into is a very good situation in that CB Richard Ellis enjoys a really good reputation in the market—they have a great brand and they have a really significant market share. But most importantly, they have a very deep bench of talent on all fronts.
Most notably on our producers side is brokerage, both in leasing brokerage and investment property. But, across all of our lines of business, we have a consulting group that is the envy of the industry; and the other thing we have is a research and analysis group that also is known throughout the business.
So, looking at all of those, I think first and foremost we need to build on our strengths. In addition to that, I think there’s a real opportunity for us to accelerate the development of our young talent, and that’s something I’ll be focused on. We already have very good, specific programs in place that have worked in the past, but I’ll look to do more with them.
With regard to this month’s stock market roller coaster, do you feel like your term as president comes at a precarious time for commercial real estate or, conversely, a more steady time, following three years of economic turmoil?
It’s interesting. I mean, I started with CBRE on the first day of 2006, and I actually rode two of the nicest years you could ever ask for as a service provider in this business. I mean, 2006 and 2007 were about as good as it gets. And 2008 and 2009 were maybe closing in on about as bad as it gets—certainly for anyone under 40, and many who were living through the early 1990s.
So I’ve seen the good and the bad; and my reaction to the market now is, look, in terms of coming into a position at a business, I think it really does create opportunity if you’re good. I believe that. I think we need to assess through the remainder of August what is going to happen in these markets—and that’s going to have a lot to do with our short-term success.
Along with your new title, you’re also now a member of CB Richard Ellis’s Americas Executive Committee. What does that new membership mean for you?
It’s the very senior-most leadership in our Americas business so the way I would characterize it is it’s a voice at the table where the biggest decisions that affect our Americas business are made—and it’s recognition of the importance of our market in the overall scheme of our business.
It’s a real honor, and it’s a real responsibility because those are decisions that affect the single largest geographic business in the entire corporation.
You describe it as having a voice at the table. Do you have such power at home?
[Laughs] No! I’m responsible for producing in the work place, and my spouse, Laura, is equally responsible for running our home. I’m a 51 percent shareholder.