By: Paul Bubny, Connect Commercial Real Estate with Karl Finkelstein, Valbridge Property Advisors
From the beginning, the goal at Valbridge Property Advisors has been to provide “an alternative to the traditional corporate-driven national appraisal services,” says VP of marketing and business development Karl Finkelstein. The result is a company culture he describes as “youthful and innovative.”
Because of this culture, “we were originally referred to as the ‘youngsters’ or ‘new kids’ by our competitors,” Finkelstein says. He adds though, that while Valbridge’s ranks are made up of many young professionals, often in leadership roles across the U.S., “many of our local senior managing directors have decades of experience. So you could say we have the best of both worlds.”
It’s not only the demographics of Valbridge’s workforce that have translated into innovation. “Being a shareholder-owned company run by the shareholders has allowed us to be innovative with regard to technology,” says Finkelstein. “It also has allowed us to bring in young professionals without concern for the typical corporate pecking order, or rank.”
The culture that Valbridge and its team members have created more closely resembles a family than a corporation, Finkelstein says. “We have developed an internal communication system that allows all of our 675-plus employees to communicate with each other, seamlessly,” he explains. Prior to the pandemic, team members met in person twice a year, fostering friendships and camaraderie.
“It really helps when we are working on a national portfolio and you know everyone involved personally,” he adds.
It was the culture that Valbridge established early on when it encompassed 18 offices rather than today’s 80-plus, that provided a framework for scaling up while maintaining the culture. “It was exciting to make decisions amongst the core leadership,” Finkelstein says of the company’s early days. “It allowed for many viewpoints to be heard, and collectively resulted in our identity. It also allowed us the flexibility to bring in new partners over time, getting to know them personally and eventually inviting them to be a part of Valbridge.
“As a result, our core values have not wavered,” he continues. “Our culture has grown more inclusive while at the same time we are a more outgoing company, involved in over 70 local civic organizations across the U.S.”
Although they couldn’t have known it at the time, Valbridge leadership was effectively preparing the company all along for the shift to a remote working environment. “Our leadership started as a remote system,” Finkelstein says. “Since our company is about our local people, we didn’t want to have our national leadership hold up in a high-rise central location. Technology has come a long way and it allowed us to work removed, with leadership spread out among our offices, and the board members. When the pandemic hit, the only real shift we made was to how we conducted our shareholder meetings, which were done using Zoom.”
Each of Valbridge’s 80-plus offices is overseen by its leader. Since the network of local-level leaders is close-knit, “over time, our qualities of leadership and management have begun to merge,’ says Finkelstein. It not only provides additional DNA for Valbridge as a whole, but also our local offices tend to exhibit their own culture as well as that of the entire company.”
When considering prospective team members, Valbridge seeks out “the desire to learn and be a part of something bigger” in addition to specialized competencies. “We have folks that chose to be large producers, and we have those folks who chose a more measured approach with a focus on efficiency and more home life,” says Finkelstein. “Both types are successful at Valbridge,” and both are indicative of the different needs from professionals in 2021.
Among the ways in which the company seeks to promote diversity and inclusion is through the company’s Women’s Council. Finkelstein explains, “The Valbridge Women’s Council was started to recognize the women in leadership at the time in Valbridge. It has grown to include hundreds of members and has taken on a leadership role with regard to education and community outreach.”
“From that foundation, we have developed other policy framework for inclusivity that has led to the promotion of our profession amongst minorities and a strong push to hire from within those groups,” he concludes. “We created a Young Professionals Council with one of its goals being to highlight the diversity of our team and promote it so that others see Valbridge as a workplace for all.”