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SIOR Spotlight: Gord & Austin Cook

Updated: Jun 17

In celebration of Father’s Day, SIOR Canada presents a special interview with Gord and Austin Cook, a father and son duo from Colliers. Gord Cook, SIOR, a 36-year industry veteran, and Austin Cook, 5-years in the industry, share their journeys in the industrial sector of commercial real estate. Discover how Gord's extensive experience has shaped his career and how Austin is continuing his father's legacy, blending tradition with innovation. Their stories highlight the importance of mentorship and collaboration in the dynamic world of CRE. Join us as we explore the unique bond and professional synergy between this father-son team.

SIOR Canada: Welcome, Gord and Austin. What's your story and how did you get started in the CRE industry?

Gord Cook: Well, great question. It's a long time ago. I've been with Colliers for probably close to 36 years now. At one point, we were a private company with a strong Canadian presence, and we were growing globally. I was introduced to Colliers through some people that I thought were quite a bit older than me, but I soon learned they were quite young in their business careers as well. I was working in the Muskoka Lakes region as a water ski instructor, and some of our resort guests were young Colliers professionals. Quite honestly, like everything in life, you often get drawn towards nice people, and that's exactly what happened to me.

 I was introduced to some really nice young Colliers professionals during a weekend in Muskoka. After I graduated from McMaster, one of the first phone calls I made was to that nice guy I met on a dock, asking, "Hey, remind me, I know you're in real estate, but what exactly do you do?" That's how I got into the business. I had no background in real estate, and my family wasn't in it either. It was all thanks to a guy I had a lot of respect for, BJ Murphy, who is now in residential real estate with Sotheby's. He introduced me to Colliers, and I've never left.

SIOR Canada: The climate today is very different in terms of job loyalty. What is it about Colliers that has made you want to stay for 35 years?

Gord Cook: Well, the company has grown as quickly as I have, in terms of intellectual capital, support systems, infrastructure, and global growth. Colliers has become quite diversified in other business lines like project management, construction management, and capital markets. If Colliers hadn't continued to expand by geography and service type, I probably would have had to leave because all those added services help me assist major clients in the projects we do.Austin and I are working on a project right now where different departments are needed at various times, whether it be tax, appraisal, or whatever the mandate is. All of those services are in-house at Colliers.

SIOR Canada: Austin. Were you always set on what you wanted to be? What did you think of the work your father does, and what attracted you to commercial real estate?

Austin Cook: I remember many years ago, whether it was on the way to the hockey rink or driving to the cottage, seeing my dad's signs on buildings. Those moments instilled a sense of pride and a true interest in real estate. I think that's where it all started—being young and impressionable. I began to ask questions about what my dad did. As I moved through life and my education, I took a true interest in real estate, taking numerous urban development courses at Western University.

Colliers' internship programs helped me understand more about the brokerage business. This experience allowed me to learn what my dad does daily, which you don't really know until you do it. Through that, I developed a better understanding of what I wanted to do. Even coming out of school, it wasn't an easy decision because not everyone can work with family or friends. But I always had immense respect for my dad and the respect he had in the industry. It was an easy jumping-off point for me. I knew we had built trust, and through the internship process at Colliers, I further developed my skill set and proved my dad and his team that I had the capabilities to be a good fit and help continue our growth.

Now, we've partnered with Sam Sgambelluri and Thomas Cattana, and the four of us co-lead our Logistics and Industrial Occupier Services Team. We've got numerous exciting and dynamic projects on the go, and every day is different.

A lot of learning can happen through shadowing and mentoring, whether at a boutique shop or a large firm. It's not about big being better, but having access to people, infrastructure, and systems that really help a young person.

SIOR Canada: So, having studied the craft, when you got into the industry first, did you find there was a congruence or an incongruence between what you learned at school and actually doing things on the ground?

Austin Cook: It's such a dynamic industry, and that's something Gord told me early on—real estate and brokerage and sales are great fields to grow, both personally and professionally. You meet great people, and it never gets old. Between meeting occupier clients and different brokers, everyone's got a different vantage point. It's a fantastic industry to be in.

