As senior managing director of investments with the Chicago Oak Brook office of Marcus & Millichap, Ryan Engle focuses on the booming multifamily market. He’s steadily built his career, which he started in early 2003, by crafting long-standing relationships with his clients, studying his market and logging long hours. That’s not exactly a secret formula, but it’s a proven one, and one that has worked for Engle.
We recently spoke with Engle about his career, what he enjoys so much about commercial real estate and what steps he’s taken to succeed in this competitive industry. Here is what he had to say.
What led you to a career in commercial real estate? I earned a finance and management degree at the University of Iowa. We did a lot of underwriting and running models for non-hard assets in our classes. I enjoyed that. But I didn’t like the idea of relying on someone else’s data. I liked the idea of a hard asset that produces cash flow, something you can get out and touch and see. For me, getting into real estate in made sense.
Today, I focus on multifamily properties. You can go out, look at a building and see if it is dilapidated. You can then figure out why it is not renting or producing income. For me, it’s always easier to understand what needs to be done to get a property from point A to point B.
What is it about commercial real estate that appeals to you? Within this career you ge to talk to people from all walks of life, whether it is CEOs, lenders or vendors, the whole gamut. And there are no two transactions that are identical. You meet a lot of successful people in this business, which is fascinating. You learn about these people’s history and how they became successful. There are so many unique stories out there. I’ve found that I really like the people I work with. It helps, too, that there is never a dull moment in this business. It is so much fun.
My finance background has helped, too. In a lot of instances, I meet with the owners of properties, whether they are considering selling their buildings or not. So we’ll analyze their assets. In a lot of cases, we are analyzing their largest assets. I’ll give them advice on how to improve their properties or I’ll share with them the trends we are seeing in the market. That can help them make their business decisions. I like that part of the job.
It sounds like you take the advisor part of your job seriously: It’s true that the way we make our money is through the transactions. But we do consider ourselves to be advisors. When it’s time for owners to sell, we are optimistic that they’ll come to us. But it’s really about building that relationship first, about sharing good advice with your clients and earning their trust.
How do you build those relationships? One of the biggest things is having integrity. You want to make sure that you have a good reputation. You also have to be persistent and versatile. You need to keep learning, too. I think it’s important to be a student of the industry. You want to always have the freshest knowledge. I do stay familiar with market trends.
If you sum it up, it’s all about putting yourself in position to be valuable to your clients. Every owner is unique. You need to understand what the owners’ needs are and help them reach their goals. You have to learn a lot about them.
Is it difficult to keep up with the constant changes in commercial real estate? We have 10 people on our team who are, in my opinion, some of the best in the business. That certainly helps. With all of us collaborating, it does help us stay on the forefront of the changes in this industry. One person can’t know every single thing about every single market and every single product. You have to rely on the strength of the team along with your own market research. You do have to make sure you are putting the time and energy into learning what is happening in the market, but having that strong team around you makes a big difference.
What are some of the steps you’ve taken to successfully grow your business? You have to be persistent. That’s especially true early on in your brokerage career. It can be a long road when you’re first starting out and you are entirely commission-based. But as long as you put in the time and do the right thing, as long as you are honest and treat everybody right, it pays off in the long run. It helps if people see you as a student of the industry and as someone with integrity. If people see that you know what you are talking about and that you are going to be there to help them, that makes a difference.
I’ve found that having a good mentor early on and a good training program to rely on was paramount to being successful. You have to get off on the right foot. You have to make sure you are on the right path. Marcus & Millichap does that. It offers one of the best training programs in the country. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that.
What personality traits do people need to succeed in this business? Integrity is so important. You also have to be able to roll with the punches. In brokerage, there are a lot of ups and downs, especially early on. Over time it tends to level off. But there is so much emotion early on that goes into building your career. You need to be able to handle the ups and downs early on.
As you get more experience, you have to be honest and ethical. You have to make sure you are always doing the right things. You have to be very thorough on every assignment. You have to treat every one as if it were your last. People appreciate that.
What are the biggest challenges to building a career in commercial real estate? It really does take a while to get a career in this business going. There are so many ups and downs. Once you get through the first three or four years, it gets easier. But it’s a long path. You just have to work more hours, honestly, to get through those early years. For me, I always tried to shorten the timeline it took to get to my goals. I knew that the more hours I worked, the faster I’d get to where I needed to be.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time? For me, it’s all about family. My wife and I have five awesome boys. The twins are 9, and then we have boys who are 7, 5, 6 and 1.. We enjoy hanging out with them. We enjoy traveling together. We have a lot of fun together.