In August 2011, Matt Van Buren took the reins as CBRE’s tristate president, a position held until then by Mr. Van Buren’s friend and mentor Mitch Rudin. Since then, the brokerage veteran’s responsibilities have expanded to include operations across Long Island, Connecticut, Upstate New York, Northern New Jersey and, of course, the five boroughs of New York City. The Commercial Observer caught up with Mr. Van Buren four months after his one-year anniversary to discuss the goals he has accomplished, what lies ahead for CBRE and his predictions on Manhattan’s most formidable market, Midtown.
The Commercial Observer: You accepted the role as CBRE’s tristate president a little more than a year ago, correct?
Mr. Van Buren: Let’s call it 16 [months].
Can you give yourself a report card?
Financially it’s been a good time for our firm, and market-wise it’s also been a good time. When I walked into the job, I was very fortunate. This is a good job. This is a tremendous company, a great platform, and we have a lot of talent here in New York. So that was all in place.
And I’m happy to say that, during the first year or so—during my time in this position—those things have continued to produce results. Financially, we look strong. Operationally, we’re strong, and we’ve made some nice new additions to our operation here over the first year that I’ve been on the job.
What were some of the firm’s goals 16 months ago when you came in?
On the financial side it’s always clear, and we drive toward those goals constantly. Operationally, it’s a little more interesting. I had a couple of things in mind, having come up through the ranks, that I wanted to focus on, that we’ve made some progress on. One was [expanding] our marketing and research capability, which really does have an impact on our customer-facing activities—gaining new customers, servicing our customers well, doing deals to the next level.
I think most people in the industry would say CB has a research and marketing capability that’s in many ways the envy of the industry. But we still felt there was room to grow, so we made very significant investments both in growing those two parts of our organization and in further integrating them. So we’ve added some new staff.
Was that something on your mind 16 months ago?
Yes, I thought it was a real opportunity. It was a very good part of the business that I thought we could benefit from disproportionately by making better. So we did this with purpose.
Have you put a premium on specialization, as many brokerage firms have?
The sophistication, both from a financial perspective and an overall perspective of our clients, is absolutely rising. They are smarter and better informed, and they are often professionals on their way up. As an example, the way that an accounting firm versus a law firm versus an advertising agency makes their money actually becomes a part of how they think about how they occupy space, and how expensive it is, and how operationally it works. And to be specialized as a services provider is absolutely an advantage.
We’ve had pockets of specialization within our brokerage operation that [were] traditionally largely self-selected by the broker, though encouraged by the company, and now we’re much more focused and purposeful with that. We actually have business plans for our young professionals—where they’re going to specialize, be it a vertical industry or a specific geography, or even on a specific type of assets: small building versus larger
A specialization—a niche, if you will—is not your only business, but it does become your calling card, and that’s valuable.