For this commercial real estate executive and Leadership Academy graduate, flexibility equals strength.
photograph by Amie Vanderford
Kelly Truitt took a liking to real estate — commercial real estate, in particular — during his college days at the University of Arkansas. “I went to a class that I felt was actually applicable to real life,” says the president of CB Richard Ellis Memphis (CBRE) today. “You could talk to me about economics or trigonometry, but real estate just seemed very interesting, and I liked the idea of the profession and the lifestyle that came with it. I got into the business thinking it was largely about bricks and mortar — everybody wants to develop a building, leave something behind — but found out it’s really all about people. That’s made it even more enjoyable.”
Truitt, who has been with CBRE since 1990 and president since 2005, clarifies that his operation is in the service business. “We don’t own or develop; we work for the people who do,” he says.
Managing properties as cozy as 1,000 square feet or as vast as 100,000 square feet, CBRE is literally shaping the way Memphis does business, finding the right office space for a business, be it large or small, new or old. “We’re a full-service business,” Truitt emphasizes, “helping people who need real estate to meet their business goals. We work as a real estate advisor. We’ll find the right space, negotiate, and make sure a client gets the best deal. It’s purely an advisory and implementation role.” The best deal, by the way, may or may not be a property managed by CBRE.
Truitt is in charge of a workforce that numbers around 100, but he describes the management structure at CBRE as being “flat and entrepreneurial,” with different individuals in charge of different teams: leasing, property management, and tenant representation.
In other words, Truitt leads a team of leaders, all linked by a shared mission to help Memphis businesses thrive. (The tenant advisory group Truitt oversees actually works with clients nationwide, though most have headquarters in Memphis.)
A native Memphian (he attended Memphis University School), Truitt completed the Leadership Academy program in 1998, when it was still called Goals for Memphis. His track was “Leadership Development Intensive.”
“I’d been involved with the group,” he says, “but that was the first time I’d been through an entire program. I became involved with the board about five years ago. It’s very goal-driven but flexible. You’ve got to have some flexibility to meet a need. In our business, we don’t control the market; we just respond to the market.
“Any organization that wants to serve its community has to maintain its core values but also be flexible to the need,” Truitt continues. “You give up turf wars to satisfy the need and service the community.”
Leadership abilities — and deficiencies — were the general focus of Truitt’s class (which numbered about 30), but the individual assessment he received was delivered in a form many would find unsettling. “You receive feedback from people you report to, and from people who report to you,” he explains. “The Center for Creative Leadership, out of North Carolina, then evaluates your assessment. And they had, at the time, a cassette tape. If you’re brave enough, they said, you can play that tape with your spouse on a long car trip. And I did. My wife confirmed the accuracy of the assessment, both positive and not-so-positive.”
When asked today about his leadership style, Truitt reflects on his Leadership Academy training and a central tenet that emerged. “Balance is key,” he says. “Extremes in certain personality traits can serve a purpose, but balance is important. If one is very abstract in thinking, there needs to be some balance with concrete [thinking]. A good idea without implementation is not very valuable. If one has a tendency to lean one way, having others around you who are different is important. Leaders have to be decisive, obviously, but different perspectives are valuable, particularly in the world we now live in. Change occurs so fast, and economies move.”
Leading by example remains a foundation for Truitt, one he absorbed shortly after college when working for downtown developer Henry Turley. Truitt recalls a late night at work when Turley returned to the office — in coat and tie — and proceeded to the roof of his office building despite a steady downpour. Turley came back down soaking wet but discovered the source of a nagging roof leak.
“Having the right people is important,” Truitt emphasizes. “Realizing that they are doing most of the important work, helping them with their plan, providing resources, and letting them do what they do best. None of us are perfect, but most of us want to do the right thing.”
Truitt sees a series of links between one of the most challenging problems Memphis faces today and the growth potential his hometown retains. If he were charting these connections it would appear something like this: improve education (both public and private) … strengthen the labor pool … grow business … attract investors. One facet relies on proper attention being given to the other, with a premium on visionary leaders leading the way to progress.
One element to leadership Truitt feels may be overlooked is the ability to, of all things, follow. “Many times,” he says, “others are better suited for a task or project, and a true leader will become a supporter and follower.” Yet another degree of personal and professional balance, of flexibility. Turns out some of our greatest leaders may be found, at times, near the back of the line.
This is the fourth in our series on graduates of the Leadership Academy and Leadership Memphis. For more information, visit leadershipAcademy.org.