One is a global real estate services company; the other, the most lucrative sports league in the world. But CBRE and the NFL have more in common than you might think. The company has several former NFL players among its ranks, including a Heisman Trophy winner, a tight end, a defensive end, a hard-hitting safety and plenty of quarterbacks. While their playing days are well behind them, they have all found a home at CBRE, where their hard work, grit and love of their labor have helped them make an indelible mark on the real estate industry.
In this new series, Blueprint, presented by CBRE, interviews NFL veterans about their lives on the field and off, and how the value of teamwork has translated to their commercial real estate successes.
Nine years ago, Todd Husak found himself in a difficult position. Football, the game he loved and excelled at for most of his adult life, was, in his eyes, beginning to lose its allure. After starring as a quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal football team, he was picked by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft—just three spots behind Tom Brady.
Before the start of his second professional season, Husak was cut by the Redskins. He spent the next season with the Denver Broncos, followed by brief stays with the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns during his five-year-long NFL career. Wary of trying out for another NFL team, Husak returned to Stanford in 2005 to get his master’s degree in education and take a position as a graduate assistant coach for the university’s football team. Though he had his eye on becoming a professional coach, that would have meant even more traveling and uncertainty.
While at Stanford, Husak landed a position as a sales assistant with CBRE. He arrived at the company with “zero” experience or knowledge of the commercial real estate industry. Four years later, he would become manager of the company’s Palo Alto, Calif., office.
Husak recently spoke with Blueprint, presented by CBRE, about the value of practice, what professionals can learn from well-run (and not-so-well-run) NFL franchises, and the importance of having the right people on your team.
Born in Texas, raised in Long Beach, Calif.
Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Berlin Thunder (NFL Europe), New York Jets, Cleveland Browns
Number of Years at CBRE
Nine (as of Oct. 1, 2015)
The Moment I Knew I Could Play Quarterback
I didn’t start on my freshman team in high school. I was confident in my ability, but I was short and skinny. I grew nearly a foot in my junior year. By my senior year, I was a starter on the varsity team. I wasn’t being heavily scouted by schools (this was before the Internet and scouting services), and I really had no tape to show.
I went to a three-day overnight camp at Stanford University. My grandmother gave me the money—a few hundred dollars—and my parents drove me up there. It was (then Stanford head coach) Tyrone Willingham’s first year. He started recruiting after that, and based solely on my camp performance, things ended up working out. Five other quarterbacks said no to scholarship offers from Stanford. Willingham offered me one and I could not accept it fast enough. It was the place I wanted to go to school, and I absolutely loved it.
How I Learned to Embrace My Limitations
I could throw the ball. I wasn’t a very good athlete from a running and jumping perspective, but I always had a good arm.
Tyrone Willingham will tell you the reason why Stanford recruited me: There was a game we played at camp, almost like rugby but with legal forward passes. Coach Willingham said I had the worst team there, but we ended up winning the camp trophy. For whatever reason, we were able to beat teams that were much more talented, and that put me on Coach’s radar.
The Defining Game in My Collegiate Career
The most memorable game was one that we lost, actually—to UCLA, during my junior year.
We were big underdogs, and UCLA was a big favorite (they were number one in the country). It was a primetime game at the Rose Bowl (in Southern California where I grew up). We came out and played just a terrific game on offense. I think we were 17 or 20 points behind at one point, and we worked our way up to a 10-point lead with five minutes left in the game. We were thinking we were going to do it, we were going to knock off the number one team in the country on national TV. We drove the ball down the field near their end zone. We fumbled on the one-yard line and UCLA got the ball and we lost. We were one yard away from beating them.
Why I Remember the Losses More than the Wins
I think having our team come together in the face of great odds and low expectations to nearly pulling off a victory [against UCLA], only to have it ripped away from us—that was memorable, and it was also fun.
I think that set the stage for us going into the next year, when we did win the conference. We showed everybody—and ourselves—that we were capable of doing some pretty special things. It set the stage for future success.
With the losses, you almost learn more from them than you do from the wins.
How I Ended Up in the NFL
I was preparing to be an attorney, actually. I didn’t start as a freshman or a sophomore for Stanford, but I had a pretty good junior season. Then senior year I played well, and playing in the NFL definitely became something I wanted to pursue.
I love the game of football. I love the camaraderie, the Xs and Os and the strategy behind each play. I actually loved practice. Practice to me was where the games were won. At Stanford, I loved beating out the other guys who were more highly recruited than I was going into my junior year, and I took a lot of pride in that. It was fun playing with 70, 80 guys who were, at the time, my best friends. It was definitely something I wanted to do as a career.
(Husak was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft.)
It’s amazing because if you look at where I was drafted, I was three picks behind Tom Brady, who some would consider the greatest quarterback ever.
My Life in the NFL
In my rookie year I played on a [Washington Redskins] team with some of the greatest players in the history of the NFL—Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey, Bruce Smith, Dana Stubblefield and Jeff George, to name a few. These were guys who I had posters of on my wall in high school, and all of a sudden I was able to play with them, which was fun. But then they fired the coach [Norv Turner] and hired a new one [Marty Schottenheimer], and I got cut the next season in Washington.
