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Fischer & Co.'s unique business style spells success

In its first three years of business, the brokerage firm Fischer & Co. spent a lot of time explaining why in the world a small company in Dallas was doing business in cities all across the country. But in the last five years, that's not been the case, says Clifford R. Fischer, president. Today, Fischer & Co.'s track record more than speaks for itself

Since 1992, the company has been active in more than 70 different cities at any given time. Today, Fischer & Co. is doing work in 250 cities around the United States, and they are strategic alliance partners with companies such as Federal Express, Northern Telecom and First Data Corp. Recently, Fischer & Co. helped Dr. Pepper/Cadbury find its new headquarters and assisted Federal Express in renegotiating its headquarter facilities in Memphis.

There are several areas that make this company different from other brokerage firms. To start with, Fischer & Co. specializes in the tenant representation side of the brokerage business.

When he first got into brokerage, Fischer worked at a firm in Dallas that had some focus on tenant representation. "I spent two years in that firm and, while I was there, one of our friendly competitors in town started specializing in the tenant side of the business", Fischer says. "I felt likewise that there is an inherent conflict in representing both landlords and tenants in the market, and I just felt like I needed to be in a situation where I was representing one side of the table. And so I broke away in 1985 to start the firm and just specialize in the tenant rep and corporate services."

Fischer Systems Inc.

Software has played an important part in Fischer & Co. since the beginning. The firm developed a software system for itself to track leases and monitor critical dates and follow-up. It then began modifying the system and implementing it for some of its clients.

"In 1989, we went up and met with ITT, which is a Fortune 25 company, and they had the same need (for software systems) as the regional companies we were dealing with down here. We won a proposal and bid to help develop a system for them worldwide," Fischer says. "We did so there and then, in 1990, we met with IBM in their West Coast office, and they had the same need."

"So we went into a much more sophisticated system at that time and built what we consider our second generation of software products," he says, "and, when we finished the IBM software system, we realized that we could make that system generic, and it then took a whole new dimension. That's when we formed Fischer Systems and hired someone to run that company and bring on full-time programmers."

Today, Fischer Systems Inc. is a separate company developing corporate real estate computer information systems. Some of Fischer Systems' recent software product installations include ITT-Hartford, CBS, Westinghouse and Equitable.

Breaking tradition

The fact that it's always done things differently from traditional service providers has helped Fischer & Co. stay ahead of the game.

"There's been a lot of change in the real estate industry over the last 10 years," Fischer says. "There was a very traditional way of doing-business, I think, up until about 1985. And then by about 1990, we saw this corporate services business taking off and, as we've been very focused since '85 on that area, we didn't have a lot of baggage to have to change our culture or change the way we do business."

"We've seen what I call the `good old boy broker' out there - who's still out there, who's still earning a good living - that's not the right fit for what we do," Fischer says. "We've very much attracted people who want to be leading edge in the services and the things they provide."

But for all the innovation that the company has, there is also plenty of old fashioned quality and consistency. And that sometimes gives the firm more of an advantage than anything else.

W. Scott Bumpas, executive vice president, points out that Fischer & Co. really competes with the larger firms by maintaining a consistent process of how it does business. "The larger firms, where they're spread out all over the country and they have offices everywhere, it's very difficult to implement consistent process and the quality of product across the board in every single office."

"They (larger firms) are married to that one transaction; we're married to the entire account," Bumpas says. "So if we make a mistake, or don't follow the process or don't do a good quality job on any single transaction anywhere, it can bring the whole account down. It makes you a lot more passionate about the account."

"If a company has had a bad experience in the consistency or the process with a larger firm and they're actually seeking this kind of work," Bumpas says, "and they don't even know it's available necessarily but when they find us performing it this way, they love it."

Bumpas backs up his belief in the company with a challenge. "Give us one transaction, and it will be so uniquely different from anything you've experienced before that, if you feel otherwise, then this will be our one transaction with you."

