Starting a Career in Commercial

Bob Mulhern b&w

Bob Mulhern
Managing Director, Colliers International
NAIOP Board Member


I am regularly contacted by people who want to know how to enter the commercial real estate market as a broker. In a specialized industry like commercial real estate, it is natural to assume that industry experience is required.

Although this was true at one time, years of recruiting based on the same rigid criteria led to the same pool of candidates for every position that opened. With fierce competition for top talent, the pool of prospects was continually shrinking.

This reality, along with a refocused mindset on the part of companies, shifted the paradigm to the recruitment of outsiders who are energizing our business through varied backgrounds and fresh perspectives. In today’s diverse environment, I would argue that hiring outsiders—top talent from completely unrelated industries and non-competitors—is a very good strategy, as these individuals often lead us towards innovation and improvement.

The most common way to enter a large firm brokerage is either as a research associate or runner. Working in research provides the opportunity to gain knowledge about the business and each property type before joining a team. Brokers who begin as runners usually have some experience and join an established team that takes responsibility for training.

Although a majority of commercial brokers began their careers this way, many successful brokers came from non-brokerage real estate positions or from other fields, altogether.
As an example, Mindy Korth with Colliers International began her career as a CPA at a Big 8 accounting firm and is now one of the most successful capital markets sales brokers in Arizona. Robb Vallier was an award-winning songwriter, composer and producer before joining Cushman & Wakefield of Arizona. With degrees in oceanography and geology and a stint as a geologist in West Africa before transitioning into brokerage, Peter Bauman quickly earned Rookie of the Year awards from NAIOP and Colliers.

There are numerous examples like this in every brokerage firm.

Beyond experience and education, cultural fit is essential. Commercial real estate is a challenging and intense lifestyle. To maintain personal balance, I encourage prospects to find a firm that reflects their own values. It is also beneficial to explore the pros and cons of a full-service versus boutique firm. Finally, look for a firm that provides ongoing training to support your career.

Commercial brokerage is like most other demanding occupations—those who are honest, hardworking and have something unique to offer will excel.

Certain traits are common among the most successful brokers.

  • Integrity: It’s hard to be successful without it!
  • Proactive: Make things happen daily.
  • Collaborative: Foster long-term relationships.
  • Service-minded: Continually improve processes to better serve clients.
  • Energy: Self-motivated individuals thrive as brokers.
  • Intelligence: Hone your areas of expertise.
  • The professionals who become industry leaders and reach the pinnacle of performance also incorporate these elements into their business:
  • Provide a unique offer or specialization rather than a one-size-fits all tactic.
  • Take a transformational rather than a transactional approach, working for the benefit of their team, organization and clients.
  • Invest in themselves and their team members.
  • Become thought leaders in their area of expertise

A final word of advice – consider an internship at a brokerage firm to test the waters.


Bob Mulhern is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience. Prior to joining Colliers, Bob served as President of Reliance Companies, Vice President of Development for Ryan Companies and Designated Broker/Managing Director of CB Richard Ellis in Phoenix. Bob can be reached at 602-222-5038 or by email at


Commercial 360° Seminar

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016  –  9:00 AM TO 12:30 PM


This seminar is for anyone wanting to learn about growth and development in Arizona.

Learn from industry leaders regarding Arizona and Salt River Pima economic development, land availability, trust land funds, energy and water plans as well as a current market update – hear how all these factors effect the state’s growth and the real estate industry. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell will also provide some detail on how projects in Tempe are creating a positive influence for the state of Arizona.

Register Now

Tuition: $40

Credit: 3 hrs. Legal Issues