Former athletes find success in commercial real estate

Signature and Plante Moran aren’t the only places that have had a string of former athletes on the payrolls.

In the Southfield office of Colliers International Inc., which has its headquarters in Toronto, Managing Director Paul Choukourian has recruited a pair of former professional hockey players — he declined to identify them — plus plenty of other college athletes.

“You just know they are driven, that they’ve got a good work ethic,” Choukourian said. “To be a college athlete, that takes drive and commitment and beyond, so that’s what always does it for me. It’s not a slam dunk, no pun intended. When you interview an athlete, they have to have the desire, the skill set and frankly, the passion for real estate.”

The business isn’t for everyone, and a financial support system is often required to stay afloat during the first couple of years in the industry — which is one of the reasons the industry remains overwhelmingly white and male.

“You’re going to be working your butt off and you’re really not going to get much reward in terms of financially,” Choukourian said. He estimated the first couple years, brokers make between $25,000 and $50,000 and sometimes have to rely on what’s known as a “draw” — basically a loan made against future commissions, in the 5 percent to 8 percent interest range.

In effect, that means that some brokers could finish their first year or two on the job essentially in debt to their employer just so they can make ends meet.

Anthony Toth is one of Choukourian’s hires.

Now a vice president, Toth played shortstop and second base at the University of Michigan from 2007-11, before a broken tibia two weeks before the Major League Baseball draft effectively ended any shot he had at going pro.

“I quickly had to find something else to do, and got into commercial real estate right away,” Toth said. “A reason why student-athletes are so successful in brokerage is it’s a career where you truly get what you put into it. There’s no ceiling. In order to be a high-level athlete in any sport, the internal, insatiable drive to be successful and the best at what you do has to be there.”

At Cushman & Wakefield in Southfield, a handful of staff are ex-athletes.

Brian Piergentili, executive director of the local office, said he played football at Wayne State University and a handful of others on his staff played baseball, hockey and golf at the collegiate level. His company even landed former Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty as vice president of business development for a spell in 2016.

“This is such a competitive business with lots of pressure (and it’s) a high when you win,” Piergentili, who also coaches football at Livonia Stevenson High School, said in an email. “(Takes) a unique (sicko) to do this work, I guess. You have always seen athletes in sales historically, really. After their playing days, I think this might be one of the few things that gets them competition with the chance to make big money (or flame out).

Christin Hakim

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