The Last Play of My NFL Career
I played a total of three plays in my NFL career. We had a guy on our [Washington Redskins] team named Larry Centers who needed two more catches to reach a contractual incentive. It was the last game of my rookie year, and my coach said to me, “Do whatever you want. I don’t care. The game’s over.” So I called a screen pass for Centers. He went for six yards. I called another screen pass for Centers, he caught it and got his incentive. He lost eight yards. Then I took a knee and the game was over. So my career numbers are two-for-two for minus-two yards and one carry for minus-one.
A Key Takeaway From My NFL Career
Playing for Stanford showed me that winning teams have attitude, work ethic and structure.
To me, the well-coached teams didn’t necessarily need the coaches. Even in college, when it came to our coaches, we sort of took the onus off them to self-correct. We’d see for ourselves what was working, and what wasn’t. We’d get on guys that needed it. It’s much better when co-workers or teammates are making corrections as opposed to coaches. Coaches certainly would make their input known, and they supervise everything.
In Denver, Mike Shanahan didn’t really do too much. It was guys like Rod Smith and Brian Griese and Bill Romanowski who would weed out guys that weren’t buying in. They took as much pride in hiring the right people as they did the right players, as opposed to the Redskins.
When I played with the Redskins, it was Dan Snyder’s first year as owner. He overpaid a bunch of guys who were good five years prior, and there was no accountability. It was interesting to see the contrast between good organizations and bad ones. It was apparent from the get-go, and it really stemmed from the top. What were their goals? What was their hiring structure? What was important to them? There’s reasons why some football franchises are continually successful and why others are not.
How I Ended Up Working in Commercial Real Estate
I got released by the Cleveland Browns and was faced with the opportunity of staying in shape and, if a quarterback got hurt, getting picked up by a team in the next three months. But I thought about it and said, “I don’t want to be in the same position a year from now where I get cut in September and have to wait by the phone again.”
Instead, I applied to Stanford’s graduate program for my master’s in education. I was also coaching tight ends for the Stanford team—I really thought I was going to be a coach, but after one year, I decided that it wasn’t for me. It’s a tough lifestyle and you’re constantly moving from job to job, which I had just done for five years.
So I used some Stanford networks and interviewed with a number of different financial services and investment banking firms, not just real estate. I interviewed at CBRE through some connections I had, and I really got a different feel from the people at CBRE—from the leadership, from the message they were delivering, from the process. It took eight interviews for them to offer me a job, which I’d hoped was as much a reflection on me as much as the process. Now that I am on the management side I can tell you it’s the process. They want to make sure they are hiring the right people. They provide the right fit, they provide the right resources, and they really care about the setup.
I got a great feeling from them as much as anything.
It was an opportunity to make a very good living. It’s an organization that’s run by great people, and they’re setting me up to have success. So as long as I take care of the rest by working hard and working smart and doing everything that should be done, it will work out.
The Steep Learning Curve
I started from zero. I knew absolutely nothing about commercial real estate. I literally had to ask how we got paid.
CBRE took the time and energy to make sure I had a good mentor, somebody that’s going to look out for me and teach me. I was in the office by 6-630 a.m. every day, studying the industry, making sure I was up to speed on the trends and who I should be interacting with. The way they described it to me, if you’re doing things the right way, you’ll be underpaid for five years and overpaid for the rest of your career. That was a motivational statement. You don’t see everything pay off by week three, but by year four, five, six, seven you start seeing some of the things you worked on come to fruition. It’s been a great process looking back.
I literally started nine years ago on Oct. 1. What little I knew and how much I still have to learn, that’s one of the great things about the industry and the business. There are people who have been in the business for 30 years who are still learning something today.
The Defining Moment of My Real Estate Career
Four years in, they asked me to come manage the Palo Alto office, and that was, I think, a big leap of faith by CBRE. We’ve grown the office, we’ve grown the revenue by 300 percent. I look at it and think back to my playing days: I’m going to surround myself with good people who I want to work with, who I know are going to work hard, not necessarily the best producers or the most talented people—but from a culture standpoint, if we build things the right way, it becomes perpetual. That’s the attitude I’ve taken, and it’s worked out really well. I love coming to work every day. I think we’ve built something special with really, really good people.
The revenue will ebb and flow with market cycles, but the people, I think, will be the difference-makers year in and year out.
The Palo Alto Market in 2016
We’re projecting business as usual. Tech demand has lowered vacancies. I’d love to see more construction, as the majority of new construction is already pre-leased. In a market that’s so tight, I think we’ll start to see companies look elsewhere, either in Silicon Valley or continue to move up to San Francisco where both of those markets have single-digit vacancies. Does that mean people have to look across the country? Perhaps, but the pressure is really on for companies to have a presence here from a talent standpoint, where they can tap into a ton of engineers and college graduates here. I think tech demand will continue and I think financial services demand will continue. We’re not predicting a slowdown.