Barbara Liberatore Black | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Barbara Liberatore Black


JLL is a financial and professional services firm that specializes in commercial real estate services and investment management.

The Mistake:

I made the mistake of not realizing that working in a team would help me maximize profits.

As a commercial real estate broker, I represent tenants and I get paid when a deal closes. You can do a lot of work, but if the deal doesn't get closed you don't get paid. That's how the story is and you have to be a little creative to make sure you're consistently bringing in what you have to make.

In our industry, we always worked in a silo. You just work on our own, and you work with a particular client, and you don't share fees. You do that because you want the highest share of fees.

When we first started our firm, we were all coming from big commercial real estate firms and we decided we would go out and get our own business because we thought it would be working against us timewise to do it any other way. I had a specialization which happened to be working with law firms.

And it happened that through working with this one particular company that rapidly expanded and so now I was doing the work for 80 locations. I was flying constantly doing a lot of work on this one client, but when you do a lot of business with one client you share the fees.

What happened was I had built a lot of local business, but I couldn't pay attention to the local market because I was tied up in the larger account. The larger account was about 80 percent of my time. So I had done all the work and I was making a decent amount of money when the stock market crashed, and only a few of those deals for that client had closed.

So that particular year, even though I was supposed to be the highest earner that year, I wound up being the lowest because none of my deals came through. And that was a wake-up call.

I realized I needed to leverage myself and start working with a team.

The Lesson:

I ended up hiring a person that I mentored, and I realized I needed to leverage myself and start working with a team. And it was kind of unusual because no one was used to that model, and my clients actually appreciated the idea that I was educating somebody.

So the person who was our managing director at the time started to notice that this model was really working. So he decided to join me on an account because he learned the business, and eventually I was able to leverage my time and myself and go back to earning my own business. But in the process, we started making more money because we were working together as a team.

What I realized – what we both learned - is that two people can make the income of three or four people, and we said, "Hey, we really should be creating more internal relationships and collaboration."

So we decided to start doing this with all of us. We went from three people to 10 people in a four-year period and quadrupled our income. And because of our collaborative culture of getting and doing business together, the top team from a competing brokerage came over to us. From there within two years, we ended doubling our number of people to 32. We broke industry standard and changed our methodology, and it made a big shift for our company financially, culturally and collaboratively.

Follow JLL at @JLLFlorida on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Liberatore Black

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