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How three companies grow employees

How does a company go about helping employees operate at peak performance and grow their careers? Reporter Ben Johnson talked with the management of three well-known commercial real estate companies to gain a better insight. Here's what he learned.

Case Study: Trammell Crow University

Quick, what's the first thing you think of when somebody says “Trammell Crow Co.”? Your first thought might be something along the lines of “great big company,” “great brand name” or “quality service.”

But for the past nine years, Trammell Crow University (TCU) has operated quietly behind the scenes, making sure its employees are performing at their peak and servicing their customers to the nth degree.

“In 1992, Trammell Crow Co. [TCC] made a major commitment to its people, customers and investors by establishing Trammell Crow University,” said Barbara Bower, senior vice president and principal of national marketing services for the Dallas-based, full-service real estate giant.

“The idea came from Trammell Crow Co.'s chairman, Don Williams, whose vision and commitment to continuing education led to TCU's inception. TCU is a cornerstone of the company's knowledge system or ‘web’ — an investment in building organization knowledge and expertise,” she said.

But is it really more than just a name on a door, a piece of paper or a plaque? Bower cited several key objectives as TCU's ultimate mission. They include advancing the technical capabilities of the company's people; providing its customers with continuously improving services to benefit their work environments and daily operations; and ensuring its investors of an ongoing commitment to sound management practices.

Measuring the success of the university program isn't easy, but one yardstick is employee feedback. “Since TCU's inception, company-wide internal surveys and feedback continue to show increasing employee satisfaction with the company's commitment to training,” Bower said. “In addition, our people gain valuable professional skills that accrue to the benefit of our customers. Our people are motivated, challenged and recognized for their professional growth and educational advancement.”

And, of course, you could just look at the sheer number of employees who endure the rigors of these programs. Training is offered continuously throughout the year at all levels through two formats — individual classroom settings and national conference formats. In 2000, TCU held six national conferences reaching 959 TCC employees, and 70 classroom deliveries reaching more than 1,300 employees.

Case Study: University of Village Green

Another firm making much of its in-house education program is Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Village Green Cos., a leading developer, owner and manager of multifamily properties throughout the Midwest.

Tim Smith, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Village Green, said the concept behind the University of Village Green is simple and straightforward.

“We created the University of Village Green in 1989 to develop a consistent and professional approach to bring well-trained leasing, management and maintenance people to our sites. The goals were multiple in nature,” he said.

“First, we wanted to change the perception that property management was a below-tier career path, and show those entering the industry that it is a professional, service-based business that has clear needs. Second, we wanted to reduce turnover at the sites by demonstrating and teaching the fundamentals of the business along with the policies and procedures of Village Green,” Smith continued.

This week-long orientation course, in addition to consistent follow-up, demonstrates the company's commitment to help associates grow and develop, he said. Through the orientation, owners also learned how to train employees better while creating a more stable, motivated workforce.

Now at first, you might think nobody would really want to go back to school. After all, many candidates, having just joined the firm, are looking to fast-track their careers and get on with it, right? Not so, Smith said.

“The reaction has been tremendous from the company, employee and property owner perspective. Associates see a real benefit to the programs, and we actually have several executives today who were part of the very early courses and who have worked into vice president positions.

“The owners have realized a reduction in hard costs due to turnover, and the sites realize better performance from well-trained individuals,” according to Smith.

Even Village Green veterans have the opportunity now to learn more in a formal setting. “We have actually expanded our university curriculum to include ‘graduate-level’ courses, which place our associates on a path for executive positions within the firm,” Smith said.

Why all the fuss? What do Village Green execs hope to accomplish with this anyway? It's all about building tomorrow's leaders.

“Good leaders are recognized at Village Green as those people who can motivate teams of people and help them see the vision of the company and convert that into action steps that are achievable,” Smith said.

And in typical Village Green fashion, some of the best learning comes from setting the proper agenda. So rather than send colleagues off to conference after conference, the University of Village Green sets its own agenda. “Generally, we have found that creating our own curriculum, such as our annual associate seminar, allows us to have more control and achieve better results,” Smith said.

Case Study: Colliers Turley Martin Tucker

Late last summer, just before millions of students returned to classes throughout most of the country, 22 real estate pros at St. Louis-based Colliers Turley Martin Tucker became the first graduates of the newly launched Colliers University. Based in a modern training center in St. Louis, the university ran the “students” through an intensive five-day regimen of classes, with most days ending with homework.

The new employees took part in the company's extensive orientation program, launched Aug. 14, 2000, designed to advance both their understanding of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker and the tools needed to perform their assigned duties.

Colliers Turley Martin Tucker is one of the nation's largest full-service commercial real estate firms, managing more than 37 million sq. ft. of office, industrial and retail properties. The company handles more than $1.5 billion in transactions, and has more than 250 licensed real estate professionals and 600 associates throughout its six Midwest offices in St. Louis; Cincinnati; Dayton, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo., Indianapolis; and Nashville, Tenn.

According to Scott Bazoian, managing principal of brokerage services with the firm, the university provides employees with an in-depth look at the company's proprietary technology, including client-service software and research databases, and at software used in their job duties. Discussions also focus on industry-related topics including lease documents, tenant office design, building systems and financial analysis. Courses are taught by Colliers Turley Martin Tucker staff and outside experts. Each day typically ends with a homework assignment for the evening based on what was covered that day.

All new employees in property management, brokerage and corporate services will attend the university. Additionally, employees will receive continuing education on a quarterly basis. Clients also will be offered an opportunity to attend courses. Colliers Turley Martin Tucker may offer programs to other real estate firms affiliated with Colliers International, the industry's largest real estate partnership.

“We believe it is essential to make significant investments in our people,” Bazoian said. He's also a strong proponent of continuing education.

“We provide an educational allowance and encourage our brokers to attend CCIM and SIOR training. Nearly all of our senior brokers have earned their respective designations. We also do the same on the property management side of our business,” he said.

“We believe these association-related programs provide a solid background to better prepare our brokers for their selected focus. They gain a good working knowledge of the business from industry peers who share both practical and experience-based information,” Bazoian continued. “We also believe that these designations lend credence to our expertise, which signals our commitment to our clients.”

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