DiscoverREALtalk - Conversations with Commercial Real Estate LeadersRising to the Leadership Challenge – with Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners)
Rising to the Leadership Challenge – with Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners)

Rising to the Leadership Challenge – with Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners)

Update: 2021-07-27


On this episode of REALtalk, Bill Ferguson, Chairman and CEO of Ferguson Partners, joins REALPAC COO Carolyn Lane to discuss rising to the leadership challenge, the characteristics of great leaders, and what the future of leadership looks like.

The episode covers:

  • Bill’s new book: The Test is Now Upon Us

  • Skills of leaders in real estate vs other industries

  • Traits and attributes of what make great leaders

  • Generational differences between leadership styles

  • Factoring leadership into a company’s succession planning

  • Mistakes made by leaders, especially during crises

  • How great leaders responded to covid-19

  • How leaders will have to lead differently in the future

About Bill Ferguson:

William J. Ferguson serves as Chairman and CEO of Ferguson Partners. Mr. Ferguson conducts senior management recruiting assignments, with a specialization in president/Chief Executive Officer searches and recruiting assignments for Boards of Trustees/Directors. He also conducts CEO succession planning assignments and facilitates public company Board assessments and senior management assessments..

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Thanks very much, Michael. My name is Carolyn Lane and I’m CEO of REALPAC and I’m here in Toronto. Joining me today in Chicago is Bill Ferguson, Chairman and CEO of Ferguson Partners. I had the privilege of knowing Bill for over ten years and of working closely with him and his team at Ferguson Partners to deliver our highly regarded annual Canadian Real Estate Compensation Survey, our Sentiment Survey and several other thought pieces. Bill regularly conducts senior management recruiting assignments with a specialization in president, CEO and board searches. He also conducts the succession planning assignments and facilitates public company board assessments and senior management assessments. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an MBA in marketing from the Wharton Graduate School of Business. Welcome, Bill.

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): Carolyn, thank you very much. Appreciate the opportunity and very much appreciate in value our partnership with REALPAC.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Thank you. Likewise. So Bill, let’s get right to it. In 2012 you wrote and REALPAC published the book titled Market Discipline: The Competitive Advantage – Lessons from Canada’s Real Estate Leaders. At that time, you conducted one on one interviews with some of the most notable people in the Canadian commercial real estate industry. Now, I don’t know where you find the time, but you’ve just released a new book focused on leaders in the US titled The Test is Now Upon Us with a focus on the defining qualities of leadership through crisis. So you looked at the real estate industry and a number of other industries in that book, and I’m just curious what compelled you to take on another book and what were the drivers behind prompting you to write it?

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): Well, once again, Carolyn, thank you for the thank you for the opportunity. My most recent book, The Test is Now Upon Us is my fifth book and probably my capstone book about leadership in the industry. And it is my first kind of global look at leadership, both leadership in the industry, which we broadly defined as real assets, hospitality and health care services, and comparing the leadership skills of the great leaders in the sectors we serve versus leaders in other sectors. So we included leaders in other business sectors. We looked at leaders in government, we looked at leaders in the military and even leaders in science. So we tried to look at leaders across all generations and we tried to identify the leadership traits which made them successful. And then we tried to tie those leadership traits in alignment alongside of leaders in our industry. And let me start by kind of talking about something which a lot of people don’t realize, and that’s that the real estate industry, I think, in the United States, in North America and in the world is the largest industry of any across all industries. And what drives the size of the business, clearly in the states and beyond is inclusion in the single family business. So whether that’s the residential mortgage business, the homebuilding business, a business today, which is very much on fire, which is the single family home rental business, but when you include the commercial and the residential business, the real estate industry is the largest industry in the world.

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): So it’s been a fascinating incubator. When I when I look back, having started my career 40 years ago, there’s been a metamorphosis running from basically firms that were regional to global, private to public and entrepreneurial, institutional. And so it’s been a fascinating incubator, especially since most people in our industry start as entrepreneurial dealmakers at a very small proportion of those people ultimately rise to the CEO spot, whether it’s a Bruce Flatt at Brookfield, a John Gray at Blackstone or whoever it might be. It’s an extraordinarily small number of people who really have the skill set to start as a dealmaker and ultimately to become a CEO. And then the last point I would make is we’re at a very interesting time right now because you have a tremendous amount of generational change, transition from one leadership group, typically the baby boomers into the next generation of leadership. So studying leadership traits and attributes I think is very important as succession committees of boards and others really try to assess that next generation of leadership and appoint a new CEO.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): So I’m curious to know how leaders in the commercial real estate industry are similar or different from the global leaders that you interviewed across other businesses like government and military politics and art and science. And can you touch on any of the generational differences?

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): Absolutely. Well, first of all, I wouldn’t speak for Canada, but I will speak for the US. Is that our industry, meaning the real estate industry, probably more on the commercial side has had a little bit of an inferiority complex in the sense that everybody viewed people, the great deal makers, but really, were they really good leaders? And amazingly enough, as I studied the great leaders in the industry, whether it might have been a Bruce Flatt, for instance, at Brookfield or a John Gray at Blackstone or Hamid Moghadam who runs Prologis, which is, if not the largest one of the largest rates tied in the logistics space. Bill Marriott, who ran Marriott Corporation for number of years and on and on, the leaders in our industry actually fared very well and quite honestly had many of the leadership attributes that we found common outside the industry. So really no reason to have any kind of inferiority complex. The leaders in our business have stepped up and have stood nicely on their own and have stood the test of time for sure.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Are there any generational differences between the leadership styles?

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): Well, I think I think what you find, Carolyn, is that all these companies continue to grow. And so the issue of growth and of managing through crisis, which is what we’re doing right now with the pandemic, really test leaders probably more than they’ve ever been tested. So the next generation of leadership, some of whom have stepped into the role today, including John Gray and Bruce Flatt and others, have had, I think, more of a challenge just given the scope of the businesses that are running the complexity of these global businesses. And you overlay that with a crisis like a pandemic. And to some degree, you’ve got a perfect storm. And so they have, I think, been required to step up and really to exhibit leadership skills probably above and beyond to some degree, what my generation has experienced anyway.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Right. So what are some of the common leadership traits highlighted in the book and how should they factor into the company’s succession planning approach?

Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners): Well, I think to answer the second question first, Carolyn, I think it’s very important for the next generation of leadership to be assessed around these attributes. And what’s interesting is when you when you really pull back the onion and study these leaders, it is all about the people. It’s about hiring the right people, developing the right people and empowering them for sure. And in our industry, historically, everybody’s attributed leadership to people

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Rising to the Leadership Challenge – with Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners)

Rising to the Leadership Challenge – with Bill Ferguson (Ferguson Partners)