Families in RE: Training Ground

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By Suzanne Heyn

Carl Johnson’s training ground for real estate came in an unlikely place — the desk at a bank where he traded municipal bonds during his first post-college business position.

“You had to learn to talk on the phone in an animated, friendly way, a vocal way, with lots of people hearing you,” he said. Some people fear talking with other people listening. “They don’t want the guys around them to hear them tell the same joke half a dozen times.”

The Johnson family.
The Johnson family.

But working the phones, as Carl would teach his son, Ben, years later, is a key to making money in commercial real estate. Today, both Carl and Ben work as vice presidents at Daum Commercial Real Estate, focusing on industrial. Carl started with the company in 1981, and Ben began his career in 2006.

“He always said if you are willing to cold call, you will make money in this business,” said Ben. “The product that we work, that’s what you have to do. It’s pretty simple, but you have to do it.”

Carl entered real estate sales and leasing after growing frustrated with banking’s salary structure. “There was no extra compensation based on results,” he said.  Carl’s own father, Lee Allen Johnson, had been a well-respected Phoenix building contractor. With this background in construction, a specialization in industrial real estate seemed a natural fit.

Carl has spent most of his career with Daum, except from 1993 to 2008, when he ran his own company. Through cold calls and relationship building, he added to his database of contacts daily, keeping detailed notes. “I’m very focused on that,” said Carl. “I lean on it more than anyone I know.”

Ben never imagined he’d follow his father’s career path. “When I was a kid, I did not want to do commercial real estate,” said Ben. “I didn’t have a reason for that. I just didn’t want to do it.” He attended college at Ferris State University, in Michigan, and later returned to Phoenix  where he started bartending, a skill that would prove useful during the tough early years of building a real estate career.

Bartending did not provide career satisfaction, but direction eluded Ben. One night, he went out to dinner with his mom and dad to discuss his future. Carl convinced Ben to shadow him at work for a few days. “If you’re trying to make up your mind amongst different things, why don’t you come see what I do,” Carl told Ben. Ben “took to it like a duck to water,” Carl recalled.

Carl loves teaching young people the business, and teaching his son was a dream come true. Ben’s brother, Patrick, also entered commercial real estate, but at Stream Realty Partners in Dallas. Mentorship opportunities with Patrick were limited by geographical constraints, and Carl embraced the opportunity to coach at least one of his sons.

Ben’s father helped him out in those early days, offering advice, and providing access to Carl’s prized database. “When I started out in the business, my dad had hand-written a list of key contacts in the Phoenix area that really jump-started my career.  That’s what you give to your son.”

The Johnson family at the White House.
The Johnson family at the White House.

Carl and Ben always had a good relationship, but this has made their relationship stronger. Working together offered the chance to build camaraderie. Today, they eat lunch together several times a week, although their work lives have become mostly separate.

The two focus on different sides of the Valley, with Ben working the southwest valley and Carl concentrating on the east side, despite occasional overlap. They don’t often partner on deals.

“Maybe it’s that both he and I are such take charge type of people and are off doing our own thing now,” said Carl.

 “It’s a pretty independent business. Either you do it or you don’t,” said Ben. “We have the same game plan mainly because my game plan came from his game plan.” His father coached him well. “After that, I was off.”

Carl is proud of his son. “It’s been wonderful to see him learn the business and become so successful.  One of the greatest values you can teach your son is the importance of, hard work,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that with all my children.”

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