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Last year, when Cendant Real Estate Services revealed that it was separating its Coldwell Banker twins–commercial from residential–chairman and CEO Richard A. Smith noted that the structural change would create the opportunity “to grow our commercial real estate presence.” Well, talk about taking the ball and running with it. Coldwell Banker Commercial president and COO George Slusser, in an exclusive interview with GlobeSt.com, tells how he has forged a new growth strategy, the seeds of which were actually sown two years ago, when Slusser was originally tapped to replace Jerry Anderson. Last year’s separation, of course, shifted the program into high gear, and Slusser today is reporting double-digit growth and an aggressive rollout of new offices around the nation—both owned and franchised, which is the traditional Coldwell model. For the record, Slusser is a longtime Coldwell Banker veteran who prior to his appointment in April of 2003 was senior vice president of franchise sales for the Parsippany, NJ-based outfit.

GlobeSt.com: You guys have been relatively quiet for a while now. Why?

Slusser: We’ve had our heads down and working pretty hard. We haven’t sought a lot of publicity, and maybe we should. But we’ve had a tremendous two years. We’re getting the strategy and the plan and the people in place and have begun executing the plan. The last two years have been phenomenal.

GlobeSt.com: How do you define phenomenal?

Slusser: Comparing 2003 to ’02, we were up 22%. In ’03 we did about $190 million in gross commission income. In 2004 we did about $223 million, which is up about 31%. For the first quarter of ’05 we’re up about 18%.

GlobeSt.com: Do you expect that increase to sustain through Q4?

Slusser: Yes.

GlobeSt.com: Talk me through the game plan.

Slusser: We’ve done a lot of research about the needs and wants of clients and associates and brokers, and we’ve discovered that what seems to be lacking in commercial real estate is proper communication and relationship development.

GlobeSt.com: Do you mean real estate or Coldwell Banker?

Slusser: Real estate in general, but probably ourselves as well. But this also gives us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves in a number of different areas. Our Client First program is one of those, and in it we define what the client can expect throughout the transaction—integrity, value-enhancement and relationship-management.

GlobeSt.com: But I could talk with a Colin Dyer or a Bruce Mosler or a Brett White and they would all profess the same values.

Slusser: Some people talk about what they’re going to do. We actually do it. We’ve proven we can grow as an organization and grow in quality. The rest of the strategy entails defining the tools and services necessary to make a great client experience.

GlobeSt.com: Can you provide proof?

Slusser: For instance, in business development we take a unique approach to our work with individual clients. Even though we can help a client in, let’s say, Macon, GA, we might not be able to help them in Birmingham, AL. It may be an industrial requirement and we’re strong in retail there. We’ll give that to a competitor if that’s what’s good for the client. It’s not common, but it’s a best-practices approach to business development, and it’s the only thing that will allow us to grow.

GlobeSt.com: You actually practice this concept?

Slusser: Continuously. And our competitors are now giving business to us.

GlobeSt.com: So what goes around comes around.

Slusser: It’s worked very well. Another leg of our strategy is called Partnering for Success. We’re not entirely company-owned, nor are we completely a network or affiliation. That used to be a bad word, but we are proving that it’s working. Our network is 40% company-owned and the rest is franchised.

GlobeSt.com: And you’re growing the network number, correct?

Slusser: We’ve brought on 14 new offices so far in 2005 and we’re hoping to bring on close to 35 by the end of the year. We’ve doubled the number in the group that’s out there looking for new affiliates–from 6 to 12. We’re truly doubling our efforts.

GlobeSt.com: What markets are you looking at?

Slusser: We have a lot of holes. There are a few majors we’re looking at–Atlanta, Boston and Dallas, specifically for 2005–and a few others that are just about ready to be announced.

GlobeSt.com: How big can the company grow, given the nature of your competition?

Slusser: We’ve come to realize that there’s a great opportunity that exists in commercial real estate. It’s so fragmented that if you take the top five or 10, they still don’t make up a huge majority of the transactions. There’s no Fortune 100 company in this industry. Double-digit growth is just the minimum, and you can argue that we’re starting from a low base, but we’re already cracking the top 10, no matter how you calculate it. We’ve gone from a dead stop to a pretty significant force.

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