Commercial Brokers Association officers include: (clockwise from top left) James F. Nicoletti of Insignia/ESG, president-elect; Peter S. Farnum of Trammell Crow Co., secretary/clerk; Robert B. Cleary Jr. of Meredith & Grew, president; and Tamie R. Thompson of Spaulding & Slye, treasurer.

For Robert B. Cleary Jr., being president might seem like a bit of old hat these days.

Fresh off a stint heading up the New England chapter of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, Cleary is now serving as 2002 president of the Commercial Brokers Association, the newest division of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. Evolving from a committee of commercial brokers that formed in the 1980s, the CBA now boasts 350 members and its own budget after breaking off in 2000 from GBREB’s Building Owners and Managers Association.

Lauding his two predecessors, Lenny C. Owens and Thomas Collins, Cleary said the CBA has positioned itself in just two years as one of the region’s premier organizations dedicated to commercial brokerage. With the industry in a constant flux, being transformed dramatically by technology and other forces, he maintains the group has taken a lead role in helping professionals respond to the latest challenges. The combination of networking and educational programming has provided important informational services, said Cleary, who pledged to continue that legacy.

“We’re still a young organization, but I think we have made some great strides,” he said. “We’re doing a lot to elevate the profession.”

Cleary said he has three main goals for the coming year, including a desire to improve communication among brokers and streamline services offered by the CBA. The second is to build off substantial gains in networking and educational initiatives to keep programs timely and useful. Lastly, Cleary plans to work hard to ensure as many of the members stay on board as possible, and to recruit new blood to the group.

Given the current market shakeout, Cleary said it is critical that CBA step up and deliver for its members. One way to do that, he said, is to provide events that decipher what is going on in the industry. A series of CBA-sponsored breakfast programs, for example, are typically planned just a few weeks in advance to reflect current trends. Meanwhile, the CBA has created a series of classes where members can obtain the 12 annual continuing educational credits now required by the state. The CBA has worked hard to provide courses that focus on commercial real estate, said Cleary, rather than the residential topics that dominate other curriculums. A commercial broker, CBA professes, would be better served in a class discussing investment properties vs. a session on lead paint or Title 5 septic system regulations.

“We’ve really set up a very strong educational platform,” said Cleary. “That 12 hours is very valuable time to our members, so you want to make sure it’s worthwhile to them.”

Collins agreed that the educational offerings provide a critical service to CBA’s constituents, counting the course material and speakers it arranges as being “among the best in the state.” A principal with Cushman & Wakefield, Collins ran the CBA the first year after an Owens-led board opted to pull the group’s membership from the National Association of Realtors, instead deciding to use an estimated $60,000 in dues for local programming and services. The move was partly a reaction to concerns that NAR is too focused on residential real estate, and also an effort to give the CBA the resources needed to run its own operation. Collins said he believes the pioneering action by Owens is proving successful.

“We’re working very hard towards establishing the Commercial Brokers Association as the group responsible for serving the interests of commercial brokerage,” Collins said. “I think we’re making great progress on that.”

‘Positive Outlook’

Thus far, Cleary said he is enthused by the CBA’s retention of members in the down economy, a time when professional organizations often see their ranks thin. Indeed, the CBA has actually added 15 brokers in 2002, said Cleary, who hopes to see more gains as the year progresses. In the current climate, Cleary said he believes professionals can be helped by keeping in touch with their colleagues.

“I want to provide a very optimistic, positive outlook for what the CBA and the [GBREB] are doing for the industry,” said Cleary. “I encourage people to pick up the phone and see what the organization is doing, and to see whether we can be of use to them.”

One way the CBA accentuates the positive is through its annual awards program, with the 2002 event held last Thursday at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. It is an exercise that the CBA takes seriously, said Cleary, offering citations for such things as top leasing and investment deals, rookie of the year as well as the broker of the year.

“Winning an award and being complimented by your peers is a pretty sincere form of flattery,” said Cleary. “It’s a great night of the industry coming together and being sympathetic of everyday tasks.”

The CBA has an aggressive calendar, but Cleary said he has been able to balance his professional relationships as a broker with Meredith & Grew with his responsibilities as the group’s president. The duties of being a parent add to the time challenge, but Cleary said the support staff of an 18-member CBA board and group administrator Jean Cleary (no relation) have made his job easier to handle.

Aiding Cleary in his assignment are president-elect James F. Nicoletti, Peter S. Farnum as secretary/clerk and Tamie R. Thompson as treasurer. “We’ve got a very solid slate of leadership support,” said Cleary, noting that Thompson and Nicoletti are charged with overseeing the upcoming budget. “I’m not going it alone at all.”

Despite breaking off from BOMA, Cleary noted that the two entities continue to have a close relationship, even working jointly on an annual golf outing that helps raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Boston. The partnership has another reason for cooperation this year, given that BOMA chapter President Michael J. Quinn also works for Meredith & Grew as head of the property management team.

“There’s a good synergy between BOMA and the CBA that Mike and I share,” said Cleary. “He understands what the CBA is doing, and I understand what BOMA is doing … It’s a short-term benefit to both, but hopefully it will provide a long-term benefit to both organizations.”

Quinn concurred, noting that brokers and BOMA members, who tend to focus on the operational aspects of real estate, might have a different perspective on an issue such as building security. By keeping in touch, he said, professionals on both sides of the aisle can learn from each other. “There is definitely a lot of synergy between the two,” Quinn said. “There is a lot of sharing information, and that’s good for everybody.”

As for the CBA, Collins said his one desire is to see more of the rank-and-file members. With the group striving to offer increased services, programs and events for brokers while continuing to beef up its charitable initiatives, Collins said additional help will be required in order to deliver on the CBA’s promise.

“Right now, we have a lot of participation by members of the board, but we really need the membership to be more involved,” he said. “That is our challenge now.”

CBA Positions Itself As Top Organization

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min