EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ-Thirty-three-year-old Brian Whitmer defines himself as a leader. It’s certainly accurate in the textbook sense in that as a senior director at the local office of Cushman & Wakefield, he has a team of five he directs in multifamily investment sales.
But it’s true in the larger sense as well, in that Whitmer by both nature and nurture embraces leadership as a way of life. “I think of myself as a leader because I grew up in a household where both my parents ran their own business,” says Whitmer, who received his BBA from the University of Michigan in 2002. (A nine-year C&W veteran, his first job out of college was at LaSalle Bank in Chicago.)
Beyond family, Whitmer says there’s something about growing up in a small town that engenders a sense of leadership. Fremont, NE, is that town, with a population of 25,000 and the realization that “everyone knows everyone,” he says, and it’s important to do good in both your personal and professional life, because they merge. The people who stand out are those who are successful and give back. They are looked up to.” There are five tenets to leadership as Whitmer defines it:
Be approachable and supportive. Whitmer advises up-and-comers to be a resource for co-workers, clients and colleagues. “It’s the Golden Rule,” he says. “In this profession, it’s important to be collaborative and trade information.” He notes that if someone seeks your input today, “it will come back to you in spades.”
In his early 20s, for example, when he had no network or social circle, he and a handful of friends began meeting for dinner. They all paid for their own meals, designed as an opportunity to network, without an agenda. “When you’re younger and everyone is in a support role, you help each other out,” he says. Word spread, and over the years, the group has grown to 40 professionals meeting twice a year.
Whitmer reports that those relationships have matured and are now coming to fruition, “and business is coming out of it. It was nine years of planting that seed.”
Focus on building knowledge and reputation. “It all comes down to maintaining an ethical, professional and responsive approach to doing business,” says the senior director. “People want to do business with people who are at the top of their game and have fresh ideas and quality information that help them in their decision-making. That’s what I want to provide.”
Especially in transaction services—not the most transparent game in town, he notes—it’s important to know what’s going on, to be what Whitmer calls “a student of trends, the market and how investors are looking at pricing.”
Stay on the cutting edge. “A leader needs to be an independent thinker,” says Whitmer, and to know how to build on the building blocks of market knowledge. “Know your clients and what they want and you’ll begin to predict what will happen next.”
For example, he says calling housing the next boom is a no-brainer . . . today. Coming out of the downturn in early 2012 it wasn’t so clear as the economy bled jobs and the housing market crumbled. “We made a conscience effort to educate clients on what we were seeing and putting them ahead of future opportunity. Did we gamble? Sure. But we made the right bet.”
Be part of a strong team and support everyone’s professional growth and education. “And it’s important not to ask others to do what you would not do yourself,” he says, “or what you haven’t done yourself.”
Like work long hours and network like crazy. “Every weekend, every evening. We carry that tradition of hard work. Get out there and make relationships.”
Better the industry and the larger community. “Contribute time and knowledge to your company, trade organizations and philanthropic initiatives,” says Whitmer, obviously channeling his days in Fremont. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
So be part of the change. Whitmer cites the trade organizations that do a great job of lobbying at the national and local levels. “That’s key. They educate the public. But it’s important for us to help the cause, to go in front of planning and zoning boards, who may not understand real estate. You’re out there doing what’s important not only for your job or your company, but also for the larger community. You’re contributing to the cause.”
That, he says, is the definition of a leader.