Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doug Frye of Colliers International Accepts Innovator Award

On February 9, 2012 on the UW-Madison campus, the UW Real Estate Club and the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate presented the Innovator Award, which recognizes innovative contributions to the real estate industry. This spring’s recipient is Doug Frye, President and Chief Executive Officer of Colliers International.

Frye was selected for leading transformational change within Colliers from a network that once consisted of independent firms to a much more powerful global enterprise. He led this change with great empathy and has helped unify great individual performers across this global enterprise. His success in doing this is especially profound because his management style embraced the individualism of a broker, while uniting the company under a common vision. Frye has served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Colliers International since 2004. He also serves as the chairman of the Colliers International Governing Committee, which oversees the Colliers International brand on a global scale. From 2007 to 2010, there has been a 450% growth in revenue at Colliers, which translates to revenue growth from $187 million to over $1 billion.

Joined by a full audience of more than 100 MBA and undergraduate students, Frye started off his presentation by taking the audience through his career progression. His story started in 1971, with his family’s move from Detroit to California in their Ford Fairlane. His parents purchased a house that was two blocks from the beach for $15,000. Frye and his family quickly set to renovating the property themselves and months later, the family sold the house for more than double the purchase price. Next, he mentioned his time as a member of the wait staff at Denny’s. Frye was very intentional with this inclusion, as he said, “You need to appreciate the job that you are doing because all these skills will come back and be useful.” He cited the need to multi-task as a waiter and how important it can be in the marketplace.

Following obtaining his BA in Marketing and Finance from the University of South Florida, Frye took a job as a real estate analyst. As he was reviewing a closing statement, he saw that the broker would receive a big commission on the deal and decided that was the route for him. He landed a job as a broker with Grubb and Ellis. There, he bought a 70-pound “portable” IBM computer for $5,000 and learned how to compute discounted cash flows. He was the only person at that office who could do a discounted cash flow on a computer, and he was consistently brought into meetings to “work his magic” on the computer. Frye emphasized the importance of having a skill that differentiates you in the workplace. He said, “I figured out what that was going to be, and I worked at it.”

In 2002, after four years at Grubb and Ellis, Frye was offered the job as President and CEO at Colliers. Frye took the job and began a much bigger “renovation” than he and his family had overseen on their property in California. He wanted Colliers to take on the role as the leader in the experience field of real estate brokerage. He recognized that there were already strong players in the other brokerage specialization areas and felt that Colliers could make a strong play by focusing on providing a great experience for their clientele. Frye stated that when your business is seen as a commodity, how you deliver the product has a heightened importance. He used Starbucks as an example and detailed how Starbucks decided that they were going to make the play to not just serve great coffee, but to become the third meeting place that people frequent (home and office being the other two).

Frye refocused the company’s core values to more closely align with the company’s new trajectory. Those values are:
  • Service – to provide memorable service
  • Expertise – to be great at something
  • Community – to commit to being active around the globe
  • Fun – to celebrate successes
As Frye closed his talk, he took on a different tone – one of inspiration and challenge for the students. He discussed how Colliers is the only financial services firm that signed PACI (an anti-corruption initiative) with World Economic Forum, and he then challenged the students by saying that in order to change the world with innovation, we need to have the mindset of innovation. Frye followed this by showcasing the Everyone Gives global social giving campaign that Colliers is launching on February 22, 2012. In this campaign, donors contribute money via the Everyone Gives platform and designate which charity they want to support. Then everyone invites two of their friends to give, and they invite friends, and so on, thus compounding the amount of people and the contributions. To kick start this challenge, Frye passed out a few Visa gift cards to the students, encouraging them to support their own causes and to tell their friends.

The inspiration for the Innovator Series Award was derived from the paper "Tradition and Innovation," written by Professor Stephen Malpezzi, chair of the Real Estate Department at UW-Madison. The paper's central theme is that a rich history cannot be established without continually implementing innovation. Previous recipients of the award include Michael Ashner of Winthrop Realty, Nick Billotti of Turner Construction, Laurence Geller of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, David Brain of Entertainment Properties Trust, and Hersch Klaff of Klaff Realty.

Jordan Denzer comes to Madison from Dallas, TX (it is often joked that he is one of the international students). Previously, Jordan managed corporate flexible spending accounts, but decided that he wanted to get into real estate development, which initiated the move to Madison. Currently, Jordan is interested in getting into historic redevelopment and/or mixed-use development projects.

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