Trailblazer: Laurie Lustig-Bower


Laurie Lustig-Bower is a driven woman. As a teenager, she submitted 57,000 entry forms to win a horse at a national competition. It took a year to create the submissions, tireless hours working with a single goal in mind. Despite the effort, she didn’t win. But the story tells you a lot about her.

Laurie’s a partner with CB Richard Ellis in Los Angeles. She’s Senior Vice President and Managing Director for the firm, and serves on the Board of Directors for the CB Richard Ellis National Women’s Network. Laurie has been with CB Richard Ellis for 15 years and leads a team of seven professionals who focus solely on the sale of multihousing properties.

Laurie and her team have sold in excess of $700 million of investment properties. As of October 31, 2003, she’s sold $126 million in investment properties in the Los Angeles market. She has been recognized as one of Los Angeles County’s and CB Richard Ellis’ top apartment brokers for many years.

AP: How do you consistently deliver top results that put you at the forefront of the LA market, and what skills does it take to be a leader in multifamily today?

Laurie: My breakthrough year came in 1995. I worked really hard to get there. Before that, I was not well known in the industry, I worked really hard on the business I had, gave it my all. Finally the groundwork I laid down started paying off. In 1995 I made it to the top 3% out of 2,000 brokers within CB. On a national basis, I was ranked fiftieth. Once I hit that level, I was doing enough volume that people in the LA real estate community and within the company took notice, saying “Here comes a trailblazer.”

We really didn’t have anyone hitting the ball out of the park at that time and so once I hit that level of production, business breeds business, and by 1998 I had so much incoming business (out of a thousand apartment brokers on LA’s Westside, Lustig-Bower had a 10.4% market share) servicing it all with two assistants, working almost 24/7. The company approached me and said, “We like your business model, we want to help take you to a higher level and build a team around you.” I went from two assistants to a nine-person team, with brokers, marketing specialists, a financial analyst, and an operations coordinator. I had no problem getting business, just executing it. We spent 18 months brainstorming how to set up the team, compensation, processes. We structured the team so that the engine was bigger than my current volume; I under-utilized the team in the beginning so I could take the business to another level.

It’s a snowball effect, the more you’re out there, the more people you talk to, the more deals you get involved in. We try to grow our business every year. All the business I currently have is from referrals and repeat business. To date, I’ve never done any cold calling, which is really unusual for a broker, so there’s a whole untapped world out there. Most brokers aren’t in this position; there’s a lot more business out there I could win if I go out and meet it.

AP: What is your number one goal?

Laurie: I want to be the first phone call people make when they want to put their building on the market, both on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.

I’m not in this for the single transaction; I’m not here to make a commission on any particular building. I’m here because I have a passion for what I do and I enjoy helping people achieve their goals with their real estate portfolios. I keep my clients’ interests primary, and creatively find ways to better their position. The financial rewards take care of themselves. I will do fine if I do what I’m good at, and think strategically for my clients.

AP: Are you an optimist? What distinguishes you from everyone else?

Laurie: I see a clear path to completing a deal. It’s a visual in my head. I see obstacles. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. It lays out for me quickly. If I communicate that path to a buyer and seller, and they see it the way I do, they come on board with me. Sometimes deals require you to play the psychologist.

I’m a realistic optimist. I’ll always say the glass is half full, but I’m not going to say it’s ¾ full if it’s really not.

AP: Talk about the women’s network at CB.

Laurie: I’m one of the founding members. Some of the top female brokers in the country thought it was a good idea to help women get into real estate in our company. Once they’re in our company, we make sure they get an equal chance as their male counterparts. The network was well received by the company at large. It’s not exclusive, any man can join. It’s now a formal division within CB. We have a formal mentoring program, with a big brother/big sister approach that helps new employees work through issues, talk about goals, and grow.

Our programs build company morale and create an equal playing field. CB has a higher percentage of women at the top than within the rest of the company. It’s disproportionate in a good way.

Every person on my team is a woman. I didn’t intend it that way, but that’s how it turned out. They were the best candidates when I was hiring, and I wasn’t afraid to hire a female. Some people fear they will decide to stay home later and be a mom. I used to work 24/7, but now with my team in place I don’t have to. I still do a lot, more like 50 hours a week. A vacation doesn’t go by without a phone call to put out a fire. I still have to be available all the time for my team and my clients.