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Kim Butler: Closing the Generation Gap in Real Estate

2015 NTCAR Stemmons Service Award winner Kim Butler and Young Citizens Award winner Natalie Snyder tackle generational differences in commercial real estate in this one-on-one conversation.
Kim Butler
Kim Butler

Six years ago, when I celebrated my 25th anniversary in the commercial real estate business, Natalie Snyder jokingly asked if I had started my career when I was kindergarten. I instantly liked her, and even though we hadn’t worked together directly when we were both at Transwestern, it was the start of a beautiful friendship—we even share the same hairdresser. A year ago, we were also both recognized by NTCAR* for contributions to the business and our communities. Looking back over the year, we began talking about how our generations approach the real estate business differently and how much of what we do is the same. With four generations now in the workplace (Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials), our insights seemed worth sharing, if for no other reason than to continue educating one another. Here’s how the conversation unfolded.

Kim: One common misconception I hear is that the younger generation doesn’t have a strong work ethic, and I don’t buy into that at all. We used to see who could be the earliest into the office and the last to leave, but that isn’t the case anymore. I see how hard you work, but I also see how smart you work. Younger people just work differently in a mobile society, and physical presence in an office doesn’t mean what it used to.

Natalie: The younger generation is more tech savvy, that’s true. Technology can be an accelerator to increased efficiency and helps us solve client challenges faster. This generation is also more savvy with growing social networks and taking advantage of industry apps to make sure they are thorough and have covered all their bases.

Kim: My generation is still open to learning new things. If we’re not taking the opportunity to learn new tricks from the younger generation, we’re missing out. There is a real opportunity for us to stay relevant and maintain an edge that comes from years of experience.

Natalie Snyder, left, and Kim Butler (NTCAR)

Natalie: One of my mentors at Cushman has given me a lot of good advice, including that the mentor relationship goes both ways. He always says we should be teaching each other new things—learning from other people and pushing ourselves to innovate. If we don’t, we’re going to become stale and won’t stay competitive.

Kim: A partnership comprised of a Baby Boomer and a Millennial is so compelling. The younger person can take better advantage of technology because they have grown up with it and are inherently more comfortable with it. The more tenured person brings the wisdom associated with years of experience and knowing what can go wrong in closing a transaction. They know how to anticipate potential problems and come up with possible solutions in advance. Another interesting thing I have noticed with the younger group is that men and women are much more comfortable doing business side-by-side and forming partnerships than they were when I started out in the business.

Natalie: I believe real estate teams can be more successful if they are made up of multigenerational and gender-racially diverse people. We need to mirror our clients.

Kim: It used to be that you had two choices when you were ready to get a proposal to someone. It was either delivered in person or sent by snail mail. Nine out of 10 times, I delivered my proposals because I saw the value of that face-to-face contact. There’s just no substitute for being in front of someone. As a young person it would make you stand out and have more of an edge because the decision makers, who are often more tenured, feel very comfortable doing business face-to-face.

Natalie: Soft skills, like listening, are still so important in this business. I agree that delivering proposals and talking through lease issues with all parties in person helps in terms of feedback. You can visually gauge subtle reactions and have a chance to respond resulting in a more thorough understanding of what the concerns and needs are.

Kim: As a real estate professional, it’s even more important in today’s world to be well educated, have good analytical skills, and be well traveled so you can have intelligent discussions with decision-makers. It’s much more authentic and meaningful. The people we interact with today know if someone’s trying to bluff their way through a conversation – that strategy just doesn’t work anymore!

Natalie: Sales skills are still a big part of what we do, but there are other talents we need, too. Many of the clients we deal with have MBAs, JDs, and other advanced degrees. Having additional credentials behind your name helps level the playing field so you feel more like an equal and less like a vendor.

Kim: You did what it took to obtain your CCIM designation, which is a big deal in real estate. It’s also important to network, and I’ve noticed that our generations network differently. Younger people by nature are charged up socially and have more personal time available for working out and meeting friends after work. They are very effective in talking shop no matter where they are and can often learn valuable intel to bring back to the team. Someone older with different responsibilities might be networking at their kids’ sporting events or through service on industry and nonprofit boards.

Natalie: There are definitely different venues that encourage networking, and it’s great to reach any decision-makers, whether through school activities, the gym, church or a “women in business” happy hour. Networking opens doors and increases the numbers of people you are able to touch.

Kim: My hope for you is that the relationships you develop now will still be valuable to you 30 years from now like they have been for me. Some of the people I have been doing business with my whole career are important to me personally, not just from a business perspective. I’ve made incredible and special friendships through my work. I hope our younger professionals will stop and take the time to get face-to-face with their contacts and form lasting relationships. Today when I go to work, I see people I care about and get to do business with my friends. It just doesn’t get much better.

Kim Vincent Butler is director of leasing for HALL Group (KPMG Plaza at HALL Arts and HALL Office Park). She can be reached at [email protected].

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Kim Butler, director of leasing for HALL GROUP, was the 2015 recipient of NTCAR Stemmons Service Award, considered the industry’s highest honor. Snyder was the winner of NTCAR’s Young Citizens Award. NTCAR will announce its winners for 2016 tonight at the Dallas Country Club.