Jay Olshonsky on laying a business foundation for growth and strength

Tweaking strategy and classic literature with an industry president

Inman is profiling leaders in the real estate industry. Here’s Jay Olshonsky, President of NAI Global.

Describe a time when you felt particularly insecure about the future of your company. How did you bounce back?

To be honest, when I first took over as President of NAI Global, for the first 30 days I was on the job, the firm’s stability — maybe even its survival — looked bleak. We had a lot of problems to work through, but as we did, our platform for growth, a platform full of exceptional talent across our membership, emerged and led us forward.

Our members are a passionate, united force of entrepreneurs who believe in the potential of the NAI Global network. With that strong foundation, we were able to quickly transform and thrive.

What would you describe as your company’s biggest victory since you joined it?

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It was successfully defining our strategy to become the largest, most powerful global network of independent commercial real estate brokerage firms. We are seeing victory as we achieve consistent growth into new markets while continuously creating value and growth opportunities for our member firms across the network.

What’s your favorite activity outside of work and why?

Spending time with family, running and exploring New York City. After five years of living here, my wife and I still act like tourists and take advantage of everything this city has to offer. I am a big fan of 19th and 20th century art, so we enjoy going to museums. It’s incredible that some of the world’s finest museums are literally in my back yard.

What’s your favorite classic piece of literature and why?

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. It is brilliant storytelling, and it captures the sense of the unknown, survival and moving forward.

Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?

No. I’m proud to say that my grandfather emigrated from Russia and right off the boat started building houses from scratch. My uncle built a successful heating and cooling business. My brother is an attorney who has created a successful practice.

GMO - Linneman Zell Olshonsky

Why’d you decide to join your company?

On the professional level, the timing was right and it was the perfect opportunity for me. I was intrigued by the challenge to transform the business and lead its growth on a global platform. I knew and liked people at C-III, NAI Global’s parent company, and I wanted to work with them in this capacity. Plus, on a more personal level, as empty-nesters, my wife and I were excited for the opportunity to relocate to New York City from Washington, D.C.

What’s been the biggest obstacle your business has encountered, and how have you dealt with it?

As I mentioned, when I took over we had some daunting challenges to address, and one was achieving financial stability. As we defined our strategy and began implementing our platform for growth by providing exceptional client service and continuously adding value for our member organizations, we were able to return the organization to financial stability.

What puzzles you most about the industry?

I see so many missed opportunities by people who just don’t get it. I would say that 10 percent to 20 percent of the professionals in the industry are driving the greatest volume of business, leaving the others behind. But there are plenty of opportunities for the other 80 to 90 percent of good professionals in the industry to step up and claim a meaningful stake.

Icsc - Jay is in the back

 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about building a business?

Managing expenses and cash flow are critical, but equally important is the people component. How you manage and inspire a team, how you win confidence and support from leadership, and how you help deliver results to clients are all integral to building a successful, sustainable business.

What’s the most overrated real estate technology?

No business can function today without email, but I think in some cases we might be relying on it too much. We’re all inundated with email, and sometimes a phone call or face-to-face discussion carries more weight and results in a more positive outcome.

How will the role of the real estate agent change over the next five years?

In certain cases, technology will eliminate some aspects of the role. Those who embrace new technology will be more competitive. Taking advantage of new tools and technologies will enable agents to provide their clients with better and more efficient service.

NAI Convention - Karyoke with a Member

What motivates you more: power or money?

If I had to pick one, I’d say money — but only as a measure of how well we’re doing. Perhaps this stems from the challenge I mentioned to achieve financial stability. The truth is, like so many others in this industry, I’m motivated by real estate transactions — there are few moments in life as rewarding as a closing.

What is your biggest professional fear?

So many things are beyond our control; sometimes I worry that I don’t know what’s coming down the pike or that some external force will affect the business.

Perhaps my drive to manage risk and to anticipate the future is what makes me such a voracious reader.

What is your biggest personal fear?

Heights. And yet I have no problem showing space in an office tower.

Who do you respect most in the industry?

Self-made risk takers like James Rouse, a social developer and urban planner and philanthropist.

Describe what you do in one sentence: As President of NAI Global, the single largest, most powerful global network of owner-operated commercial real estate brokerage firms, my primary focus is on the development and implementation of the firm’s growth strategies in order to enhance value to clients and our worldwide network of member firms.

Age: 55

Degree, school: Bachelors of Science, Business Administration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

Location: New York City

Social media: LinkedIn, Twitter

Are you a real estate leader who’d like to participate in our profile series? Email amber@inman.com.