Taking it on the road

Even though it operates out of Dallas, being a large national firm has always been a stated goal since the beginning for Fischer & Co, Fischer says.

"But the reality of that was that it was going to take one step at a time," Fischer says. "We had to have the tools in place to go out and have a competitive edge to get the business and, along the way, we had to build our track record of showing how we go to another city and do the job better than the best people in that city."

To become better than the best in each new market, the firm began developing a process for going into each new city and learning the market

The first city outside of Dallas that Fischer worked in was San Antonio. They started learning everything they could about the city, including researching every building and learning the up-to-the-minute status of every facility in that market. Today, says Fischer, that process is the same.

"Our research and the time we spend learning a market is quite extraordinary," Fischer says. "And that knowledge has to be there for our process to work."

The documentation process Fischer & Co. goes through is also quite extensive and unique. On a busy week, Fischer says, the company will put out 75 to 100 books publishing market studies, first- and second-round proposals and other information. That documentation is an important tool, Fischer says, to keep the clients informed of the entire process.

Going global

Fischer is eyeing international opportunities, although not in the same way as other real estate companies. Bumpas says that a few years ago when ideas about international and global expansion became more common, a lot of real estate companies started opening up offices all over the world to serve clients.

"That's just another example of repackaging the same old thing," Bumpas says. "What's important to these companies is that they can make a phone call to an outsource provider, and they know they're going to get the same consistent process and quality performed when they make that phone call."

"So just as they call Fischer & Co. in Dallas to handle a high priority, high-level executive office in Miami, they know what they're going to get and not have to worry about who the local guy is, they now can call Fischer & Co. and open an office in Singapore."

Sticking to basics

While some service companies have branched out to provide every type of service imaginable, Fischer has decided to stick to providing three main services for its clients. First, Fischer goes in and automates its clients' portfolios. The automation gives the clients decision-making tools, Bumpas says.

Secondly, Fischer provides consulting. "It's one thing to have information or an information process; it's another thing to actually turn that information into actual decisions," Bumpas says.

And third, Fischer goes out and actually implements the plan and performs the transaction services for its clients.

"Other firms have decided to bring architectural services and facility management services and all these things, Bumpas says. "We feel, to a certain extent, that's reinventing the wheel."

Instead of trying to do it all, Bumpas says, the company "adds value" by sticking to what it knows.

"The type of work we do doesn't fit every company out there," Fischer says. "We've learned that the types of companies that make sense for this type of large strategic alliance relationship are ones that have the size requirement that warrants us getting on planes and traveling all over the country. Along the way, we've had to find the niche of business that works well for what we do, and we seem to have been getting a lot better at that."

Ted D. Uzelac recently joined Fischer & Co. to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Previously he was at Premisys Real Estate Services Inc. in Atlanta. He credits some of the same qualities that draw major clients to Fischer & Co. with attracting him as well.

"Fischer & Co. possesses a team concept within the company and with its clients," Uzelac says. "The end result is clearly recognized by the outstanding work that is produced and the end results achieved. The environment enables individuals to continuously learn and develop superior skills. The overall work environment is built around the company values of trust, integrity and respect."

"The `platform' at Fischer & Co. is very exciting and dynamic and allows individuals to utilize the company's strengths," Uzelac says.

Future plans

As for the future, the company's No. 1 goal is to remain the technology expert in the industry, Fischer says. "Our goal is to help our customers be on the leading edge and, if they're on the leading edge, then we're on the leading edge. We very much drive our business around making our customers look good."

Fischer attributes the company's leading-edge position to its continued innovation. He also points out the importance the company places on both maintaining a quality effort from everyone and keeping the job fun.

"If we keep the enthusiasm and teamwork within our group, then the positive attitudes and the spirit to make this a great place continues," Fischer says.

"We have an internal challenge to make every job that we do better than the last one," Fischer says, "better than any we've ever done."

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