CEO Talent Champion:Bob Sulentic, CBRE

An interview on championing diverse talent

Identifying and championing diverse talent has positively impacted CBRE’s employee engagement and organizational effectiveness despite economic uncertainty. HR leaders can read this interview recap to learn more.

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Q&A With Bob Sulentic

Bob Sulentic has been president and CEO of CBRE since December 2012. Previously at Trammell Crow Company, which CBRE acquired in December 2006, Sulentic served as chief financial officer, chief executive officer and board chair. This deep and varied background enables Sulentic to bring significant strategic, financial and operating skills to CBRE.

We do a lot of intellectual work for clients, mostly driven by people. So, it’s really high on the priority list for us as a starting point. What we’ve done that’s elevated our focus is become committed to this notion that we have to proactively champion talent.

To make sure people that deserve opportunities can help us do more for our constituents. That doesn’t just naturally happen. To a degree it does — hard working, capable people, no matter what their background is, tend to surface — but there are things that go on in the world that keep people from surfacing.


Some people are less inclined to lobby for themselves; as long as they’re doing well and serving the team and getting good feedback, they may be less inclined to push for advancement than others, even though they’re more qualified. You want to find those people and encourage them to push for themselves.

Sometimes you roam the organization and you meet somebody that is spectacular, and they are two levels below where they should be. So, you go to their manager and say, “I want you to find a way to give them more to do. Shine the bright lights on them.” That’s the same way, in part, that you build a more diverse organization.

We have worked really hard to champion talent. That has a flywheel effect: When you champion talent of different types, they tend to know about talented people they can help, and they’re inclined to do that because they saw it happen to themselves.

Historically, most of our leaders came from either the brokerage business or the development business. We said, “We’re going to try to find great leaders that might have to come from human resources, or they might have to come from finance, or they might have come from another part of the business.” We’ve really doubled down on this notion of championing talent, and it’s really made a difference in our company.

Winning organizations take a certain level of intelligent risk. If I were to paint a profile that has extremely high odds for success, take a human being — a quality person, smart, hard-working, ethical, team-oriented, a person that has character — and put them in a situation where they’re slightly over their head, or maybe a good deal over their head but not so far that they’re going to drown. This is a profile that often leads to success. It’s exhilarating for people to be put in a situation that they really drive for. And when they see other people in that situation, they champion them; they want them to succeed. That’s a powerful place to put people into, and that is the kind of risk we want to take.

Definitely. Not specifically the roles, but what people do in their roles and broadly across. We’ve been heavily skewed toward what I’ll call charismatic leadership — getting people motivated and excited. As we’ve gotten bigger and more complex, and technology has become a bigger factor in our industry, we’ve concluded that we need more of a mix of strategic and intellectual leadership with charismatic leadership. We’ve really focused our leadership on placing a higher priority on people that can lead strategically as well as inspire and motivate. 

I would point to three things:

  •  One, we’ve relied on our people function to do a more thoughtful job of recruiting. The fundamental thing is to get people that are a better fit for our company so that they will be oriented toward what we need to get done.
  • Two, we’ve really focused on doing a better job of evaluating our people. Better reviews aren’t necessarily more complicated; they are more thoughtful.
  • Three, we’ve worked hard to make sure we’re doing a better job of motivating our people. We often call it engagement, which is about deeply understanding what makes people feel better. Of course, people feel better when they make more money, and with better benefits, and with less bureaucracy. They feel better when contributions are recognized. That’s one of the things we figured out.

First of all, we put Alison in this role because she’s a really competent person. She’s very pragmatic, very nonpolitical and very good at getting stuff done. Number two, she made her way up through the organization, touching a lot of different things, so she has an innate sense for what it takes to make people in the organization feel better — those things I suggested that lead to better engagement.

Another thing that’s really good about Alison is that she’s very balanced. Every time there’s a complaint that could put you on the defensive, she gets to the bottom of it, figuring out what really needs to be done. The other thing I would say is she sees HR as a strategic function; she embraces that it is powerful in a market-facing sense, and she knows I support her in that.

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