HFF’s Michael Kavanau on teamwork: ‘The collaborative brain of all our partners is a factor more powerful than we are individually’

For Michael Kavanau, real estate practically runs in his blood. Growing up in a family where both his grandfather and father were real estate brokers, it’s no wonder he continued the tradition.

“You learn a lot about real estate when you talk about it at the dinner table every night,” Kavanau, senior managing director and co-head of HFF’s Chicago office, said.

He mentioned that at HFF, many of the most successful team members have a similar story and admittedly, it’s something they love to see in the interview process.

As co-head of the Chicago office, Kavanau’s primary responsibility is generating new mortgage loan business. With a great team of self-driven producers, analysts, graphic designers and other support, he said running the office is often just helping guide individuals’ actions, and mentoring the younger people, too.

After 28 years of being with the firm, Kavanau admits that he’s had countless memorable experiences in real estate but overall, he just loves ‘all the colorful people he gets to work with.”

It’s no surprise why he’s been there for all those years—Kavanau thinks highly of the firm and explained that he can’t imagine a better firm to work at.

He said it’s because HFF is the most collaborative brokerage firm in the industry in terms of how they work together across platforms such as debt, investment sales, loans, and equity placement, but it’s also because of how they work together in teams to complete transactions.

“As a result, we are extremely productive and average significantly higher numbers than our peer companies,” Kavanau said. “Our view is that the collaborative brains of all our partners are a factor more powerful than we are individually—sort of like networked computers.”

Picking up and moving from Florida in the winter to start the Chicago office of HFF has been his greatest accomplishment. He said the firm has grown to nearly 60 people and significant market share since then.

“Helping build a successful small business is extremely rewarding,” Kavanau said.

Aside from the company, the other reason he’s remained in the industry is because he believes real estate brokerage is a great mix of sales, people skills and technical expertise, and because of that, every day offers something different and exciting.

Lately, Kavanau has seen more complex structures and higher tech underwriting/modeling in today’s market.

“I like the old days when cap rates were 10 percent and you just had to move a decimal point to determine value,” he said. “Actually, it’s been great to be a part of the trend where real estate is now being fully accepted as a key asset class.”

Kavanau explained that at $5.5 trillion, it’s actually the third largest sector after stocks and bonds, so it’s no longer a cottage industry—it’s become a critical component of a diversified portfolio.

As a real estate veteran, he believes that the best piece of advice for newcomers in the industry is for them to create good relationships with those around them.

“Be invaluable to your team, and treat everyone internally and externally like your most important client,” Kavanau said.

Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with family, traveling, eating great food, playing golf and riding motorcycles. Kavanau just recently went on a fun family trip to New York City, and he is also preparing for another vacation coming up, this time abroad.

“We’re going to France with two other couples for 10 days in early October,” he said. “It’s an annual trip we love.”