Bob Dahlgren was recently announced as senior director of property management at Podolsky Circle CORFAC International. A native of south suburban Orland Park, Dahlgren still lives in the area with his wife of 30 years.
A graduate of Lewis University with a bachelor’s in accounting, Dahlgren was first drawn to the world of finance, finding work as a CPA. We caught up with him to talk about his roots, the path from economics to real estate, his more than twenty-five years of CRE experience and what he’s looking forward to in the future.
REjournals: How did you end up as a CPA, and how did that lead you to CRE?
Dahlgren: I always tell people that I wanted to be a CPA from high school, where I had a great accounting teacher, and I consider myself pretty good with numbers. I was in public accounting for a number of years and decided to make a switch and go to the corporate side. I actually got hired at what we now know as Willis Tower, at what was then the Sears Tower, to be the controller of the building.
I was working with John Buck Company at that time. Through that interaction with the management team that was there, I started to get more involved in the day-to-day operation of the building, which I obviously had to understand as controller. I had a good mentor while I was at the Sears Tower, Chuck Wagner, and he convinced me that management was a better use of my skills than just staying in accounting.
REjournals: And what brought you to Podolsky?
Dahlgren: I was looking for a different kind of challenge. Podolsky has been around a long time, 50 years, and it’s a known entity in real estate circles. They are known a little more for their past development activities, but I was drawn to the current path of expansion, serving third party clients exclusively. The team here has a lot of broad experience. We have different disciplines of real estate, including management, investment and construction management. There’s a small team here that I oversee as senior director, and I interact with all the different facets more than I would have at my previous stops along the way. It’s a way for me to get my hands into more than just management and directly impact the overall success of the company.
REjournals: What do you enjoy most about commercial real estate and/or your current job?
Dahlgren: Everybody always says it, but the whole concept of property management and the exciting part of it is that every day is different. I don’t think there are too many professions that is more true of than property management. You can be dealing with a really small tenant whose business means everything to them, or you can be dealing with a global corporation with bigger real estate matters than just one, small office. It’s important to develop a team that understands that and takes care of the needs of the tenant and then the owner of the building or buildings that you’re managing. I’ve always found that energizing.
One of the things I learned from Chuck was, he never called them problems, he called them opportunities. I try to instill that to this day and that’s something he told me 20 years ago. We have opportunities every day to improve people’s comfort level, improve a situation that they may have gotten themselves into or improve the building’s operation. All while trying to balance the owners’ desires and goals with the tenants’ goals.
I’ve been a number of places and I think one of my strong suits is developing and working with a team. That is a rewarding part of the job. Once I made director level, I’ve managed teams for the last 15 years and meshing the different personalities has been pretty cool. It’s good to see people succeed. I’ve got a number of people that worked with me that are in great positions in other companies now or they’re with companies that I was with before. I think that team building is another reason as well that I’m in this industry.
REjournals: One of your specialties in the past has been distressed properties. Do you still work much with these property types? What sort of challenges do they present?
Dahlgren: Not so much now. Everything is humming along. We’ll see, it’s real estate so there may be an opportunity down the road. The specific challenge is that you’re dealing with, typically, a still-operating entity and you have tenants that you want to do what’s right for them as much as you can. It’s much more of a juggling act, and my accounting background helps with that. I understand the numbers. You’re balancing the tenants’ expectations for a fully operating building that can service their needs so they can continue their business.
A big building downtown in many instances may be easier to run than a distressed asset. With distressed assets, a lot of times you’re dealing with people that want to know what’s going on. They understand that change in the building is happening, but they don’t have any certainty of what’s going to happen. You do a lot of assuring that you’re taking care of things and the building is going to keep operating as it needs to so they can operate their business.
REjournals: What are you looking forward to in the industry down the road?
Dahlgren: I think our industry is a people business and it will always be a people business. That’s the best thing about it. But I think we’ve had some changes over the years. You’ve had the green initiative where everybody started understanding LEED and understanding the vast amount of energy that office buildings use in this country. And I think that as an industry we’ve done a good job mitigating some of that and I’m a believer in that. You get on the bus and do what you can and convince your owners of the benefits. The next thing is going to be artificial intelligence and technology. As a person who has been in the business for a while, I’m excited to see what that’s going to mean. Just look at smart elevators that we hear about and see in practice that can learn from building occupancy how the building traffic flows and be more responsive to tenant needs and uses. I think you’re going to see that in a lot of other applications in property management. I don’t think that property managers are going to go away, but I think you’re going to be able to do more with less and that will be an exciting thing to see over the next ten years.