September 2015

Coffee Break: Dave Petersen

  Dave Petersen  Chief Executive Officer NAI Hiffman  Industry : Commercial real estate  Number of employees : 150-plus  Family information : Married to Dianne for 42 years; 2 children, somn and daughter, 3 grandchildren  Hometown : Naperville

Dave Petersen Chief Executive Officer NAI Hiffman Industry : Commercial real estate Number of employees : 150-plus Family information : Married to Dianne for 42 years; 2 children, somn and daughter, 3 grandchildren Hometown : Naperville

Q: What’s the hottest trend in your industry?

A: A couple things come to mind: The shifting trends in logistics and the use of rail, and technology used by consumers. It is changing distribution needs for real estate as well as speed of transportation requirements. From an operational perspective, the technological advances in accounting and market research and how we market and sell our services is ever-changing.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you that most people may not know?

A: At age 19, I was a top helmsman of the USS Constellation aircraft carrier in the Vietnam theatre and steered the 1,000 foot ship in our attack efforts off the flight deck. Our hours were 4 hours on, 4 hours off which often lasted many days in a row while on front lines. It was the greatest team trust building training and experience ever — with ultimate consequences if a mistake was made.

Q: Do you plan to hire additional staff or make significant capital investments in the next year?

A: We certainly are. We will continue to add bench strength to our management services group and are making investments in brokerage talent through hiring teams, possible market expansions and adding new service lines. We also recently recommitted to our home for over 10 years, One Oakbrook Terrace.

Q: What will your company’s main challenges be in the next year?

A: Our main challenge will be recruiting talent to respond to our continued growth. Culture of the firm has to match up to the type of person hired to join us. Otherwise you are just a cloned widget production oriented firm in a service oriented business that requires unique customer touch skills and ever increasing creative solutions to complex issues.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: There are two parts to the tip for a CEO that tie together. As you seek information or counsel from your team, learn to trust but verify that information and don’t rely solely on your chain of command every time — ask people out on the firing line what they think. There is often more reality to be found there.

Q: From a business outlook, who do you look up to?

A: I have always looked up to my father. He never made more than $30K a year but his instincts and lessons to mean serving the customer, caring for those that work for and with him, giving everyone a second or third chance to succeed and cull the herd if they don’t, and place trust and honor ahead of everything seems to have shaped me more than I think.

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: You mean besides the fact that the shareholders placed me into the CEO role of the NAI Hiffman?! Coming to Chicago in 1986 from small town Iowa believing I had the skills and experience to make a go of it in the best and one of the largest, most diverse real estate markets in the world continues to make me laugh aloud. The term “ignorance is bliss” coupled with “nothing is impossible” both ring true in my story. Only in the United States of America will these opportunities avail themselves to those who are willing to work hard, listen more than they talk and who will place the customers and the companies needs first in all they do — nothing is impossible apparently!

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: Travel with my wife and, when possible, with my whole family. I’m in the phase of life called “bucket list check off” so seeing all sorts of cultures, countries and more of these great United States is high on the list. Time with the granddaughters is very special before they figure out I am irrelevant. Ha-ha.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: There are two things that keep me to four hours of sleep per night. The first is thinking about where we can add more value and innovation to the services we provide to the clients we serve. The second, of equal importance, is the responsibility I carry to provide work for the 150+ people who trust me to act in their best interest to provide employment so they are able to feed, house, place kids through school and build a better company for the years to come.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: At age 14, I delivered newspapers at 5 a.m. and during the summers I mowed yards for neighbors including multinational CEO’s who should have fired me for not being able to mow in a straight line consistently.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: “Be trusted to do what you say you will do.”

— Kim Mikus

Source: The Daily Herald Business Ledger

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