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Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: Networking My Way to NASDAQ and Times Square

How networking with unexpected people can lead to unexpected business opportunities such as serving on the board of directors for other organizations.

I currently serve on the board of directors for Origin Bancorp, the financial holding company for Origin Bank based in Ruston, Louisiana. The company just did its initial public offering on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. Earlier this month, we had the closing bell celebration at NASDAQ, and I was even part of the photo displayed in Times Square! It’s been an exciting time to serve on this board because of what I have learned and been able to do. And because of the really great people with whom I get to work with at Origin.

I am often asked how I got to serve on a corporate board. While I hope it is because I work hard as a board member and bring value to the bank, I know that it all goes back to networking.

Networking involves getting to know people and getting people to know and respect you. Networks include people you meet through work, people you meet through professional associations, and people you meet through volunteer work.

Business Associates

Networks start with those we work with most closely in the office, and with those we do deals with on a regular basis outside the office, but your business network should extend beyond those initial relationships. My network includes those “beyond the deal,” as I refer to them—financial representatives, lenders, business owners, leasing and building managers, brokers, legal counsel, contractors, title company professionals, and architects. Consider these people part of your network. Get to know them. Treat them with respect and be genuinely interested in them. You never know when they can help you, and you should always be ready to help them.

Professional Associations

These are the organizations where you meet others in your industry with whom you may or may not necessarily do business. There is an alphabet soup of real estate organizations in which to get involved in Dallas. The Real Estate Council (TREC), Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Dallas, and North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors (NTCAR) are just a few. Being actively involved in professional associations can really build relationships! Volunteer your time in a meaningful way where you’ll work alongside others who will get to know you, and vice versa.

I currently have one major volunteer project that has been my focus for nearly ten years. As a member of TREC, I was asked if I could put together a course for nonprofit organizations about their unique real estate projects. I was asked because I’ve done hundreds of deals for and with nonprofit agencies and have developed a reputation for being the “go to” person. I told TREC that instead of me doing all of it, I would develop a course called Real Estate 101 for Nonprofits and bring in experts from all disciplines to train nonprofit decision-makers. This will be our ninth year, we’ve trained almost 200 nonprofit executives in the basics of real estate transactions.

Nonprofit Organizations

Whatever interests you, chances are that there’s a nonprofit that focuses on that issue. The DFW area has thousands of nonprofit organizations that raise awareness and funds for many issues – healthcare, arts, education, human services, environmental issues, civic organizations as well as local government-appointed boards and commissions. An excellent source to learn about nonprofits is Volunteer Now, where you can research what volunteer opportunities match your interests. The city of Dallas has a list of boards and commissions on its web site.

Corporate Boards

Corporate boards rely on the skill sets of their members—legal, financial, technology as well as real estate. Bank boards are a perfect match for senior real estate professionals.

I was first asked to join a bank board in the 1990s. It was start-up bank that was being organized by a group of men I had met while I was very actively involved in a large nonprofit in Dallas. There is no question about it: I was asked because of one of my networks. I remained on the board until the bank sold in 2009. It was a great learning experience for me and increased my business opportunity network in Dallas.

Most recently I was asked to assist in creating and leading an advisory board for Lost Oak Winery in Burleson.  This has been a fun experience and my network of contacts with a wide range of expertise helped to create a dynamic and cohesive board that is already providing the winery leadership with valuable advice and counsel.

Both of these board opportunities would not have happened if I hadn’t laid the base by becoming involved in industry associations, the city of Dallas, nonprofit organizations and other corporate boards. I’ve greatly expanded my network, which has brought me tremendous satisfaction personally and professionally. I’ve learned the needs of our region, helped to respond to those needs, and gained a greater understanding of how I can contribute. Most importantly, I’ve made some lasting friendships with the people I have met in those organizations. And, I got to participate in the closing bell celebration at NASDAQ.

Eliza Solender is president of Solender/Hall Inc. and serves on the board of directors of Origin Bancorp and as the Lead Advisory Director for Lost Oak Winery.

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