I can say I definitely learned many great things from my education about real estate. Although, until you're doing it on a daily basis and having conversations and plugging in the numbers, it's a learn-by-doing experience. As much as I took away from my education, the best education I get is honestly from listening to Gord, Thomas, Sam, and the rest of the community of professionals around me. That's how I learn best—hearing those mentors daily and soaking it in like a sponge.

SIOR Canada: Gord, you have extensive involvement in the CRE community. You gave a talk at the fall educational event in Mississauga for SIOR’s Fall Education Event about life sciences. How important is it to get involved in the industry, in the community as a whole?

Gord Cook: Yeah, that was in Mississauga.I'm a big believer in giving back and sharing intellectual capital. Some people may be more reserved about getting involved in public speaking, but I quite enjoy it. Just a couple of days ago, my investment partner Victor Kodak and I had a great breakfast symposium in our downtown lobby. We had 90 guests and four great panelists talking about the industrial leasing, investment, and development market.

 I think the more exposure I can have with other professionals in the commercial real estate sector, it's a win-win. By sharing knowledge with people interested in learning more about where we are within a market cycle or whatever the conversation is, it typically helps build my brand in the industry.

So, getting out in public speaking and sharing knowledge is just one of those ways to grow your brand. At the end of the day, most people make decisions based on whether they like the person and if they feel the person is knowledgeable and trustworthy to get it done right.

SIOR Canada: What tips would you give to someone who is not a good public speaker or feels nervous or anxious?

Gord Cook: There are lots of ways to communicate and share knowledge. Social media tools today are extremely successful, so people who are a little more introverted can use those tools to share their knowledge with the marketplace and gain a following. Some people prefer working within smaller groups, having face-to-face meetings, which can be less efficient but more successful in building relationships. Also, when partnering with people in business, you really don't want someone with the exact same skill sets as you. If you want 1 + 1 to equal 3, you should look for someone whose skill sets are uniquely different from yours. Together, you become very empowering to the market.

 I'm a big believer in showing up and being engrossed in real-world scenarios. Calls are fantastic for connecting with more people efficiently, but face-to-face is even better.

SIOR Canada: Do you remember your first transactions?

Austin Cook: I vividly remember my first transaction because I started probably three months prior to March of 2019 when we went into lockdown. I remember it distinctly because I was just getting a feel for things, and I was actually out door-knocking and meeting new prospects, a business practice that would quickly come to an end for a few years. I happened to be working within the GWL portfolio and walked into a business in the machine moving sector. I got to chatting with the gentleman who owned the company about purchasing upon his lease expiry,  a few months later, we went into lockdowns. But I continued to follow up, call, and email information about opportunities.This was early on in the new industrial condominium sector, and I ended up advising them on the purchase of two units at 5250 Solar Drive. They're still there today and been great timing in the market. It was an exciting transaction for me. I remember first touring it on the day after Boxing Day of my first year in the business, then not being able to tour again because of lockdowns.  It was one of those transactions where you do what you gotta do, and it was exciting to still have got it done. I remember it vividly because it was right around the onset of COVID, which made it a unique experience. While also wondering if I would be working over Christmas holidays every year. I didn’t remember Gord having to do that too much.

SIOR Canada: That's an interesting aside about not remembering if your father had to work during important holidays. So from your perspective, was he always there?

Austin Cook: He was always there.

SIOR Canada: That's incredible. Gord, do you perceive it that way? That you were there enough despite the demands of your job?

Gord Cook: You know, I always work very long days. Some days I still feel like I'm working long days, but I've always tried to turn my phone off in the evenings. The best time to take holidays in our industry is when everyone else is taking holidays. There are obvious downtimes in our market, and between Christmas and New Year's might be the busiest time to travel. It might be the most expensive time, but it's actually the least costly in terms of your value to what you do for a living. So, it's nice that when you take a break, you actually get a real break. In this industry, to be successful, you don't get many breaks, but when you do, you should enjoy them. Life balance is pretty important.

