Behind the career: Dan Dooley

June 8

Position: Chief operating officer of Carr Properties, a real estate investment trust based in the District.

Dan Dooley worked for a real estate broker during the summers while studying finance in college, and became hooked on commercial real estate. He’s worked for companies including Tishman Speyer, Studley and Jones Lang LaSalle. At Tishman Speyer, he led a team of 10, managing 35 buildings and 7 million square feet. Now he will manage the operations of Carr Properties as chief operating officer.

When you took on that larger role at Tishman, how did your leadership skills change?

I had a guy who hired me and ran our leasing group. He got me to focus on what was important, how to build a team, how to address issues early on before they became a problem, how to get the right people in so you had the time to focus on growing the business rather than on remedial training. He coached me through the building of that team. It was a wonderful experience watching the team grow into what many people in the market considered the best leasing team in the metropolitan area.

Talk about the learning curve.

It was challenging. I knew how to lease office space, but this was leading a team. I really had to delegate. You can’t do everything yourself. You have to rely on others. That was initially very hard. I had my hand on everything directly. It was hard to initially not to be front-and-center on every deal. I had to learn when to get involved. Sometimes it’s coming in on a sticky situation but other times it’s diving all the way into a deal or other times it’s providing a few minutes of coaching here and there on a specific deal point. It’s far from being a dictator and more of a collaborator in terms of style.

What was the smartest thing you did to make the team successful?

Giving them a fair amount of growth and latitude to be successful. As much as that sounds trite, you can’t manage their every conversation, sentence and proposal. You have to give direction and lead by example and hope people will want to follow. The team was very stratified in terms of skill. There were very senior to very junior folks. After seven years of being together, a lot of the more junior people became more closely aligned in terms of skill and experience with the more senior people. That’s because they were allowed to run their own deals and work on their own relationships. They were given room to breathe and grow.

What else?

The way we compensated people. We never tied it to a specific individual accomplishment. We always looked at it as a team accomplishment. We set it up to make sure there was not intra-team competition. People could let go of a deal if they were overwhelmed and not worry about it affecting their bonus. That had a huge impact on how people performed and the success of the team. They knew they didn’t have to look over their shoulder. They knew their teammate would back them up. When you’re in a commission environment, sometimes you have to be concerned about, “If I let this person work on it, now they’re going to take 20 percent of the fee.” We had a salary-bonus structure and we didn’t tie it so precisely to dollar volume or square foot or some kind of metric that made people want to do it on their own so they could take individual credit. Most every deal we did, we worked on with at least two people.

What was your secret sauce to hiring the right people?

A lot of due diligence. Commercial real estate is probably a bit different. You have a reputation. It’s a very tight knit community. I always tell young people to manage their reputation appropriately. There’s not anyone you would mention in this business that I don’t have some knowledge of. I developed a list of 20 to 40 targeted people that I wanted to consider. I talked to some confidants throughout the industry to see what they thought about some people. We got the pool narrowed down pretty far. We didn’t interview 30 or 40 people. We interviewed only a few morethan we hired. We targeted people based on the level of experience, character, skill set — and reputation was [a] huge [factor].

What is the biggest threat to an effective, successful team?

Continuing to find growth opportunities for people. When you have a highly productive team it’s that much harder because you don’t have dead weight that you’re trying to get rid of. You have all really good people. You’re trying to keep them all engaged. The person that was 20 when we hired them, they’re now 35, so they’re no longer a kid a few years out of school. They’re a seasoned real estate professional. They can actually compete with someone who is 10 years their senior. It’s tough to find opportunities that keep that person engaged and motivated. It’s different with every person. Some people just want to lease more space and some people want to take on other experiences. I always have an open-door policy. Don’t come in here and resign because we didn’t have an opportunity for you. If we didn’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it. We tried to accommodate people if we could.

What if you can’t?

Sometimes people don’t have a realistic view of who they are, and those are tougher conversations. And sometimes if it is a good fit and the opportunity isn’t there, you just ask for patience. If you have a good work environment, which we did, people will generally be patient if they know it’s truly coming down the pike, but going to take some time. It’s about managing expectations on both sides. The first one where someone is not qualified, it’s about not getting their hopes up for something that’s never going to happen for them. But if it’s something they need to improve, then you try to give them something that’s an entering step. I’m not going to let them run a department, but you can have them work with another person in a secondary role and see how they do. If someone really wants something, you’re always surprised to see how much they can shine.

What books are you reading?

“Corporate America” by Jack Dougherty. It’s a corporate satire. Anyone who has worked in a large organization will be able to replace the names in the books with people they’ve worked with. It really fits a lot of situations we’ve all run into in terms of office politics and the egos you run into and how decisions are made. I found myself laughing out loud on certain parts because it was so spot-on with what can happen with certain personality types.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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