Selling is Secondary at Avison Young
By Amanda Capps
Sales are necessary, but for the commercial real estate firm Avison Young, culture creates the success that leads to commerce.
What began as a small Canadian firm continues to be one of the fastest-growing companies of its kind, with 120 locations including Charleston and Greenville. Chris Fraser, principal and managing director, says that although the offices, now in 20 countries, are diverse, the culture is consistent.
In what he termed a “transaction heavy” industry, particularly in the United States, Fraser said Avison Young associates act as consultants and advisors. “We focus on the clients’ best interests. Sometimes that means putting their needs above our own financial interests—but it’s the right thing, and it builds enduring, long-term relationships and a successful business,” he said.
One reason both clients and associates trust Avison Young stems from the firm’s principal-driven nature, Fraser says. A manager always maintains involvement and accountability, bringing consistency and expertise to each endeavor. Still, he said each project is a true collaboration.
“A group of people is much smarter than any one of us,” he said. “I want [each team member] to do the job, learn and get some exposure. If that’s unique, I’m pleased, but I guess I wish it were more prevalent.”
Fraser noted that effective collaboration begins with hiring. When they bring in new people, they look for more than successful entrepreneurs; they seek the capacity for teamwork and want only those who will uphold the firm’s high ethical standards.
The firm uses a system called “CliftonStrengths,” but its leaders also rely on intuition and experience. “I’ve learned over the years not to hire on the first meeting,” Fraser said. “We want to put people in a place where they can be successful.”
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, Avison Young’s partners have continued to “look out for people,” as Fraser said, staying connected—but not overcommunicating.
“I’ve almost worn out the delete button on my computer. We don’t need another 50 emails telling us what to do during this time. People need relevant and timely information,” he said. An intentional effort to keep their people from feeling isolated has included internal surveys and the occasional happy hour via Zoom. “We want them to know they’re still part of a larger group, and they have a support system not just locally but company-wide,” Fraser said.
Flexibility is also a top priority. “We work around folks’ lives.” That statement by Fraser said it all, as he mentioned an employee who comes in extremely early and leaves early due to traffic and childcare issues and another who sometimes works remotely.
Even before Covid-19, the firm not only afforded people the chance to shape how they worked, but also where and when. Fraser said he felt the impact of that when an employee, who was offered significantly more money to take another job, stayed, citing the flexibility and support at Avison Young.
“That’s the place we want to be,” Fraser said. “I don’t know that you find that everywhere.”