SIOR Canada: Going back to your first transaction, Gord, do you remember it?

Gord: Yes, I do. When we opened the West Office at Colliers about 30 years ago, there were probably four or five of us on the industrial brokerage team. We decided to have our own office and rented a couple of thousand square feet at Hwy. 10 and Matheson. Our first deal there was commemorated with a plaque on the office wall. The gross commission was $2500, so that was our first deal at the West Office, and we all got a kick out of that.

SIOR Canada: That's definitely a pattern. It seems everyone's first transaction is always kind of modest. But it's a measure of how far you've come! What advice do you have for newcomers?

Gord Cook: For the younger generation entering our business, I'm a big believer that they should join firms where they can mentor with people at different stages of their careers. A lot of learning can happen through shadowing and mentoring, whether at a boutique shop or a large firm. It's not about big being better, but having access to people, infrastructure, and systems that really help a young person. Another important thing is for young people to prioritize introducing themselves to everyone in the industry. To stand out in a crowded market, especially in the occupier business, it's essential to differentiate yourself through knowledge of submarkets or industry types, or both. This way, you can be relevant and meaningful to your customers.

SIOR Canada: How about you, Austin? As a newcomer, advice to anyone who is interested in entering the industry?

Austin Cook: I'm a big believer in showing up and being engrossed in real-world scenarios. Calls are fantastic for connecting with more people efficiently, but face-to-face is even better.

In the Colliers West Office, we have a great young group who have established friendships both personally and professionally, inside the office and outside. Everyone here is incredibly collaborative, which is very important. In sales, having a great group of comrades is invaluable. Despite being a competitive market and business, deals happen because we're sharing our resources and knowledge. This collaboration ultimately services our clients better. Our goal is to broaden the Colliers name and serve our clients more effectively. Learning from both seasoned professionals like my dad and new entrants with fresh perspectives is crucial.

My career has been massively benefited by showing up, with  industry veterans like Gord who are in the office every day and everyone else. In the office, we've got fantastic attendance, and I think it reflects in our overall business.

SIOR Canada: Gord, you have your SIOR designation. What does this mean to you?

Gord Cook: It attained it probably over a decade ago, maybe longer. I thought it was a very good process because it looked into integrity, market relevance, and transaction volume. All those things ensure that the people representing SIOR have met very high thresholds. I looked at getting into SIOR later in my career, so those thresholds were not as complicated to achieve because I had already committed so much to the business.

SIOR Canada: OK, wonderful. How about you, Austin? Is getting the SIOR designation something you would be interested in for the future?

Austin Cook: Absolutely. There is a prestige to it and you have to earn it. The community is fantastic. I've already had the pleasure of participating in a few young broker events, and I absolutely like being a part of the community.

I worked recently with an SIOR from the US as a co-broker on a large deal in Mississauga. He was an absolute pleasure to work with, and part of that was because he was an SIOR designee. Knowing that and supporting his client on that file was great because, as Gord said, he displayed that SIOR integrity and other aspects that make doing business easy.

SIOR Canada: Are there any causes or projects or initiatives that inspire you that you would like to share?

Austin Cook: I was at a charity event last night for St. Joseph's Hospital, which is building a new tower. Two of the floors, which this fundraiser supported, will be dedicated to mental health facilities. It was an inspiring event, and I hope to continue participating. Gord had participated for many years, and I was happy to show my support.

Mental health is very important to me, and it should be in everyone's life. St. Joseph's Plate was the cause, and we had a group of about 10 young professionals from Colliers. Carter Armstrong, who sits beside me, his family is very involved in that charity. It was awesome to be there, especially among coworkers. It was good to see some Colliers support for such a great cause.

Gord and Austin Cook's story exemplifies the powerful legacy within the commercial real estate industry. Their journey underscores the importance of mentorship and collaboration at Colliers. Thank you for joining us in celebrating this unique Father’s Day special.

Want to read more stories likes there? Discover more here.



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