Sunday 19 January 2020

Networking is still king of the deal makers in the age of technology

The right moves ...

Mary Mitchell O'Connor Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Mitchell O'Connor Photo: Tom Burke

Paul McNeive

Last Thursday morning, over breakfast in CBRE's boardroom, Mary Mitchell-O'Connor, Minister of State at the Department of Education, with special responsibility for Higher Education, and Laurence McCabe, a consultant with CBRE, were demonstrating the subtleties of receiving business cards from Japanese businesspeople.

"Breakfast with Laurence" is a monthly fixture at CBRE where property guru Laurence McCabe passes on the benefit of 60 years of experience in international property markets, to the younger staff at CBRE.

Minister Mitchell-O'Connor had heard about this initiative over a business lunch in Dail Eireann with CBRE director Florence Stanley. The discussion was about the loss of experience and education that occurs when people retire. The Minister accepted an invitation to attend the breakfast, and I was invited along to observe.

You'll find Laurence McCabe at his desk in CBRE every morning from six o'clock. He turns 77 this year and he's not prepared to waste any time in traffic. Most importantly, the early start allows him to get stuck into dealing with e-mails which have come in overnight, particularly from the US, as he continues his involvement in international property deals.

McCabe told us that "my brief at CBRE is to float, to maximise my global contacts, delegate work, mentor the staff and most importantly, to make sure clients are 100 percent happy with every job."

Laurence McCabe entered the estate agency in 1957 and joined FIABCI (The International Real Estate Federation) in 1963, as he realised at a young age that "without international connections, I would become parochial." "I decided to think globally and act locally. After almost 60 years of building relationships, there's hardly a city in the world, where I can't pick up the phone to a contact." he said. In 1970, he was elected President of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute.

There were questions and contributions from the attendees, as the session developed, and both McCabe and Minister Mitchell-O'Connor gave strong advice on the importance of developing networking skills. "There is no substitute for personal contact" McCabe advised us. "Every client is different" he added, "find out their needs and their problems. Let them speak, and don't interrupt."

The greatest change that McCabe has seen over his career is the development of technology, but he stresses that "technology is important, but it's only an aid. In older days, there was no technology, but deals were still done. Eye to eye is the best technique. I never made a dollar, looking at my computer screen - I make dollars by getting out and meeting people." he told us. In residential property he sees big changes and believes that "soon, you won't need an agent." "For commercial property though, there will be no substitute for eyeballing those you're dealing with."

His biggest mistake, he told us, was setting up in business on his own, in his late thirties. "I realised that I'm a team person - I had to get back to working with other people."

McCabe's advice is very focused on "people skills" and he told us that he based his career on the acronym "H.A.I.L.," standing for "Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity and Love (in the caring for your client sense.) Another maxim mentioned is that one should "turn clients into friends, but not friends into clients." When quizzed on the latter part of that he explained that "business can go wrong, and you will lose friendships."

The Minister contributed enthusiastically throughout and told us that networking is a "must" in so many walks of life, not only as a key to business success but also as important to positive mental health as we age." She said she thought that it was fantastic that Laurence McCabe was sharing his experiences in an informal setting. "There are over half a million, 65-plus year olds in Ireland, with a huge amount of experience that is underutilised. But there is lots more like the "Breakfast with Laurence" initiative that can be done...I'd like to be a fly on the wall at another one of these some day" she added.

From my viewpoint, the event was excellent, and it underlined how valuable the wisdom of older colleagues is and CBRE has been clever in structuring these monthly sessions, to make sure that this knowledge is passed on.

And, the difference between average people and superstars? According to Laurence McCabe, "it's a talent for handling personal relationships."

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